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5 Ways To Try Out and Install Ubuntu On Your Computer

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Want to try out Ubuntu, but not sure where to start? There are lots of ways to try out Ubuntu – you can even install it on Windows and uninstall it from your Control Panel if you don’t like it.

Ubuntu can be booted from a USB or CD drive and used without installation, installed under Windows with no partitioning required, run in a window on your Windows desktop, or installed alongside Windows on your computer.

Boot From a Live USB Drive or CD

One of the easiest ways to get started with Ubuntu is by creating a live USB or CD drive. After you place Ubuntu on the drive, you can insert your USB stick, CD, or DVD into any computer you come across and restart the computer. The computer will boot from the removable media you provided and you’ll be able to use Ubuntu without making any changes to the computer’s hard drive.

To create a Ubuntu USB drive or CD, download the latest Ubuntu disc image from Ubuntu’s website. Use Unetbootin to put Ubuntu on your USB flash drive or burn the downloaded ISO image to a disc. (On Windows 7, you can right-click an ISO file and select Burn disc image to burn the ISO file without installing any other software.)

Restart your computer from the removable media you provided and select the Try Ubuntu option.

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Install Ubuntu On Windows With Wubi

Traditionally, installing Linux on a hard drive has been daunting for new users. It involves resizing existing partitions to make space for the new Linux operating system. If you decide you don’t want Linux later, you’ll have to delete the new partitions, resize your old partitions to reclaim the space, and repair your Windows bootloader.

If you just want to try Ubuntu, there’s a better way. You can install Ubuntu on Windows with Wubi, the Windows installer for Ubuntu Desktop. Wubi runs like any other application installer and installs Ubuntu to a file on your Windows partition. When you reboot your computer, you’ll have the option to boot into Ubuntu or Windows. When you boot into Ubuntu, Ubuntu will run as if it were installed normally on your hard drive, although it will actually be using a file on your Windows partition as its disk. Best of all, if you decide you don’t like Ubuntu, you can uninstall it from the Windows control panel. No messing with partitions required.

This will result in a performance penalty when writing to or reading from the hard disk, however. If you want to use Ubuntu on a long-term basis with maximum performance, you should install it on your computer in a dual-boot configuration (see below).

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Run Ubuntu In a Virtual Machine

Like other operating systems, Ubuntu can be run in a virtual machine on your computer. The virtual machine runs Ubuntu in a window on your existing Windows or Mac desktop. You’ll be able to try Linux without even restarting your computer, although virtual machines are slower than running the operating system on your computer itself. The Ubuntu desktop’s 3D effects, in particular, won’t perform very well in a virtual machine, while they should perform smoothly on most computers.

To create a Ubuntu virtual machine, download and install VirtualBox. Create a new virtual machine, select the Ubuntu operating system, and provide the ISO file you downloaded from Ubuntu’s website when prompted. Go through the installation process in the virtual machine as if you were installing Ubuntu on a real computer.

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Dual-Boot Ubuntu

If you want to use Linux, but still want to leave Windows installed on your computer, you can install Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration. Just place the Ubuntu installer on a USB drive, CD, or DVD using the same method as above. Once you have, restart your computer and select the Install Ubuntu option instead of the Try Ubuntu option.

Go through the install process and select the option to install Ubuntu alongside Windows. You’ll be able to select the operating system you want to use when you start your computer. Unlike with the Wubi method, there’s no disk performance penalty because you’re installing Ubuntu on its own partition. However, this does make Ubuntu a bit more difficult to remove – you can’t just uninstall it from the Windows Control Panel if you don’t want to use it anymore.

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Replace Windows With Ubuntu

If you’re ready to leave Windows behind, you can go all the way and replace your installed Windows system with Ubuntu (or any other Linux distribution). To do this, install Ubuntu normally but select the Replace Windows with Ubuntu option. This option isn’t for most users: It’s generally a much better idea to dual-boot Ubuntu, just in case you need that Windows partition for something else in the future.

