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Linux on VirtualBox or Standalone

  1. Dec 2, 2016 #1

    I would like to learn Linux, but I'm not sure how to install it. I searched YouTube, and it appears that there is something called VirtualBox where you can install Ubuntu, for example, on a virtual machine from inside the Windows OS. Is this a good idea, or it's better to install it as a separate OS beside my Windows 7, and how can I do that?

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2016 #2
    Yes, you can use VirtualBox (it can be downloaded at https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads ) and install Ubuntu. This could be a good idea if you only want to test Linux, or testing different distributions before you decide. But, the performance will be worse since you will run Linux and Windows simultaneously. If you intend to use Linux as your main system I would recommend to install it beside Windows (i.e. dual-booting). A step-by-step guide can be found at https://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/install-ubuntu-desktop . Nowadays, it is relatively easy to install user-friendly distributions such as Ubuntu. If you are used to Windows 7 another distribution which could be of interest for you is Linux Mint (see https://www.linuxmint.com/ ) which has a user interface which is quite similar to Windows. Myself, I am using Linux Mint Debian.
  4. Dec 2, 2016 #3
    Thanks. Do I need to create a new partition from my only hard desk partition if I want a dual boot option, or it's not necessary? and if I need a separate partition, how much should I allocate to it the least? I have about 450 GB free space on my drive!!
  5. Dec 2, 2016 #4
    Here's a video of a guy making a XP Virtual Machine in virtual box.

    You will need to modify the steps. Instead of using Windows XP, you will use whatever linux distribution you wish to use.

    For linux testing purposes, you just need to give the VM like 10GB. That should be plenty.
  6. Dec 2, 2016 #5
    You'll find that the linux distribution will take care of the partitioning and installation of a boot loader. There will be options re partition size. There are various suggestions online of what sizes to choose. If you have unused space it will select that. You can also use something like gparted to prepare the disk yourself and to resize partitions.
  7. Dec 2, 2016 #6
    I'm considering to download Linux as a dual boot. Is 150 GB a good choice for the partition? Probably I won't use it as the main OS. I'll be using for educational purposes, as it is obviously a desirable skill to be familiar with Linux platform in your resume!! Also, what is the most popular Linux variation? For some reason I keep find Ubuntu in YouTube tutorials!! I mean, is the difference between different versions significant?
  8. Dec 2, 2016 #7
    I would advise against a dual boot for beginners. If you're not careful, you can easily damage your windows partition. It is orders of magnitude safer to test linux within a virtual environment like Virtualbox and I strongly suggest you start there.

    The most popular distributions of Linux (according to distrowatch) are Mint, Debian and Ubuntu. I suggest you start with Ubuntu or Mint. They are both very user friendly and can make process of transition easier. That said, if you really want to learn linux, the best way to do it is to use it as your main OS and struggle through those first few months. Once you're past the initial hurdle, it becomes natural quickly.

    Always remember google is your friend.
  9. Dec 2, 2016 #8
    150 is plenty. If you only want to use as you say for now, 20 is enough. see : https://help.ubuntu.com/community/HowtoPartition .

    Ubuntu is popular. Probably a good one to start with. It won't teach you anywhere as much as Arch or Slackware forces you to learn unless you want to. You can be largely ignorant of Linux with Ubuntu if you wish.

    edit add : as previous poster said you can damage windows. Backup important files. Be prepared to reinstall windows.

    Dive in, You have to make mistakes in order to learn.

    It's unlikely there will be any problems if you follow well established guidelines found on the many posts by the thousands/millions? of others who have done this successfully.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2016
  10. Dec 2, 2016 #9
    I watched some YouTube videos on how to do dual boot, and it seems straightforward and it's working well. Can I damage the windows partition through using Ubuntu after being successfully installed? or the danger is in the installation process only?

    Also, Ubuntu is GUI-based, and is very similar to windows. So, where is Linux distinguished from Windows? Is it by using the commands?
  11. Dec 2, 2016 #10
    Yes. It is still possible. Linux allows you to mount the windows partition and make whatever changes you feel like making. But generally speaking, you'd have to do something in order to break windows from Ubuntu. It won't do it on its own.

    To discuss the differences between windows and Ubuntu we'd need to understand at what level the discussion is to take place. If we are talking about how a user interacts with the system, then they aren't all that different. There are programs that do tasks you want and you access them by clicking on them.

