Tech Talk: Don’t Fear the Penguin

How a Linux Live CD Could Help You in a Pinch.

So: first week of the new semester and your computer decides to take a dump. You boot it up, a vague error message message flashes across the screen: you start to feel sick. You need a computer, you realize, especially for the workload you have to look forward to this year. Student loan refund checks are a month away. A month without a computer. Senior year and a month with loads of papers, and just going to the library honestly won’t cut it. So what do you do? Relax. There is hope for you. You saved your work a usb stick or the cloud right? If you did, and you are willing to get a little technical, a Linux Live CD might get you out of this jam. And bring your computer back to life for a little while.

What is Linux? What is a Live CD? Why would you care about them?


Linux is an open source operating system. Simply put, an operating system is software that manages computer hardware, applications, and ultimately what we, the users, interact with to accomplish tasks. Open source software is software that can be freely used, modified, and shared. Since Linux is an “open source operating system,” it is available in many different distributions online for free legal download. Linux does have a slight learning curve compared to Apple’s OS X or Microsoft Windows, but its mascot is a Penguin named Tux. Cool right?

Live CD

A Live CD is computer software or an operating system that runs off of the CD you burn it to, solely in your computer’s random access memory (RAM), without having to touch the hard drive. I like to think of a Live CD like an a mid 90’s console video game: you have to save your games (or your essays) to a memory card (or a flash drive). If you don’t and turn the power off, your data is lost.

Why would care about a Linux Live CD?’

For the purposes of a student, a Linux Live CD (there are Windows Live CD’s out there too, but, believe it or not, they are not as user friendly) can act as a band-aid until you are able to have your computer either fully operational or replaced. Another benefit of using Linux Live CD’s is that, depending on the distribution, a Linux Live CD’s is not very resource hungry, so you don’t really need a “beast” of a computer to run them.

Ubuntu makes it easy to get up and running fast

First and foremost you will have to choose which distribution of Linux you would like to use. I recommend Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the most common distribution of Linux and, in my opinion, the easiest to use. Furthermore, the documentation you have to read to get started with an Ubuntu Live CD is relatively easy to follow. Ubuntu has published the following guide to help you get up and running with a Live CD. The most up to date version of Ubuntu can also be downloaded from this website:

*Please note: Ubuntu isn’t just a Live CD: you could install it to the hard drive of your computer if you wanted. Ubuntu gives you the option to “Try Ubuntu before you install it.” Be careful when running the Live CD not to select “Install Ubuntu” if you don’t want to overwrite your hard drive and install a new operating system. I accept no responsibility if you overwrite your hard drive in the process of trying Ubuntu.

Once the Ubuntu Live CD has loaded, you may be surprised at how easy it is to use. Ubuntu has many of the same features as popular operating systems like OS X or Windows. Likewise, there are many familiar Linux applications for activities like web browsing and word processing (like Mozilla Firefox and Libreoffice) and connecting to a wireless network from start-up is usually as easy as selecting the network you wish to join.

If you’re feeling adventurous or have nothing to lose, give a Linux Live CD a shot. The best way to learn is to jump right in! If you get stuck, “google it” or search through the distros documentation on their website. A Linux Live CD might breathe new life into an ailing PC.Remember, if you at least have a computer that has a monitor, a CD drive, RAM, and a  few usb ports, you can run it until the wheels fall off!

Vint Whitcomb is a member of the Information Technology Senior Seminar course and is planning on a career in networking and Linux server administration. This article can also be found on Vint’s website via the following URL:


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