As a longtime fan of Linux, I'm a big believer that most business users would benefit greatly by dumping Windows and switching over to the open source operating system instead. It's stable, it's reliable and it's highly secure, among many other advantages.
What many people don't realize, however, is that even if you choose not to do that, there are still many reasons to keep a copy of Linux close at hand. Most Linux distributions are available in LiveCD, Live DVD or Live USB format, either sold commercially that way or downloadable so that users can make their own.
OSDisc.com is one place to buy live versions of Linux in one of these formats. Alternatively, the LiveCD List offers a list of downloads along with links, ratings and requirements, while UNetbootin focuses on USB drives. However you do it, what the resulting media have in common is that they contain a whole, bootable operating system that does not need to be installed on the hard drive.
How could this be useful to your business? Let's look at a few ways.
1. Healing a Sick PC
It's no secret that Windows PCs are particularly prone to malware, and getting rid of it is no easy feat. That's one place Linux can help. LiveCDs, DVDs and USBs can all be used to resuscitate a crippled machine without having to access its boot records, as I've noted before.
To rescue your infected PC, you first make sure the machine is turned off, and then you turn it on again with the CD, DVD or USB installed. This boots the computer directly into Linux, completely avoiding Windows and its infection.
From there you can get some good antivirus software to battle the infection. ClamAV with its ClamTK interface are my favorite solution, and can be obtained from the Ubuntu Software Center, for instance. With such software in hand, you can then proceed to squash the nasty bug that crippled your machine in the first place.
Once that's done, you can boot back into Windows and get on with things.
Such is the poor security situation in Windows that experts now commonly discourage users from conducting online banking or other sensitive transactions over a Windows PC. Once again, Linux live media can help you out here.
Use your LiveCD, DVD or USB to boot your computer into Linux when you need to do some banking, and you're effectively removing yourself from the vast ranks of the Windows-based targets most malware seeks. Instead, you can launch a browser and do your banking in comparative safety, away from most malware's prying eyes.
Then, when you're done, you can boot back into Windows again, safe in the knowledge that your money is still in your bank account.
3. Reviving Old Hardware
Linux is generally far less resource-intensive than Windows is, but some distributions minimize their requirements down even further. Puppy Linux -- which I looked at not long ago -- and also Damn Small Linux (DSL) are two such examples and can be particularly useful for getting new life out of an old machine.
With a Linux LiveCD, DVD or USB, you can get your old machine up and running and productive once again. Depending on the hardware you've got, you can probably even go on to install Linux -- particularly a diminutive distribution such as Puppy -- and run it off the hard drive without any trouble.
Time to buy a new machine? Not so fast, thanks to Linux.
4. Testing Linux
Finally, I understand that it's not a simple matter for some businesses to switch to Linux, and that there can be compelling reasons for them to stay with Windows, at least in the short term.
When the malware, the hardware requirements and the expense finally become too much, however, a LiveCD or similar bootable technology can be a great way to give Linux a commitment-free test drive.
If you choose not to install it, nothing is lost -- just remove the disk or drive and go back to Windows. If you like what you see, though -- and I'm betting you will -- you'll be equipped with what you need to install Linux for real.
Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.