If you’re looking to expand your abilities/capabilities as a test engineer, Linux is a good way to become more familiar with Unix-based operating systems. Even if you don’t have an extra computer sitting idle to install Linux on, you can setup and install complete working copies of many Linux distributions (distros) without messing up your current Windows installation.
The easiest way to try out a Linux OS is to download a LiveCD. Many popular distros, including Ubuntu, provide downloadable CD images that can be downloaded, burned, booted up, and used to try out an operating system. Unfortunately, most of these LiveCDs don’t offer the ability to really customize or save your changes to the OS, and they suffer from slow performance due to the limitations of the CD. But you can at least learn a little about the OS, GUI, CLI, etc. Running a LiveCD is kind of like putting your big toe in the water.
If you’d like another easy way to try out different distros of Linux, you can also install VMware Player (free) and download one of the many pre-built virtual machines from the Virtual Appliance Marketplace, including openSUSE, Damn Small Linux, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mandriva. Then all you need to do is run the VMware Player and select a virtual appliance to run. There is a performance hit running the operating systems in a virtual machine, but it’s very easy to get started – all you really have to do is download the VM you want to run. Everything is already setup and configured. Plus you’ll have the ability to save changes and gain a more detailed understanding of running Linux.
If you’d like to really get a good idea of how a popular distro like Ubuntu (or one of it’s flavors, like Kubuntu or Xubuntu) actually runs on your computer, you can download Wubi which provides an easy Windows based installer. It installs Linux like a normal application in Windows, configures a boot manager, and sets up a virtual hard drive for you to use. The great thing is you don’t have to worry about hard drive partitions or complicated setups. And, when you are done using the software, you can simply uninstall from within Windows and it will erase the virtual hard drive file and free that space back up almost instantly. It’s really a good way to jump into Linux without the configuration hassles, but with almost full-speed performance, and the ability to quickly revert back to Windows.