Running Linux In Windows

Category: Linux

So you're ready to explore Linux, an operating system alternative to Windows or Mac. But you don't have an extra computer laying around. No problem... you can run Linux on your existing computer, without messing up your Windows system. Here's how...

How to Run Linux Under Windows

Linux is noted for it’s stability, security from spyware and viruses, and as the emblem of affordable computing. And if you thought you might need to buy a second computer to install and run Linux, I've got good news. You can run Linux right alongside Windows on the computer you already have.

Even better, there are three ways to run Linux on a Windows computer, depending on your needs and your level of tech savvy.

  • Option 1: Use a virtualization or emulator program, which lets you run Linux in a window on your Windows desktop.
  • Option 2: Load Linux as a secondary operating system on your computer, creating a dual-boot system.
  • Option 3: Run Linux from a "Live CD" that you can download.
running linux on windows

Running Linux in a Windows Virtual Machine

There are several programs available that allow for running Linux in a "virtual machine" on your Windows desktop. Two of the more popular emulation programs are Parallels Workstation ($49 after 15-day free trial) and VMWare Workstation ($189 after 30-day free trial). If you already have Windows XP on your PC and you want to install Linux, Parallels or VMWare will let you install Linux as a "Guest" operating system in a virtual machine created by software.

In either case, the install is user-friendly and takes just a few minutes. Once installed, you'll need to follow the prompts to set up the Linux virtual machine, then install the version of Linux that you either downloaded or have on a CD. Parallels and VMWare both support the more popular versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu, Red Hat and SuSE.

Running Linux in its own window on your Windows desktop lets you compare the two systems, and you can even share files or cut and paste text from one to the other.

Running Linux and Windows via Dual Boot

You can also choose to set up a dual-boot configuration, so you can boot either operating system, when you start up your computer. If you want the best performance from your Linux system, running it natively on the hardware is preferable to running in a virtual machine.

You can use disk-partitioning software like Acronis Disk Director or Norton Commander to set up partitions on your hard drive to enable dual booting, or use the disk-partitioning utility bundled with your version of Linux. Typically, the Linux installer will guide you through the process of splitting your hard drive into two or more partitions, so that one partition contains your Windows installation and the other is dedicated to Linux. A boot loader, such as LILO or GRUB will also be installed to help you select which system you want to boot at power-on time.

Just to be clear, running both Windows and Linux on a dual-boot system does NOT allow you to run both operating systems simultaneously, as with the emulators mentioned above. You'll have to boot up one system, shut down, and then boot up the other to switch between the two.

Running Linux From a Live CD

The live CD option lets you pop a CD containing a complete Linux system into your Windows computer, and boot up Linux from the CD. This is arguably the easiest way to check out Linux on a Windows machine for a new Linux user. The drawback to running with a live CD is that it's much slower than running from a hard drive. But you will be able to take the graphical user interface for a nice test drive, fire up a web browser, check out some Linux games, and try out the office applications.

There are several companies that offer free live CDs, including Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Knoppix, and (pardon the French) Damn Small Linux. In each case, you'll download a HUGE file which is an "image" of the Linux install disk. You'll then burn that image to a CDROM disk, and use it to boot up your system. Damn Small Linux (a bare-bones Linux) is only 50MB (compared to about 700MB for the others) and will boot up either from the CD, or directly from the image on your Windows desktop. But if you want to see a slick graphical version of Linux, I'd recommend you go with Ubuntu.

Choose the option that meets your needs and give Linux a try. Your Windows installation will be waiting for you when you come back. Unless you decide to decide to switch to Linux for good!

 
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Posted by on 15 Nov 2007


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Most recent comments on "Running Linux In Windows"

Posted by:

Joe
17 Nov 2007

Who says you can't save anything when running a "live" distribution? Plug in a USB key or drive and save to it.

Or you can mount a partition on your hard drive and save to it.

I've seen at least one live distro that let you save configuration files to the hard drive, for the next time you boot the live CD.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Quite right, I've updated that section of the article, thanks.


Posted by:

Robert Gentry
17 Nov 2007

You forgot Puppy. No install, just use as a live CD. It will use use your main drive to store a swap file, a saved file, etc. Runs faster than Windows because it's al in ram. Download the iso, burn it and your ready to go.

EDITOR'S NOTE: All of the live CD's are the same in that respect... there's no need to install. Just pop in the CD and you're running Linux. I heard that the XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project were using Puppy Linux.


Posted by:

Diip Guha
17 Nov 2007

Dear Bob, I have installed Ubuntu Feisty 7.04 on my computer running WXP home, using the dual boot method.

Unfortunately I cannot use broadband to access or upgrade Ubuntu online. I use the ADSL Voyager 105 wired modem.

I would appreciate your advice on how to configure the modem to accept Ubuntu operating system.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Does your ADSL modem have a standard ethernet (network) cable from the modem to the computer? If so, Ubuntu should connect to the Internet with no trouble. Or is it a dialup modem that requires a Linux driver? If so, search online for the driver.


Posted by:

dave dobbs
22 Nov 2007

Bob,

VMWare is a terrific way to run Linux on a windows
PC, but there's absolutely no reason to shell out $189 for Workstation. VMWare Server is free and it will both create virtual modules, from either a CD or an .ISO file, and run them flawlessly...Dave


Posted by:

Gary Hellmen
22 Nov 2007

I use a dual boot system with Windows Vista and Mandriva 2008 Linux. My preferred OS is Mandriva, with it's 3D desktop. VERY cool!!


