How to Test an Ubuntu Operating System without Destroying Windows

Douglas Wayne Ricketts
7 min readFeb 16, 2024

Microsoft has recently announced that future versions of Windows 11 will exclude some older computers. This is primarily due to security issues. However, that doesn’t mean your old PC has to necessarily be upgraded. If your computer experience involves internet-based work or play (Facebook, Google Docs, and so on) I highly recommend testing the latest version of Ubuntu. You can even try it out without installing it first, which is definitely a plus. And older peripherals such as printers or scanners generally can be made to work with the new system with some tinkering. The Linux community is all about making things as easy as possible so if you’re concerned about a specific device working with it just do a quick online search with the model of your device and the phrase “Linux drivers” (or “Ubuntu drivers”). And the beauty of it is it’s all free! Thousands of apps, games, and even a Windows emulator called WINE (Windows In NamE only) that will run a good chunk of older apps you may still be using.

Ubuntu is very user-friendly. It has a graphical interface very similar to Windows or a modern smartphone and you can easily change things like desktop backgrounds, the order of apps on the start bar, and so on.

I hear some of you thinking, “But what about Word or Excel?” There is a Linux solution for that called LibreOffice which comes packed in Ubuntu ready for testing. While it does not feature 100% of the abilities of Microsoft’s Office products, it is well-equipped to handle the casual user’s needs. I used to work for a company that transitioned to LibreOffice when we purchased new computers without Office licenses and it worked perfectly for customer orders and processing a daily database of addresses for the Stamps.com service.

You will need a DVD burner or a USB stick with at least 5 GB of space on it to create the media using what’s called an ISO file (download instructions below). Folks who are familiar with the emulation tools VirtualBox or VMWare Workstation can easily create a virtual machine without having to burn or copy the ISO file to a thumb drive.

What kind of PC does Ubuntu want to operate on? It is actually quite flexible. The latest revision only requires a PC with a 2 GHz dual-core processor (or higher), 4 GB RAM, and a minimum of 25 gigs of free hard drive space. The first dual-core processor running at that speed was introduced in 2006, so that should give you a sense of just how far back in time you can go with hardware. For comparison, most modern PCs have six to eight cores which you really only need if you’re doing heavy duty graphics processing, video editing, or music production.

Screenshot of Ubuntu download page

Step one: Download Ubuntu

Head to the site https://ubuntu.com/download/desktop and download version 22.04.3 LTS. You can also click on “alternative releases” (circled in yellow above) if your computer doesn’t have the speed or memory required to run the latest revision. This will take a couple hours to download on most normal broadband internet connections as it is a DVD sized file (4.7 GB).

DVD burner and blank DVDs
DVD burner and blank discs

Step two: Burn the file to DVD or copy to USB

If you possess a DVD burner it probably came with software which allows you to burn an ISO file to a blank disc. You can also use the Windows ISO Disc Burner which Microsoft started shipping with Windows 7, simply right-click on the file then choose “Select More Options” followed by “Burn Disc image” (or if you’re using Windows 11 click on the file then select “Burn” circled in the pic below).

Windows 11 File Explorer with ISO “Burn” option circled in yellow

If you plan to install from a thumb drive be sure you copy any files you plan to keep that are already on the drive before putting the ISO file on it. There is a very good guide for how to burn an ISO to a USB drive here: https://www.lifewire.com/how-to-burn-an-iso-file-to-a-usb-drive-2619270

Please note that you will need to know how to enter your computer’s BIOS system if it does not automatically allow booting from a USB drive. Of course, this is not necessary if you plan to use a DVD. There are many different ways to do this depending on what your system is made of so search for your computer model and the phrase “START BIOS USB BOOT.” Be sure your computer can actually boot from a USB drive before wasting your time creating the darn thing.

Step three: Load the live DVD or USB

Ubuntu start menu

Reset your computer with the newly created DVD or USB boot drive in your system. If all goes well, you will be greeted with a simple text menu as shown above. Press ENTER to “Try or Install Ubuntu.” After an Ubuntu splash screen is displayed for a few seconds, you will see a purple desktop with a stylized jellyfish.

Ubuntu desktop with jellyfish logo

At this point Ubuntu will be examining the hardware in your system. This may seem to take forever. Take a break, grab a coffee or some other tasty snack. If your computer has speakers attached it will sound a short alert when the Linux operating system is ready for you to choose the next step.

Screenshot displaying “Try” or “Install” options

Select the proper language in the menu on the left then click “Try Ubuntu” to load the operating system. This will run a little snail-like than if you eventually install the system to your hard drive because reading from a USB stick or DVD is a slower process but the good news is the existing system (and all your personal files) which are already on your computer will remain intact.

If you accidentally click “Install” before making sure you have a proper backup of all your personal files from the previous system, simply turn your computer off then turn it back on to restart the loading process. Ubuntu can also be dual-booted, meaning it can be installed alongside your existing Windows system, but doing this will create all kinds of partitioning issues with your hard disk(s) which are laborious to correct should you decide to ditch either the Ubuntu or the Windows side of things in the future.

After clicking “Try Ubuntu” you may see a short text message saying there was an error sending a log file. You can ignore it.

Ubuntu desktop with app icons

Step four: You’re in!

The purple jellyfish is back and now you should see app icons on the left side of your screen. Hover the mouse over each one for a description and try them out! Although loading times might feel slow due to running the demo from the DVD or USB drive, the apps themselves should feel snappy like a new computer or smartphone once they’re loaded. Note that the power/logoff options are in the upper-right of the screen and remember that any files or internet-based logins you type in won’t be saved once the system is powered down.

Side notes: Using “Try Ubuntu” is a great way to create an internet sandbox for you to work in without worrying about someone coming along and checking your browser history or other online activity. Once you turn off the computer, everything you did will be gone. Just remember that your internet service provider WILL have a record of everything you do online, so don’t go breaking any laws! Using Ubuntu is also a great way to bring a computer or laptop back to life which has a failing hard drive since the “Try Ubuntu” option does not use any internal storage space.

If you decide you like Ubuntu enough to install it the first thing to do is to decide if you’re going to replace the Windows operating system or dual-boot. Always make sure to backup your personal files in either case to make sure you don’t lose any data. Have fun, and welcome to the wonderful world of Linux and Ubuntu!

If you appreciate this guide and would like to support my work, please visit https://www.buymeacoffee.com/dwr1967 — and thanks!

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Douglas Wayne Ricketts

I do things! Sometimes music or comedy is involved. Your mileage may vary.