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Using Windows 7 And Linux On The Same Computer

For many reasons, often related to security, Windows users are drawn to looking at Linux as an alternative. Some may not realize that Linux can also be used as a complimentary system by dual booting it alongside Windows.

Linux is all about choice but unfortunately this is where the journey for many Windows users begins and ends. Not only are there so many Linux distributions to choose from, many also offer a variety of desktop environments making the choice process highly confusing.

In order to try and cut through some of this, I’ve put this guide together assuming a current Windows 7 user with a fairly modern desktop or laptop would like to dual boot this with Linux.  

The great advantage of Linux is that most distros offer a live CD or DVD version. This means you can boot from your optical drive and run this live system just as you would if it was fully installed. Some functions, notably saving, will be restricted/missing and generally all operations will be slower than for a full installation, but you can still try out most of the functions, change the themes etc., in order to get a feel for each one before deciding whether or not to install it. Many also offer the option to boot into a live session from a USB drive. You can create this using the freeware UNetbootin to convert your downloaded Linux ISO images. Merely rebooting your machine after each live session will return you to Windows which is not changed or affected in any way.

Bear in mind also that whatever default look appears when you run your live session can be customized as much as you like once you have your preferred distro fully installed. You can play with different theme, icon and font settings during a live session to get a flavor of what is possible.

Discounting the different desktop choices for now, there are several “types” of Linux distro. Minimal is what it suggests and most of these I would not recommend for new users to Linux as they can encounter issues with initial settings, especially regarding the all important internet connection. Next are the main distributions which profess to supply a fully operational and complete system. How each one of these achieves this is somewhat open for debate which is why a few “kitchen sink” variants have also sprung up. Although these might look attractive on the face of it, I’ve encountered enough problems with some of them to advise caution, but not all.

Before we go any further, it’s worth now just making a brief statement about the various desktop environments. I’m also going to simplify this by not including all of them which I don’t see as necessary for the context of this guide.

Basically there was KDE and Gnome, plus the others. A while back now, Ubuntu developed its own system called Unity and Gnome which was V2 moved to V3. There is so much argument about the pros and cons of these deviations, but this should not affect new Linux users because not having seen what went before, they can make up their minds about what is being offered now without the nuisance of history to worry about. I guess we should also mention the Cinnamon desktop which since its adoption by Mint and some other distros is gaining in popularity and also MATE which was developed to fill the gap left by the demise of Gnome2 and placate the many haters of Gnome3 and Unity.

So, down to the recommends.

Recommended Linux Distros

Please check the version numbers of the screenshots listed below because not all of them relate to the latest releases.

UbuntuUndoubtedly and despite the gripes about Unity, Ubuntu remains hugely popular so this is where I would advise to go first. Users of mobile apps especially should feel at home with the interface and enjoy the experience overall. The live online updating process during install, including language packs, can be a bit lengthy so users with a slow connection might need to consider this when looking at the other alternatives.

More screenshots here.

Linux MintLinux Mint originally set out to be an “improvement” on Ubuntu and its rise to the top of the distro charts suggests they were successful. Mint has developed it’s own desktop called Cinnamon but also offers a variety of other choices.

More screenshots here.

ZorinNext we should consider Zorin which has been purposely designed to appeal to Windows “migrants”. I’ve recommended Zorin to several folks here locally, and only one has opted to change it for something else.

More screenshots here.

Zorin also produce a "lite" version for lower powered computers.

A final Gnome 3 based distro with enough differences to make it interesting is Pear OS from France. Check it out and see what you think.

MageiaMoving to KDE, if you like “pretty” then check out Mageia. Some KDE distros are quite demanding resource wise, but Mageia is one of the lighter ones and I love it.

KororaaDesigned to be a more complete version of Fedora, Kororaa is one of the heavier KDE distros but most modern machines will cope admirably, especially if they are already running Windows 7. 

More screenshots here.

 

There are some other contenders well worth the effort to download and try as a live session.

SuperX has provided by far the best KDE experience for me and runs error free on three different systems, all of which are dual booted with Windows 7. Screenshots here and here.

Another good KDE contender is the German distro ZevenOS Neptune. Screenshot here.

Alternatively, how about combining KDE and Xfce components together? Centrych does this and the result is both different and pleasing to the eye. Customized screenshot here.

Trisquel stands out as being one of the few distros to include only free software. It also has a more classic look which might appeal to some. Screenshots here and here.

Point Linux is a Debian based distro that uses the MATE desktop. One of the advantages of Point is that with a few clicks you can install and enable both Compiz and Emerald, giving access to a multitude of great themes.

Finally, a  lighter weight recommendation that is blindingly fast, compared to Windows 7, and a joy to use.

BodhiMy final recommendation is a minimal distribution called Bodhi. It does come with a browser installed, but little else, although all the programs you need can be automatically installed from the Bodhi AppCentre with just a couple of clicks. Bodhi uses the E17 or Enlightenment desktop which is certainly different, but also highly configurable. If you are the type of person who relishes the ability to customize looks, then this one is for you. There are a range of set themes available which change the whole look, including desktop gadgets. The individual theme components can also be mixed and matched so there’s enough here to keep you occupied for hours.

More screenshots here.

Dual Boot Linux with Windows 7

In order to dual boot Linux with Windows 7, it is necessary to free up some space on your hard drive for it first. This is a simple operation as detailed here in this guide to dual booting with Ubuntu.

Most users will be able to dual boot their computer with no issues at all, but as ever, something can always go wrong. To overcome this risk, please consider the following.

1] Back up your important data and preferably have a complete image of your Windows system available should you need to restore it.

2] Google for “How to dual boot Windows 7 and (your chosen Linux distribution)” and read the guide first. Many of these are also on Youtube.

I hope the above will encourage more people to consider dual booting their Windows 7 with Linux and enjoying the same experience I do. This process can be a little frustrating to begin with, but once you discover the speed, safety, reliability and configurability of Linux, then the journey is well worth the effort.

With thanks to our member phrnk for pointing out I should also have included some information about how to return your PC to a Windows only state (apart from using an image). This link works for my machine but your mileage may vary.  Depending on your own circumstances it might be necessary to use a variant of the command line code described in the link. Please Google for a few more options before you attempt this process. You will also need your Windows install CD so if this is not available and/or you are uncomfortable with the thought of using the command line, you may wish to consider if a dual boot is right for you.  Another option is to use the program EasyBCD which does not require the Windows installation disk to function (the link to the free version is at the bottom of the page). See also this guide.

 

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Comments

by Abdus Shahid on 7. March 2014 - 8:12  (114855)

I shall try hard to instal Windows7 in my Linux/ubuntu

by MidnightCowboy on 7. March 2014 - 9:19  (114860)

Thank you for jogging my memory about this article which needs a clean and polish. :) I've already removed some of the dead stuff and I'll be updating the links and adding some new content as soon as I can get round to it. MC - Site Manager.

by drh2020 on 9. April 2012 - 3:41  (91783)

I generally install Windows 7 using only a portion of the disk, say 50% which allows the other half for linux. Most linux distros will then walk you through installing on the free disk that is available. Pretty easy.

So the other rule of thumb is: Install Windows first, then Linux and all is good.

by meanpt (not verified) on 28. March 2012 - 10:53  (91322)

There is no need to mess with your hard drive. I run bodhi from a Extreme sandisk sd card, Ubuntu from a pen cruzer an from an exernal HD, where I also have installed ... well, among others and from the list, I was missing fedora. Of course, Bodhi is the one the get the job done in portable mode.

by MidnightCowboy on 28. March 2012 - 12:27  (91324)

I too like Bodhi. Can't understand why a couple of the Enlightenment (E17) distros have fallen by the wayside and more of the bigger guys have not taken it up, at least as an option. Elive also looks good but then you have to pay to install it.

by phrnk on 27. March 2012 - 18:15  (91279)

returning to single boot windows 7 (i.e., without grub) isn't a trivial task. perhaps your article should include directions for doing so, or at least point to a link on the topic.

by GraveDigger on 28. March 2012 - 3:42  (91304)

I concur that the boot issue is a major problem with dual booting Linux and Windows - I've blown up installations of Windows after installing various Linux distros and been unable to reboot to Windows (XP, Vista or 7) - Grub seems to work fairly well but anytime I try to configure Windows and Linux to boot using the Windows boot manager it seems to go south. I always make a disk image PRIOR to making any major changes to my setup JUST IN CASE I have to go back to a "working configuration".

Just another reason that I'm running Windows 7 as my main operating system and various Linux distros virtually...

by MidnightCowboy on 28. March 2012 - 2:53  (91302)

This was never intended to be a tutorial, but you raise a good point. I'll add a piece to the end.

by GraveDigger on 27. March 2012 - 17:44  (91275)

I run various Linux distros on my Windows 7-based laptop using VirtualBox (a free virtualization program from Oracle). Currently I have Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mint, Pear OS (now Comice OS), openSUSE, Windows XP and Windows 8 Consumer Preview running on the system - the configuration of the program can be a bit fussy and I've had issues with some distros (Fedora, Sabayon and PCLinuxOS) not being able to properly configure for the 1366x768 display of my ASUS X52 laptop.

The advantage of running the systems is I don't have to fuss with partitioning my laptop to try a new distro and it's easy to install new distros (or remove old ones) from within the program. And you can install a distro directly from the .iso file (you aren't required to actually burn the iso to a CD or DVD first...)

My laptop has 3 partitions (recovery, os & data)- which was the default setup when I bought the machine last year. I've upgraded the memory to 8 gigs and it does a adequate job running games like Skyrim, L4D2 and Deus EX: Human Revolution at fairly high settings.

by MidnightCowboy on 28. March 2012 - 2:52  (91301)

Thanks for offering an alternative which others might find suitable.

by OAP John (not verified) on 27. March 2012 - 12:43  (91252)

I run Ubuntu with Windows 7 as a dual-boot system on a laptop: it's a "feeling secure" thing after Win7 let me down a couple of times and I was unable to do time-critical stuff when away from home.

I also access the internet when away from home by using either of two mobile broadband dongles ... one from T-Mobile and one from the 3 network.

Following hard-drive partition and the installation of Ubuntu, Win7 refuses to acknowledge the existence of the DVD drive in the laptop, so anything I choose to do using that has to be done in Linux (which can, of course, see it perfectly easily - just as easily as it can work with / save to files stored under "C" in Windows folders. It also now can't find whichever mobile broadband stick I plug into the USB port, whereas before partioning the hard drive / installing Ubuntu it was perfectly happy.

This inability of Win7 seemingly to be unable to re-allocate the DVD drive an "E" drive letter or operate a mobile broadband stick is still annoying me :-/

Ho-hum ... some battles you're doomed to lose, it seems (though on the plus side I have got used to Ubuntu ... sort of :)

by MidnightCowboy on 27. March 2012 - 12:53  (91254)

Did your laptop come pre-prepared with the option for a recovery partition by any chance? I'm no expert on this by any means but I remember being advised to refuse this option and let Windows only make one partition during the initial setup if a dual boot is intended later.

I have two mobile broadband modems but Windows and Linux will only recognize one each :D so it means swapping the SIM card around depending on which system I need to use if the cable goes down.

Thanks for sharing your experiences anyway.

by GraveDigger on 27. March 2012 - 17:43  (91277)

Most new laptops seem to come with a hidden recovery partition these days as most manufacturers have stopped supplying the original operating system and installation disks for the applications that were pre-installed on the system. I always recommend making the recovery media BEFORE you do anything else with a new laptop (multiple copies if possible) and then adding any new applications, utilities and games as well as removing any bloatware or trial software that often comes with new laptops.

I also make sure that I have reliable backups of my systems (I use the free version of Macrium Reflect to make disk images of the ENTIRE hard drive (all partitions, including the recovery partition))and have an updated rescue disk available in case I have to erase my system due to a registry issue, malware infection or some other issue.

by Bloat (not verified) on 27. March 2012 - 8:56  (91242)

So basically here is a list of Linux distributions and use google to search on how to do it - Not the article I thought it was, sorry

by MidnightCowboy on 27. March 2012 - 9:07  (91243)

Well, considering your email address is all over the Stop Forum Spam database, I'm not surprised. Please go and haunt someone else's website :)