Posted by:

Jim
22 Nov 2007

vmWare server and vmWare player are free. Although one might expect a "server" product to be more expensive than the desktop, with vmWare this is not true. vmWare server is an "entry-level" virtual machine. vmWare player can use any virtual machine already pre-built, of which there are many downloadable (vmWare calls them appliances). The point being that you don't have to spend any money to take a virtualized Linux for a spin.

MS Virtual PC 2007 is also free and there are others...

Jim

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc/default.mspx

vmWare Server: http://vmware.com/products/server/
vmWare Player: http://vmware.com/products/player/
vmWare appliances: http://vmware.com/appliances/


Posted by:

Mr Bigstuff
22 Nov 2007

With reference to puppy, no, all live CD's are not the same. Most live CD's will run off the CD itself so performance takes a hit. Puppy is so compact it loads completely in RAM, which means the OS runs at optimum performance, and once it's loaded you can take out the CD to use the tray for other things. If you burn puppy to a DVD RW you can also save your session direct to the DVD,(providing you've still got it in the tray;) )


Posted by:

James
25 Nov 2007

Hey everybody, one way to use linux inside of windows is vmware player. Its just like VMware but you don't have to install the linux operating system. You just download what vmware.com calls a virtual appliance which is basically a virtual machine, or operating system set up already to run in vmware player. There are actually a lot of these virtual appliances available to download directly from www.vmware.com Once you download vmware player and a virtual appliance of your choice, just open up vmware player and it will prompt you to locate your vmware appliance on your hd. Do that and click enter or ok and you're up and running.


Posted by:

Carl
25 Nov 2007

Easiest way is this, http://wubi-installer.org/
Best way is to Remove Windows altogether and just install your favorite Linux Flavor instead. Wubi is nice though It creates a folder in Windows and installs Ubuntu into the folder, if you wish to remove Ubuntu later just uninstall it like you would any other program.


Posted by:

Scott Strehlow
26 Nov 2007

SWSOFT also has Parallels Desktop which runs on OS-X on Intel Macs. Within its virtual machines, you can install any OS that will run on a typical Intel-based PC, including Linux. I have Win2k Pro on my MacBook. With "Coherence" mode, all the applications appear on the Mac desktop regardless of the OS that is hosting them. Of course, OS-X is, at its kernal, UNIX anyway, so there may be little point running Linux on one. Many Linux applications will run just fine under OS-X.


Posted by:

Mr Bigstuff
26 Nov 2007

Oh, forgot to mention VirtualBox, http://www.virtualbox.org/

I've got it set up in Linux Mint, running Win 98Se, Win XP, and Sabayon, and have also seen Vista running on it. There's no reason why it can't be set up in Windows to run Linux. Not only is it a fully featured vitualization product, but it's also open source, and free, as in free beer. (NB: As an aside, regarding Linux Mint and Sabayon, I think technically it's illegal for people to use those in the States. Pity.)


Posted by:

Peter V. Fiorentino
09 Dec 2007

Hi Bob:

I have been using Xandros Home Desktop 4.0 for about a year with excellent results. This Debian based distribution has completely automated the installation process on a Windows machine to create a dual-boot setup. The paid version comes with built-in virus, firewall and malware protection as well as CodeWeavers CrossOver Office to run popular Windows programs directly under Xandros.


Posted by:

François
11 Jun 2008

Hi dear Bob! Can I have you tutorial on Linux. I'm new in this environment, and as the introduction settle, it is a good tutorial for newers like me.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See http://www.lowfatlinux.com


Posted by:

paul
25 Nov 2008

thanks it could not easier to do.


Posted by:

Shakermaker
04 Feb 2009

I recently discovered VirtualBox by Sun Microsystems (free download!) and took Linux plunge. I've always been curious about the OS, however I was a little reluctant about installing it on my Mac. Partitioning confused me, and the LiveCD version of Ubuntu 8.04 was just too slow. So yesterday (while snowed in) I tinkered around with VirtualBox(VB) and I'm delighted to say that its installation was a snap. I was quickly guided through a Virtual Machine (VM) set-up and then installed Ubuntu 8.04 on it. The manual for VB is well laid out and answered most of my questions about the set-up. The sweet thing about using VB is that you don't have to re-boot your computer each time you want to use a particular OS. I'm quite proud of myself and I'm looking forward to exploring Linux. I feel like such a geek ;).

PS...If you intend on trying what I did make sure you install "Guest Additions" on your "guest" OS (ie. the one running on your VM). Otherwise you'll be limited to using the guest OS in a windowed vice full-screen mode.


Posted by:

Claude
23 Feb 2010

Note that "live CDs" can be easily created on USB drives or other memory media which is especially necessary if you own a netbook or light laptop without an optical drive. I have explored over a two dozen varieties of Linux distros on USBs and am usually able to create "persistence" which allows me to save my settings, add software and updates which of course can't be done when you just "pop a CD...into your Windows computer."

I also find that with lightweight distros one often can run Linux from the Pc's own ram with a noticeable increase in speed.


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