Windows only: Free application Portable Ubuntu for Windows runs an entire Linux operating system as a Windows application. As if that weren't cool enough, it's portable, so you can carry it on your thumb drive.
Built from the same guts as the andLinux system that lets you seamlessly run Linux apps on your Windows desktop, Portable Ubuntu is a stand-alone package that runs a fairly standard (i.e. orange-colored, GNOME-based) version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution. It just doesn't bother creating its own desktop, and puts all its windows inside your Windows, er, windows.
The coolest parts about Portable Ubuntu are:
- It actually works (in most cases, on most systems).
- It fits on a (larger) thumb drive and can run entirely from it.
- It can work on, and save to, your Windows folders and files.
- It's persistent, so changes you make and apps you install are carried around with you.
- It's easily manageable from Windows, and works great on dual monitors.
Wanna give it a go? Grab the latest Portable Ubuntu package (about 438MB as of this writing), then double-click to unpack it to a folder. On Vista or Windows 7, you'll have to open your command prompt as an administrator (hit Windows key, type in cmd, then right-click on the "Command Prompt" option that appears and select "Run as Administrator"); on XP, you'll probably just have to launch a command prompt. Head to the folder where you extracted your Portable Ubuntu, and enter run_portable_ubuntu and hit Enter to launch the .bat script. Your machine will whir and decompress for a while, and you'll likely get a few prompts to "Unblock" coLinux and a few other apps' abilities on your system. Unblock all of them, and you'll eventually get a small, move-able menu bar on your desktop, as seen in the top screenshot. Drag this wherever it's comfortable to keep it, and you're on your way.
From those three pop-out menus—Applications, Places, and System—you can accomplish pretty much the same thing as any Linux user can, just without the full desktop. Launch a program, and it appears in a window that looks like any other on your Windows system. Open a file browser from "Places," and you can get to your Windows files by heading to /mnt/C (or substitute your drive name/letter for "C"). Feel free to carry around Audacity, GIMP, or any other editing programs that lack a Windows equivalent and start getting creative with them.
Whatever changes you make to your system stick with it. So if you, say, want to install VLC media player for some on-the-go media, you can install it from the Add/Remove dialog or tackle it manually in Accessories->Terminal, and it'll be planted right in the Sound & Video menu. The same goes for system tweaks or startup apps you add to your little Ubuntu package.
Portable Ubuntu makes for a great place to test out your more cutting-edge stuff, without having to worry about messing up your working Windows system. The latest beta of Firefox 3.1/3.5? Even easier to run than the portable solution, and you can keep both your Windows and Portable-Ubuntu-launched Firefox browsers open at once.
When you're running Portable Ubuntu, Windows treats it like any other program. You can close down individual app windows from your taskbar, and pop it onto and off your desktop with little hassle.
Portable Ubuntu is a free, portable download that runs from Windows systems only. Drop your Linux-inside-Windows ideas and other geeky stuff in the comments.