    But if you want to have a discussion about how the operating systems carry out specific tasks, then Windows and Linux are very different.

    It really depends on your perspective, really high level or fine grain.
  12. Dec 2, 2016 #11
    I saw people do shrinking of window drive, and use the unallocated space to Ubuntu. Is this a safe method?

    What I meant about the difference, is why Linux seems to be desirable in the industry? I know it's an open source and more secure ... etc, but is there any other reason? Also, how do I say that I know Linux? By knowing what exactly? I doubt it's using Ubuntu itself as mentioned earlier.
  13. Dec 2, 2016 #12
    It can be safe. You have to make sure that you don't shrink it too much. Make sure you take into account windows virtual memory space. Probably a good idea to defrag windows first.

    You have control, or can have control over Linux in a way that windows denies you. You don't need a gui or desktop or if you do you don't need to use it/them (you can install a number of different desktops in one Linux installation, as well as a choice of a number of different file systems when initially installing, not just one like in windows) at all for Linux to function as a very usable operating system.

    You can use your total control to the max, which is where it gets fun and powerful or stock standard where it's a very good system for general use.

    I've got linux only on my pc now. For win7 I've got a laptop. I can easily transfer files from one to the other. I also have an unused space on the pc drive for future mutiboots. I don't plan to install windows again on the pc but would like to try Arch or Archbang some time later.
  14. Dec 2, 2016 #13
    Resizing your windows partition is exactly the kind of thing that can get you into trouble. The manner in which windows stores data on the hard drive causes fragmentation. When you resize a partition in linux, it doesn't know if there's valuable data stored in the locations that its taking away from windows. It just takes a chunk from the end you tell it to. This can cause serious problems if important data is lost. This is why John said that you should defrag your drive. But keep in mind that doesn't guarantee anything.

    I wouldn't take the risk of resizing my windows partitions without first having a full backup of my system.

    There's a lot of very significant differences between Windows and Linux. Too many to list so I'll give you my two favourite. There's a philosophy in Unix/Linux, Write programs that do onething and do it well.

    Freedom that the command line offers. The GUI is easy to use but you are only allowed to do what the developer allows you to do in the program.
  15. Dec 3, 2016 #14
    I wonder if I understand what your concern is.

    You said you have 450bg free space. Is that on a windows partition? ie it is not unused diskspace in the sense of not being part of a windows partition.

    There are many accounts of gparted completely successfully moving everything from a shrinked area. No one seems to guarantee it though. Many will suggest defragging first. I have done so successfully including resizing after creating a dual boot and triple boot. I do defrag first and take care that I don't shrink too much because I have and made windows unusable. Even at that point it's probably recoverable but I wasn't interested in doing so. If you do install windows again it'll recreate its own boot sector and Linux will seem gone. The boot loader can be fixed too.

    Anyway as Routaran says : Backup.

    If you have that much free space I wouldn't be concerned. Use Gparted to create an unformatted partition at the end of the drive, say 150 gb, partition that into for example a 20 and 130gb space and when installing linux you'll get an option of where you want the install. When finished it'll create a bootmenu from which you can boot into windows or linux. Read the distros documentation and online forums till you're ready to go.
  16. Dec 3, 2016 #15


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    I've spent quite a long time in multi-boot configurations, including various machines, versions of Windows and Linux distros in the past. I read up a lot of details and this https://www.amazon.com/Multi-Boot-Configuration-Handbook-Roderick-Smith/dp/0789722836 was of great help. Configurations with a dozen different OSs on two hard drives, had become a common thing. Windows were never friendly to multi boot configurations and partition resizing. I remember myself reinstalling Windows after letting Linux install and manage boot loading itself, because Windows became unbootable - the usual nasty message "ROOT NO VERIFY" and the like. The solution I had come up with, was to use some commercial boot and partition management software and let it manage the partition sizes and boot loaders of each and every OS I had installed, separately. So, I could create a list with "Windows", "Linux" etc., as the first boot screen and then after choosing one of them, I could choose which version / distro I wanted to load. I've experimented with GParted too. There is a lot of details involved during boot, that can easily get you into trouble if even one bit goes wrong. I totally agree to what Routaran said above. For a beginner, trying to resize partitions and create dual or multi-boot configurations, is just asking for trouble. I don't say it can't be done, but it usually needs some admittedly unpleasant trial and error procedures.

