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How to convince a Mac OS X or Windows user to try GNU/Linux? Installing the desired distribution in a Virtual Machine? Read them all those FAQs about partitioning your hard drive for a dual-boot system? No, no – there’s an easier way: live CDs or DVDs! Almost every distribution (like Ubuntu, Knoppix or Fedora) are capable of booting into a fully functional desktop right from a burned disc. Simply download the .iso image file, burn it to a CD or DVD with your favorite disc burning application, and reboot your machine!
But one big disadvantage, especially on older hardware, is the slow startup time. Jamie Bennett, blogger and one of Canonical’s Ubuntu Mobile developers, has explained the difficulties of speeding up the process. Tweaking and speeding the boot time is only possible if you find out why it was slow:
There are two broad steps in the process of booting a live CD. The first is preparing the environment for the session and the second — you guessed it — is actually booting into the session. Initial hunches were that the first step (setup) was the major cause of slowness.
For the tech-savvy out there: the debconf database was slowing the boot. Setting up the session is the responsibility of a project called casper, which is a set of scripts that are run on boot to do such things as unpack the initial file system, add a dummy user, setup languages and keyboard layouts, and so forth.
According to Bennett, tweaks to the debconf database have boosted the live CD startup time nearly 33%! He reports that the original boot process took nearly 3 minutes on a ARM based iMX51 device. With all tweaks applied the boot is now down to 1 minute 53 seconds.