There’s no real advantage to replacing Windows with Ubuntu instead of dual-booting, except that you can reclaim the hard disk space used by Windows. An Ubuntu system in a dual-boot configuration is just as fast as an Ubuntu that’s replaced Windows entirely. Unless you’re completely sure you never want to use Windows again, you’re better off dual-booting Ubuntu and leaving at least a small Windows partition lying around.

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It’s generally best to start out by booting Ubuntu from a USB or CD drive or installing it on your computer with Wubi. After that, if you really like Linux and want to ensure maximum performance, you can move to a dual-boot configuration.

Most of this advice also applies to other Linux distributions, although most Linux distributions don’t have their own Windows-based installers like Wubi.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/8/12

Comments (25)

  1. marcco

    By using 2 usb boot drives: install live boot on first usb drive, boot from this usb drive, install full ubuntu on second usb drive.
    Difference: live usb drive is limited. This way you have a full ubuntu install on usb drive.
    Beware to not overwrite hard disk. While installing on second usb drive, I disconnected my hard drive.

  2. TheFu

    Ubuntu is nice to try out, but most Linux users seem to dislike the default included interface. I like ubuntu from a support and help perspective, but can’t imagine running “Unity”.

    There is good news. We don’t need to load a different distro just to change the GUI. Ubuntu can look like any other Linux distro with less than 5 minutes of effort.

    If you like KDE, use it on Ubuntu.
    If you like XFCE, use it on Ubuntu.
    If you like LXDE, Gnome2, Gnome3 or Mint, all those GUIs can easily be loaded onto Ubuntu systems. you can switch between different GUIs at login time. There is a menu to select the one you want.

  3. miry-mir

    Нахуя?!

  4. Kevalin

    I don’t know if it’s stiil true, but used to be you only wan to dual-boot Windows and some distros of Linux if you planned to completely reinstall Windows later if it turned out Linux is not your thing. Simply removing Linux meant not being able boot into Windoe anymore.

    Is that still the case?

  5. Karl.W

    Except for not being able to run applications that are Silverlight supported, (Netflix good example) I love Ubuntu.I have 12.04 on my laptop,and for more gas and flash (eye candy) I have Zorin OS Live on my PC.My computers run virtually trouble free now, (Been over a year) as opposed to any Windows Program I’ve ever used.It’s so nice not to have to keep De-Bugging my equipment every time I get on-line.Even with the Silverlight issue, (I’m hoping they’ll come up with a fix soon) I’ll never go back to Windows.

  6. cam2644

    I dual booted Windows and Ubuntu long ago and never went back to Windows. Ubuntu did everything I needed. I currently use Linux Mint based on Ubuntu.

  7. Kaveh Ghanbarabbasi

    Can a VM be loded on a NTFS format?

    please let me know..

  8. Mac

    I’ve tried for many years to install Ubuntu on my laptop (HP Compaq 6730s) but unfortunately they don’t provide reasonable drivers for Broadcomm wireless chipset. Tried many variants but everything failed! I like it so much and when these drivers will be properly configured for Broadcomm chipset, I’ll fast switch to Ubuntu… Till then, all I have to do is to look to others people enjoying this great OS!

  9. k5cr3am

    @Kaveh

    If you are running windows, then of course!
    However if you’re running OSX or Linux, look into ntfs-3g.

  10. jasray

    I tried Wubi once, but discovered that it overwrites the MS boot file. That meant when I uninstalled Wubi, I had the choice of either finding a way to rewrite the MBR or completely re-installing Windows. Maybe that’s all changed.

  11. serg

    well after unity , better is to stay with windows 8 . ubuntu 10.04 or 11.04 but not f…ng unity

  12. David Chandler

    Another option is install a second hard drive. They are cheap enough these days to not mess around with re-partitioning.

