Part of your job as an IT manager is to explore new or alternative solutions and decide if and when they fit your IT plan. The Linux open source operating system is one of the solutions being considered by managers, particularly for use on the server side of the IT department.

Here are five free resources you can use to learn about and experiment with Linux, all from the privacy of your own PC.

Linux for Windows
If you’re interested in tinkering with Linux, there’s no need to set up a completely separate PC. Both Phat Linux and WinLinux are Linux distributions designed to share a hard drive with Windows 95 or 98, without a partition.

Both offer great ways to tinker with Linux without a lot of installation time and equipment investment. They share your hard drive with Windows, installing on Windows 95/98 like any other application.

Both also include the K Desktop Environment graphical interface, which is icon-based and a cinch to figure out.

Phat Linux
Phat Linux was introduced in 1998 and was the Linux version designed to coexist with Windows without repartitioning the hard drive. Now in version 3.3, it uses an Ext2 Linux file system on your C: drive by “mounting it on a loop device,” according to the user manual. Basically, this means it’s using the same file system as other Linux solutions, unlike WinLinux, which uses the bulkier and less stable UMSDOS file system.

For more help, try the online user manual or the Phat Linux message board. Phat Linux 3.3, which requires 565 MB of disk space, can be downloaded for free at CNET.

WinLinux was first introduced in 1999 and is now in its second version. The only difference between WinLinux and other Linux solutions is it’s use of the UMSDOS file system, which is how this solution shares a hard drive with Windows. (For more on UMSDOS, check out this entry on

WinLinux includes an automatic hardware detection system, but you’ll probably find, as I did, that it may not recognize all of your hardware attachments and that you may need to tinker with it. For instance, when I installed WinLinux, it didn’t detect my printer. Instructions for addressing this problem are available online and in the install instructions, however.

WinLinux requires 500 MB of free space for Windows 98 and 1 GB for 95. The WinLinux 2001 site includes information on the latest version, including how to order ($29.95). WinLinux’s site also includes a list of free applications you can download.

More options
Two similar solutions that you can try are ZipSlack and BigSlack from And if you decide to dedicate a machine to Linux or repartition your hard drive, you can still use your Windows software by installing Lin4Win by NeTraverse.

Safe havens for new users
If you’ve ever been to Slashdot, you know that the Linux community isn’t always kind to Linux neophytes seeking help. Now that you know how you can experiment with Linux without a hefty investment, here are sites to visit when you need answers to newbie questions.

Linux consultant, John Gowin, editor in chief of, suggested his own site as a good place to start and also offers these other helpful links:

  • LinuxQuestions is a moderated online forum designed especially for the new Linux user. Unlike many Web forums, it’s very active and includes an option for private messaging. In addition to the forum, the site allows you to perform a search for answers or check out an index of past questions.
  • Linuxnewbie is a list of Linux links. It’s a mix of useful, general Linux links, links that specifically address one question (e.g., “How To Set Up a Linux Mail Server”), and links that are simply advertisements.
  • includes feature articles, forums, reviews, how-tos, tips for using Linux, and a long list of Linux links.

These five resources provide a great starting place for learning Linux at your own pace, without the headaches of setting up a partition or new machine.