Did you try Knoppix(The first thing you should try)?
This is Linux Live-CD, i.e. you just boot from the CD, and Linux starts up, without installing, without touching your hard drive, without formatting your Windows. Knoppix has a website : www.knoppix.de .But don't bother downloading it from there, unless you have a super fast unlimited Broadband connection. This CD is available every now and then with various magazines, or they can be had from the market at very cheap rates. Any local geek will be happy to burn this CD for you.
This particular magazine: Linux For You, comes up with Knoppix or its variants very often, but not always!. Before buying check that the CD is a LIVE-CD (look for the word LIVE mentioned on the CD face), or look for some Older issues. There is no particular choice, Linux as we need for our college work is essentially included in all of the Live-CDs.
I have had some troubles running Java on some live distros. I would recommend Knoppix version 3.2 if it is available. Otherwise, do some hit & trial.
MSYS - Minimal SYStem (My personal choice for windows and highly recommended)
This is a really good software that runs on Windows. It emulates the Linux shell, it has the vi editor, and most of the commands you would want to know about. It is also a very small download (<4 MB) : http://www.mingw.org/msys.shtml .
This tool itself is also great for shell programming in the Fourth Semester.
To compile & run C/C++ programs as well, you will also need the MinGW (Minimal GNU for Windows)
The MinGW package contains the gcc/g++ compiler which will behave exactly as the compiler on the Linux computers. This is a bit hefty download at(~ 12 MB) : www.mingw.org . I got it off a CD. It is better to install MinGW compiler before MSys for ease of configuration.
CYGWIN - The complete Linux emulator
MSys and MinGW will not be enough in the Fourth semester, where you have to do graphics programming using XLib. The full install of CYGWIN has almost the complete Linux OS, including the graphics (X), running on Windows!. But it is HUGE at (~ 500MB) : www.cygwin.com . I got it from the Linux For You CD (dated June 2005, Vol.3 Issue 4, Disk 1). The setup's default options don't install anything, make sure you select INSTALL for all the packages (at the top of the tree, ~1.5 GB after install). If you think that we can do XLib using MSys and MinGW, Please let me know!(would be great). If this is not available, Knoppix is your best bet.
Peanut - Linux
This Linux distro installs inside windows, without hurting it, but hardware support is not great (for me!). Windows 98 users have a good chance in these type of distros.
Why not INSTALL Linux?
Linux is not that much difficult to install. If you don't want Windows at all, installation is a breeze. Otherwise, newer distros have great partitioning and dual-booting facilities.
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