If by now you still didn’t know that you can run two different operating systems side by side within a single physical computer, then well, you have some serious catching up to do! Dual booting is a great method to have two separate platforms to do your bidding. You can use one operating system as your main workhorse and the other to be your software testbed or “play computer”. Although both operating systems live on the same hard drive, there is still a level of isolation between the two. This is great for users who venture into the dark underworld of the Internet as harm done to your “testbed” operating system can’t do harm to your main operating system. This isn’t always true but dual booting is still generally utilized when some sort of isolation is needed. By dual booting Linux Ubuntu next to Windows, we can get the best of both worlds (I’m sure you heard that one a lot). Ubuntu is completely free so you don’t have to worry about licenses and men in black suits kicking down your door for piracy.
Rather than utilizing virtualization, here in this article I will go over how to actually perform a true dual-boot configuration. Virtualization is a much safer method (no hard drive partitioning required) if you want to use Linux but it has its limitations (mainly hardware wise). The advantage is that you get to use both Windows and Linux at the same time. By actually installing a “real” version of Linux right next to our Windows operating system, we allow Linux to maximize our computer hardware. The disadvantage is that we can only boot and use one operating system at a time.
Things to note:
- Performing a true dual-boot configuration as detailed here is not the best way to go if all you want to do is test Linux Ubuntu. The awesome thing about Ubuntu is the many different methods of installation it presents to the user. Linux back in the days was not very user friendly but now a days, it is almost as easy to install as Windows. For testing purposes, you can either use virtual machines or booting Ubuntu from a LiveCD. The latter option is the most hassle free as it runs completely from memory and nothing gets installed on your hard drive. When you are done with it, simply reboot your computer.
- Check out the Wubi installer for Ubuntu. This installs like any other program. However, after the installation, you’ll have a completely functional dual boot configuration with Windows! Wubi is aimed for users who are not comfortable with installing Ubuntu on a separate partition and having to worry about the bootloader and whatnot. When you tire of Ubuntu, simply uninstall the application (again, just like any other program) and everything will be back to normal!
- Ubuntu is a completely free operating system. No license key required. However, if you dual boot with another version of Windows, you will need a separate license key for that installation. No exception!
Please be aware that anytime you partition your hard drive, there is a chance that you wipe out something you didn’t intend to. This could lead to data loss and worst case scenario, a non-bootable computer. If you want to be absolutely cautious, create a full system image backup of your current Windows installation prior to performing any of the following steps below. This ensures that you can restore your system in its entirety should something goes wrong!
As always a note of caution, my hard drive setup can differ from your own setup. Therefore, the pictures you see here pertains to my configuration only. However, the concept is usually the same and you should be able to follow along without any problems.
Preparation and Installation
1. The first thing we need to do is obviously grab a copy of the latest version of Linux Ubuntu! There are various versions of Linux to choose from but Ubuntu is the most user friendly of them all and if you’re familiar with Windows, then you should also choose Ubuntu. You can download the latest version from here. Just make sure to choose the operating system version (32-bit or 64-bit) your computer supports.
2. Now we prepare your hard drive. Basically, we just need to carve out a empty partition out of our current hard drive to store and hold our Ubuntu operating system. Similar to how Windows need a chunk of hard drive space to store its system files and your data, Ubuntu also requires the same. For this, I recommend you to use the freely available Easeus Partition Manager. It’s easy to use and it’s free! Once you have it downloaded and extracted, proceed to install the program like any other. Afterwards, fire up the program. You should now see a list/chart of your hard drive configuration within your system. As you can see, my setup is very simple as I only have one physical hard drive available. However, you can see that I have two partitions within that one physical hard drive. The partition I need to work on is the C: partition.
Now you need to decide how much disk space you are willing to give to your Ubuntu installation. Obviously the more you will be using the operating system, the more space you will want to give it as you’ll most likely be downloading a lot of programs and videos. Please account the swap partition when deciding how much space to allocate. The swap partition is used by Ubuntu to store information between RAM and hard disk space. If you have less than 2GB of physical RAM installed, then you’ll want to create a 2GB swap partition. If you have 4GB or more, than create at a minimum, a 4GB swap partition. Keep in mind that you normally do not store your own data on the swap partition. It is maintained by system. I only have 2GB of RAM. So, if I want to allocate 4GB of hard disk space to my Ubuntu installation, I’ll need at least 6GB of space.
When you have made your decision, select the partition with Easeus Partition Manager and hit the Resize/Move button at the top. In the window, you can simply use your mouse and slide the arrow to the left to specify how much empty disk space you want to carve out of that partition. Pay attention to the “Unallocated Space After” value as this is the empty disk space used for our Ubuntu installation. Once you are satisfied, hit OK but don’t worry, the changes are not final yet.
Back in the main window, you should see the newly created empty chunk of hard drive space named “Unallocated”. If you made a mistake or want to do redo it, simply hit the Undo button at the lower left corner and restart over. When you are absolutely sure the size of the partition is to your liking, hit the Apply button. Your computer will reboot and Easeus Partition Manager will do its thing.
