Installing Windows and Linux On the Same Computer

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

SabrinaSouza asked the Answer Line forum how to install Linux onto a PC without losing Windows.

You can pick from many versions of Linux, but I'll confine my instructions here to Ubuntu. It's popular, it's powerful, and it plays well with Windows.

There are other versions that I'll recommend for specific jobs (such as diagnosing an unbootable PC), but for learning Linux and possibly using it for productive work, Ubuntu is the best choice I know.

You download Ubuntu in the form of an .iso file, which is an image file of a CD--in this case a bootable one. Double-click the file, and a program will likely come up and walk you through the process of burning the disc.

If no such program pops up, download and install the Active@ ISO Burner, then try again.

Another option: Use the Universal USB Installer to create a bootable flash drive out of that same .iso file. I actually prefer the flash drive; it's faster.

So what can you do with this CD or flash drive? Plenty, but I'll give you three options:

Just Boot It

Ubuntu is a live version of Linux. You don't have to install it. You can simply boot it from the CD or flash drive, and, when asked, say you want to run rather than install Ubuntu.

This works for getting a feel for the operating system, but not for actual work. For instance, the contents of Ubuntu's Document folder disappears when you reboot.

Install Ubuntu Within Windows

You can actually install Ubuntu as a Windows program, although you can't launch it as one.

Insert the CD or flash drive. If nothing starts up automatically, open the drive in Windows Explorer and run wubi.exe. Select the option Install inside Windows, and follow the prompts.

When you reboot after the install, your PC will boot Linux and start setting it up. This can take a long time--especially if you're using a CD. Be patient.

The next time you boot, and with every boot afterwards, you'll get to pick between Windows and Ubuntu. And you can uninstall Ubuntu like any other Windows program.

Install Ubuntu in a Virtual Machine

You can run both OSes simultaneously by installing Ubuntu inside a virtual machine (VM). In a VM, software imitates hardware so that you effectively run one computer inside another.

I can recommend two free VM programs: VMware Player and Oracle VM VirtualBox. Ubuntu installs just fine in either of them. VirtualBox is more powerful, but I find VMware Player easier for the virtual machine novice. (Yes, I know that I recommended VirtualBox just last week, but that was for a Windows 8-specific job.)

By the way, you don't actually need to burn a CD or prepare a flash drive to install Ubuntu inside a virtual machine. Both VMware Player and Oracle VM VirtualBox can install directly from the .iso file.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon