Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu

Having a computer that you can boot natively into multiple different operating systems can be useful. For example, some programs may only run on a certain operating system. If you either do not want to or are unable to virtualize a guest operating system, then dual booting is the next option. While I do use a Windows virtual machine on my Mac for easy access to a Windows environment, I also dual boot with Windows and OS X so that if I need to run a program that is very system intensive, I can do so. Configuring your computer to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu is very easy.

To start, you will want to have Windows installed on your computer. Even if the computer does not have an operating system installed, if you want to dual boot you need to install Windows first. If this is a completely fresh configuration, when you install Windows you can leave blank space on your hard drive for the Linux partition. If you already have Windows installed and do not have any free space for another partition, you will have to make some. Make sure there is some free space on the existing partition before you continue and make sure to do a full disk back up. Messing with your paritions is never something to be undertaken lightly. Even if you are careful and know what you are doing sometimes still go wrong and you could lose everything.

If you are running Windows Vista, you can resize your system partition from within windows. Right click on Computer, then select Manage. Click on Disk Management. Now you can resize the partition so there is space available at the end of the disk, as opposed to at the beginning. If you are running XP, you will need to use the disk partitioner built into Ubuntu. Vista users can use this option too. Insert your Ubuntu installation disk and boot to it. When it loads, choose the first option which should say "Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer". This will start a live session. You will get a completely function Linux desktop without making any changes to your hard drive.

Once you can see the Ubuntu desktop go to System menu, then Administration, choose Partition Editor. Resize the partition so there is space available at the end of the disk, as opposed to at its beginning. For a minimal install, you only need a couple of gigabytes. 8GB is probably the smallest amount of space you'd want to have available. This is enough for a full installation with some space for some files and additional programs, but not a much additional space. Go larger if you like, but I would recommend against going any smaller.

Once you have your disk partitioned the way you want it, start the installer by double clicking the icon on the desktop. The installer is pretty self explanatory until you get to the partitioning section. Choose the Manual option. Ubuntu needs a minimum of two partitions, one for the system and one to use as swap space. How much swap space you need will depend upon how much system memory your computer has and upon how system intensive the applications are that you plan on running. I usually like to go for at least as much swap space as I have system memory. If you need help deciding how much swap space to allocate, you can probably find an article about it on Google.

To create a new partition, click on the free space and click the New Partition button. To make the swap partition, choose Primary, enter the size, choose at the End of the disk, and it should be used as "swap area". To make your system partition, choose Primary, the size listed should be the remaining free space, it should be used as Ext3 journaling file system, and the mount point will be / (forward slash). After that you can proceed through the rest of the installation.

When the installation finishes, you will need to reboot in order to use your new Ubuntu installation. Upon rebooting, you should see the GRUB boot menu. With this menu you can choose whether you want to boot into Windows XP or Ubuntu.

In terms of system interoperability, Ubuntu can read and write to NTFS partitions out of the box. With Windows, you will need to install some software to be able to read and write to your Ext3 partition. You can find it here.

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