Once the resize operation has completed, your computer will automatically reboot back into Windows. If you head back into Easeus Partition Manager (or Windows Disk Management), you should now see the unallocated chunk of disk space waiting for us to utilize it. At this point, we now have pretty much everything to install Ubuntu right next to our Windows operating system! Pat yourself on the back if everything came out correctly as this can be considered the most scary part of the installation!
3. Alright, so now we create a bootable CD/DVD from the ISO image we downloaded from Ubuntu’s website. Windows 7 has a built-in image burning feature so all you need to do is pop in a blank disc, double click on your ISO image and burn away!
4. After the burning process has completed, it’s finally time to install Ubuntu. Pop the disc into your computer and reboot your system. Here is the tricky part for most users. You’ll need to set your CD/DVD drive as the first boot device or else your hard drive will continue to boot first and you’ll never get to install Ubuntu. Altering the boot order can be achieved by heading into your BIOS or in the startup boot-menu should your computer support that feature.
5. If everything went correctly, Ubuntu should start in place of Windows. Let it load and eventually, you’ll get to the install screen. Select Install Ubuntu.
In the next screen, Ubuntu gives you some recommendations. Check the two checkboxes at the bottom for a better Ubuntu experience.
In the Allocate Drive Space window, be absolutely sure to select the “Specify Partitions Manually” option! I know it’s tempting to select the “Install alongside other operating systems” option but we want to do everything manually for the most control so do your best to ignore it!
Now we specify the partition for the Ubuntu installation and the swap partition. Remember the free chunk of space we created with Easeus Partition Manager? That’s what we’ll be using here. I’ll go ahead and create the swap partition first. Click on your Free Space and select the Add button. In the Partition Size field, I’ll set it to 2000 (2GB). For the Location, I’ll set it to End. Under Use As, select “swap area”. Hit OK and the partition will be created. If you made a mistake, simply hit the Revert button to undo the changes.
The remaining free space can now be used for the main installation of Ubuntu. Select it from the window and hit the Add button once again. In Location, I select End. For Use As, I select the default “Ext4 journaling file system”. As for the Mount Point, select “/” from the list. Hit OK. If everything looks good in the main window, then hit the Install Button to begin the installation!
Next, you’ll get to pick your location from the world map.
Next comes your keyboard layout.
Next comes the important piece. You get to set your name, computer name, username, password, and whether or not Ubuntu should prompt you for your password before logging in. If you want to, you can also choose to encrypt your home folder for extra security.
Once you’re finished with that, there will be more installation procedures performed by Ubuntu. At this time, Ubuntu has all the information it requires from you. Either sit back and relax while the installation finishes up or you can go over some informational slides teaching you some of the features offered by Ubuntu. If you’re a new user to Ubuntu, definitely check them out. Once that’s done, take out your disc when prompted and restart the computer.
If everything went as it should, you will now be presented with the GRUB boot menu. As you may have guessed already, this is where you get to choose which operating system to boot into every time you power on your computer. Neat huh?
Test out your new Ubuntu installation by selecting it in the GRUB menu (it should be the default choice from now on if you don’t make a selection within so many seconds). Again, if everything went smoothly, you should be presented with the log-in screen (if you opted to to input your password every time) and finally, the Ubuntu desktop. You’re now free to do pretty much whatever it is you want to. One task you should immediately perform is making sure all new security updates are installed.
Ubuntu Removal & Reclaiming Disk Space Instructions
It’s certainly possible to break the dual-boot configuration if you either plan on starting Ubuntu from scratch or if you simply got tired of having to manage two operating systems on your machine. Whatever the case may be, the steps to do so are really easy as long as you follow the instructions here!
Before deleting any partition, you always want to make sure that you have saved all of your important data onto another storage device. Once you delete the partition, it will be really hard to recover the data. In other words, make absolutely sure every piece of important data residing within your Ubuntu installation is backed up!
With the bootloader issue out of the way, we can now focus our task on reclaiming the used disk space of Ubuntu. The GRUB removal process simply disallowed us from booting back into Ubuntu. The data, however, is still available .For that, we head back into Easeus Partition Manager. You should see the swap and the main Ubuntu partitions. We want to delete them and then merge them back onto our main Windows partition (the original partition we took space from in the beginning). In other words, we want to undo all of our steps in preparing for the Ubuntu installation and start back right where we were before.
Here is a picture of how it should look at the moment:
Select the main Ubuntu partition and hit the Delete button at the top. Ignore the warning about losing your data and whatnot (you backed up your important data already, right?). Perform the same procedure on the swap partition. With those two partitions deleted, you should now have one chunk of unallocated space.
Don’t hit Apply yet because we now need to extend our main Windows partition to take over this chunk of unallocated space. Select your Windows partition (C:) and hit the Resize/Move button. Simply drag the partition arrow in the picture completely to the right so that it occupies the unallocated space. Remember, we dragged it to the left earlier to create a separate partition. We now drag it to the right to reclaim that space. After you hit the OK button, you should now see that you are right back to where you started from in the beginning.
Once you have confirmed that everything looks good, hit the Apply button to restart the computer and have the changes applied.
When you are back inside Windows, check either within Easeus Partition Manager, My Computer, or Disk Management to ensure that your Ubuntu disk space has been properly merged with your Windows partition. That’s all there is to it!