    Now, things have changed in many respects, but not quite about Windows friendliness in multi-boot configurations. In my opinion, there is no need anymore to tinker with your partitions and boot of your system, as a virtual machine and its environment can save you a lot of time and trouble and help regarding security issues - like VirtualBox you mention, which I also use. Of course there is no silver bullet. Choosing this solution has its price too: Extra load for the host OS which will be negligible or not so, depending on the resources your machine can spare and some time for the whole thing to get loaded. To my experience by using it on a Win 7 machine (i3, 4GB RAM and 1TB SATA HD - somewhat old), it works like a charm. For a newer machine so much the better.

    Linux is desirable in the industry because it's open source. It comes at no cost, for commercial services regarding support (if needed) the costs are lower than in other OSs/platforms and very importantly you can modify its source code, regarding every aspect. On top of these, it's more secure. What more freedom could anyone ask for?

    Now, to say you know Linux, presupposes extensive use/development on different distros (or flavors of Linux if you will). Working through the GUIs and the various available desktops, can't get you far in this regard.One thing that I've also mentioned in other posts, is mastering the command shells. All is built on top of commands and command shells. Also, if Linux skills you want to show are beyond administration of the system, good programming skills on Linux platform are required.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  17. Dec 3, 2016 #16
    I think that the difficulty of installing and using Linux has partly been a bit overstated. I have during almost ten years used different flavours (distributions) of Linux and installed them along different versions of Windows (Windows 7, Windows 10). To give another perspective I will give some of my experiences.

    1) Nowadays, the procedure to install Linux is straightforward for the user-friendly distributions, e.g. Ubuntu, Linux Mint. Everything is done in graphical interface. Usually, the installation program will recognize that you have Windows installed.
    2) As has been mentioned above you need shrink your partition in order to install Linux. This is done in the installation program, or in gparted. I have done this many times and it has never failed for me. But, I would recommend to make a backup of your files (at least the most important ones).
    I recommend to create one root partition (called /) and one home partition (for your personal files). Probably, you will also be asked to create a swap partition. This is like the virtual memory in Windows. Typically, the swap space should be of similar size as your memory.
    3) As I remember most of your Linux programs doesn't have write access to your Windows partition. Unless you are doing it intentionally the risk to break your Windows partition by using Linux. I never experienced this and never heard anyone doing it.
    4) Linux is different in many ways. One of the advantages is the security. Usually, you use Linux as normal user and not as root (corresponding to Administrator in Windows). The programs you use will be different but you will probably learn them rather quickly. Most of the Linux distributions (such as Ubuntu) has active user communities (on forums, etc) which usually are very helpful.
    5) Finally, many people thinks that they need to learn the terminal in order to use Linux. Learning using at least some basic commands for the terminal is very useful but almost all tasks can be done using graphical interfaces.

    I wish you good luck with your installation. If you have any problems I will be glad to help.
  18. Dec 3, 2016 #17
    I watched this video, and the person who presented it tested the windows after installing Ubuntu, and it was working well. He mentioned he's never had any problem in using shrinking. He mentioned something about SSD hard drives and fragmentation in some cases. My hard drive isn't SSD.

    One reason why I'm inclined to make a dual boot is performance. I don't want to make overload on my computer, and get slow performance. (my laptop is i5, 6 GB RAM, and 500 GB hard drive). It's already not that fast because I have many programs installed on it.

    I thought it's straight forward, but now I'm not so sure. I don't want to damage windows. I have many programs I don't want to lose and re-install.

    I think I need to read more about back ups before I do anything.
  19. Dec 3, 2016 #18
    Yes, I agree with you concerning the performance. The way he does in the video looks okay for me. The only complain I have is that they use the automatic way to create the partitions, which give you less control. But, maybe for a newbie this is the best way.
  20. Dec 3, 2016 #19
    You should at least try it out in VirtualBox before installing it for real. That way you can also practice resizing partitions. e.g. you could install windows 10 in a virtual machine and then install linux in that same machine, resizing the windows partition first. That way you can test the procedure safely.
  21. Dec 3, 2016 #20

    Stephen Tashi

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    I advise against dual boot for non-beginners too! It's more efficient and less risky to have a computer that you can devote entirely to Linux. ( If you read Linux forums, you find many dual-booters posting things like "Help! - my Windows is gone!".)
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