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Dualbooting, Virtualization and Wubi - Windows and Linux as One

written by: Pranav Thadeshwar•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 5/27/2011

Do you want to try out Linux on your laptop? Scared of messing up your Windows install and losing all your data and work? In this article, we take a look at a few ways to have Windows and Linux on the same laptop, without either operating system destroying the other!

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    With the increased popularity that Linux is getting everyday, it's difficult not to be affected by the hype. And with the good things being said about it, everyone wants to give it a shot. The only problem is that Linux is not an application which can be installed in Windows. It is a completely different operating system which has to be installed independent of any other operating systems present on your computer. Since most beginners would rather not take a complete plunge and delete everything off their hard-disks before installing Linux, certain steps have to be taken to install/run Linux without destroying your Windows partitions.

    There are lots of ways to get Linux and Windows on the same laptop, the most common being dualbooting and virtualization. In this article, we will take a look at them.

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    Dualbooting means exactly that - having two different operating systems available to boot. Once a dualboot setup has been configured, you will be able to choose which operating system you want to boot when you turn your computer on. This selection screen is known as a bootloader and it will boot your selection of operating system.

    While you can theoretically install Linux first, followed by Windows, it will be more cumbersome to do so since Windows erases Linux's bootloader and installs it own, making Linux unbootable. You would then have to boot the Linux installer CD/DVD and reinstall the Grub bootloader. The simplest and smartest way is to install Windows first. Once Windows is installed, you have to boot the Linux distribution's installer. Many distributions come with LiveCDs which allow you to test the distribution before you install them. Others have an installer CD/DVD which starts up an installer script and helps you install it. The method of installation depends on your choice of distribution.

    Most distributions today come with a LiveCD which allows you to test it before installation. All you have to do is download the CD/DVD image, burn it to a CD/DVD in ISO/Image format, then boot it on your computer by changing the BIOS settings. The Linux bootable CD/DVD will start up a simple bootloader which will instruct you to press "Enter" or type in a specific option for behavior/drivers not present in the default bootup. In most cases, all you have to do is press "Enter" which will boot the Linux installer/live CD/DVD. Once booted, it should either show an installer or a usable Linux environment with an icon on the desktop for the Installer program.

    During the installation, the installer should detect your Windows partition(s) on your hard-disk. Setting up dual-boot is as simple as selecting the relevant option from the installation menu and following the onscreen prompts. The Linux installer will then automatically partition your hard-disk in such a way as to have a separate Linux partition.

    The GRUB bootloader will be installed in place of Windows' NT Bootloader. Grub supports booting of various operating systems, including Windows and Linux.

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    Virtualization is a method by which the actual hardware is hidden to a guest operating system and in its place, an abstract, emulated computing platform is provided.

    In simple words, virtualization allows you to run two operating systems on your computer simultaneously. The actual operating system installed on your computer is known as the host operating system. You can have either Linux or Windows as the host operating system. On this host os, you have to install a virtual machine application which will emulate a computer and allow you to boot a second operating system inside it.

    Various virtual machine applications are available today, some for free, others paid:

    • VMWare (Paid/Free) - VMWare Player is free, but it does not allow you to create your own Virtual Machines, only run them.
    • VirtualBox (Free)
    • Parallels (Paid)

    VMWare and VirtualBox can be run on a system where either Windows or Linux is the host operating system, while Parallels supports Windows or Mac OSX as the host operating system.

    Either of these applications are installed on the host operating system, depending on the availability of the applications on that operating system. These applications then allow you to create virtual machines and define/configure the hardware characteristics of the virtual machine. Once the virtual machine is created, you can boot it from inside the application and load the Linux CD/DVD image or Windows CD to install inside the virtual machine.

    The installation of the operating system inside the virtual machine will be exactly like a normal installation, but instead of seeing your computer's actual hardware, the installer will see the abstract hardware presented by the virtual machine application. The second operating system, known as the guest os, will be installed on a virtual disk which is created during the creation of the virtual machine itself.

    Once installed, the virtual machine can be booted at any time. The guest os contained inside the virtual machine can then interoperate with the host os using features provided by the virtual machine application. Please refer to the documentation for your virtualization software for further information on its capabilities.

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    A third method of having Linux and Windows on the same laptop is by using Wubi. According to Wubi's own website, "Wubi is an officially supported Ubuntu installer for Windows users that can bring you to the Linux world with a single click. Wubi allows you to install and uninstall Ubuntu as any other Windows application, in a simple and safe way."

    Make no mistake about it; even though Ubuntu is installed from within Windows, it is not a virtualized environment. The installer creates a virtual hard-disk inside a file on your hard-disk which will house the Linux operating system and files. The Wubi installer will also create a second entry in your bootloader for Ubuntu Linux.

    When you select Linux from the bootloader menu, the virtual hard-disk is mounted as the root partition of Linux and is then booted. This will give you a real Linux environment and you will be able to use and access your laptop's actual hardware, not an abstract virtual machine.

    Wubi is a simple Windows application which downloads the relevant Ubuntu CD/DVD images from the Internet and installs Ubuntu on your hard-disk from within Windows itself. The computer then reboots to complete the installation of Ubuntu. The best part is that you do not need to mess around with partitions and bootloaders to get Linux in a dualboot configuration with Windows.

    To try out Wubi, click here and download the Wubi installer from the linked page.

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    Final Words

    Whether you want to run Windows inside Linux, Linux inside Windows or both of them side-by-side, multiple methods are available to do so. The above-mentioned applications and methods are the most common and popular ways to have Linux and Windows on the same laptop. They have been tried by hundreds of thousands of people and are known to work well.