So, you've heard about this Linux thing and want to know what it's all about. While a die hard Windows user myself, there's some really good reasons to understand and use Linux.
I will not call Linux virus proof, because there's no such thing (with the exception of a mechanical cash register, that just barely qualifies as a computer), but you are far less likely to encounter Linux viruses than those for Windows or Mac OS .
Linux has the very distinct advantage of being large free and open source, so updates are frequent and cost nothing. There's a world of excellent software available for the platform and tools to run Windows applications with some love and some work.
I'll be demonstrating the installation process for Linux Mint through a virtual machine using the very excellent and free VMWare Player.
1) Download and install VMWare Player.
First, you'll want to visit VMWare.com and visit the Products section, under Free Products for VMWare player.
Download VMWare Player for Windows and run the installer when it finishes downloading. The program is straight forward on its install and the defaults should all be perfectly OK.
2) Download Linux Mint
Linux Mint can be found at linuxmint.com. Visit the Download page to find the different versions.
For our purposes, we'll be working with the Cinnamon 32-bit version of Mint.
Choose a mirror appropriate for your region of the world.
The file will download as a.iso file. This is a disk image file, sort of like a direct copy of a DVD. The file extension is named for the ISO, the International Organization of Standards. Save this file to an easy to remember location on your computer.
3) Configure Your Linux Mint Virtual Machine.
Open your newly installed VMWare Player and choose Create a New Virtual Machine.
Choose your ISO from which to install Linux Mint. If you get a warning about VMWare not being able to detect which operating system you are installing, you can simply ignore it. We'll be specifying the OS. Click Next.
Select Linux as the Guest Operating System, and leave (or select if needed) Ubuntu as the Version. Click Next.
Give your virtual machine a name. Choose a location to save your virtual machine. Click Next.
Configure your storage settings. Since this is a test machine, and we do not need to use a lot of space, 8 GB should be sufficient to play around and install some applications. I prefer to store the virtual disk as a single larger file, since I generally will not be moving it. Click Next.
Verify your settings and click Finish. Your basic settings are now complete.
4) Install Linux Mint
* ADVANCE WARNING: If at any time while installing Linux Mint, you can not find your mouse cursor or it gets "stuck" press the Control and Alt buttons together. This is a function of the VMWare Player. *
Select Play Virtual Machine using either of the green Play Buttons.
If you get a popup to install VMWare Tools, choose Remind Me Later.
Let the auto load cycle complete. After some message appear, Linux Mint will boot directly to the desktop. Mint is designed to run as a Live Operating System, which means it can run directly from the disk or disk image (.iso).
From here you can explore and use Linux Mint, but it will not be particularly fast compared to a full installation. Double click the Install Linux Mint icon on the virtual desktop.
The installer window will launch and as your to specify your language. I'll be running under the assumption of English. Click Continue.
Assuming your PC is online, and you set up your virtual hard disk to be 8.0 GB, you should have two check boxes on the next screen. Click Continue.
Select the Erase Disk and install Linux Mint option, and leave all other options unchecked. You are working inside of a virtual hard disk, and it's completely isolated from the rest of your computer, so you will not erase anything on your PC. Click Install Now.
The operating system will generally auto-detect your region. If not, type in your city to have it set your time zone. Click Continue.
Define your keyboard layout. Click continue.
Set up your name, your computer (VM's) name, your username, and your password. I've set my machine to log in automatically and set a password of "password1" since this machine is only for playing around and not for any of my personal information or online transactions. I've also set it to log me in automatically so I do not have to type in my password every time. Click continue after you have set up your user identification.
You'll notice arrow buttons on the side of the Mint installer screen as it wraps up the install. You can click through these to take a mini-tour of the Mint operating system. Let the installer complete its tasks. Grab a soda or something if you finish with the tour. You can click out of the virtual machine to play some solitaire on your host PC while you wait.
When Mint is done installing, it will prompt you to continue testing (work with the live desktop) or restart and launch in to the normal install of Mint. Click Restart Now.
Mint will ask you to remote the installation media, close the tray, then press the enter key. Since we are not working off a DVD, we'll need to dismount the image. Press Ctrl and Alt together on your keyboard to unlock your mouse.
Click the Player button in the upper left of the VMWare Player window, select Removable Devices, select CD / DVD, and click on Settings.
Un-check the Connect as power on button for the CD / DVD drive. Click the OK button. Click back on to the black Mint Logo screen and press the enter key on your keyboard. Mint will now reboot.
Mint will reboot and automatically log you in to your desktop, where you'll be greeted by the Welcome to Linux Mint window. You can choose to have this show up at start up or not. Click the Close button on the window.
5) Using Linux Mint
For Windows users Mint is a very intuitive operating system. The Menu button in the bottom left functions like the Start button in Windows. Opening it will reveal a large menu of applications, sorted by type. Click through and see what you can find. Most of them are very self-explanatory.
Unlike Windows Linux is built on a package manager system instead of an executable system for installing new programs. Let's install Skype on Mint.
From the Menu, choose the Software Manager. When prompted, type in your password. The software manager application will launch.
Search for Skype using the search box in the upper right. Type in Skype and press the enter key.
Mint will find the package to install Skype. Double click on it to bring up the information window.
Click the install button. Skype will install itself and the screen will say "installed" once complete. Close the Software Manager.
Going to the Menu and selecting the Internet category will show Skype installed on the machine.
From here, explore Linux Mint, and get a feel for it. There's many usability resources on the Web, and this should get you started pretty well.