  13. Andrew W.

    The “Unity” feature that ubuntu built in I commonly do not like either, as other people feel the same way. Without any trouble, before you login (in ubuntu) there are options on the bottom after clicking on your user. Change the menu at the bottom so it says “Ubuntu classic” Then it’ll look like every other ubuntu distro. you’ve worked with. It can always be changed back the same way, just in case you decide you like Unity more.

  14. Goldie01

    If you install Grub to the Ubuntu partition it won’t overwrite the windows MBR. Then install easyBCD in Windows, add Ubuntu to the MBR boot options, and when you boot Windows it will give you the option of booting Windows or Ubuntu.

  15. Rex

    Chris, HOW TO GEEK is my favorite newsletter, with more useful information than I can find in any one source, plus written in plain English.

    Here’s my problem –

    Which dual boot method from this article would best suit my situation?

    (1) I have several legacy Windows programs that will not run on Linux right now and don’t have a big enough market to warrant Linux development, and thus I will need to always be able to run a Windows environment.

    (2) I hate the Windows vulnerabilities to hacking whenever I browse the internet, and particularly enjoyed my tests with both Linux Mint and the look/feel of XFCE and to a lesser extent KDE.

    (3) Can I use a dual boot strategy so that whenever I surf the internet and am thus exposed to hacking, that the only thing the hackers or viruses see is a secure Linux system without Windows security holes, and yet where I can locally switch over to the few Windows programs I need to use while still being online on the net?

    (4) As a multi-tasker, I wsometimes work in my Windows software while I am browsing. What I’d like to do is keep the best of both worlds, in tandem, where I surf the net using Linux Foxfire and yet am able to switch to my Windows software.

    (5) I don’t do gaming, and so losing high performance is not an issue for me.

    As a tradeoff, I would accept some slowing of overall performance if I could run both operating systems at the same time and always have my internet surfing done only through Linux. I’d like to stick with Windows XP SP3 because my old legacy programs work just fine, but MS will soon stop supporting it. No skin off my back when MS support stops, so long as my legacy programs still run.

    What’s my optimum dual strategy, given these parameters?

    Rex

  16. j.a.y?

    I recently installed ubuntu 12.10 on my windows 7 machine with dual boot and can’t get my printer to work on the ubuntu side. I have a Lexmark S405 printer. It (ubuntu) recognizes my printer but every time I try print a test page it tells me a cups error has occured. Can someone help? Excuse my spelling.

  17. thesilentman

    @Rex,

    By what you say, I think that you might want to run an Ubuntu VM in Windows. That way, you should be able to run your Windows programs and Ubuntu at the same time.

  18. robyn

    Because of the security Linux offers over Windows (significant difference even today!!) i use Mint 13, based on Ubuntu 12.04, as my base system. I run WinXP Pro in a virtualbox and any windows apps I need in that. So windows has been demoted to simply providing a very simple, basic environment for those apps to run in: all the hard-core stuff, I do with Mint. By hard-core, i mean anything internet, where all the dangers lie.

  19. Bud

    Just installed Ubuntu 12.04 on my xp based computer and guess what?
    No internet connection.
    I am using a cisco router wireless connection.
    Don’t have a clue how to get Ubuntu online.
    Help

  20. rino19ny

    @Rex, at first glance, you might want to run Linux in a virtual machine inside Windows. but from a security standpoint, both your Windows and virtual machine will be vulnerable.

    the best way in your situation is to have two physical machines. one your development machine and the other used for surfing the web.

  21. mariam lux

    Install Ubuntu? Not for me….

    NO support for CATALYST Drivers
    Idem for FGRLX / RADEON and others….

  22. Mark-John Clifford

    When I downloaded the ubuntu on windows8 i get an error message saying there is a file missing and I need to start up disk. Don’t know why. Any idea?

  23. Jodie

    @j.a.y?: Download the Lexmark drivers off their website, restart your computer, set up the printer, and you might be in luck. Mine works fine after that: I’ve also got an S405.

  24. alvasrawuther

    @Kevalin – That was never the case and is still not.

  25. dan

    This is incorrect as far as new machines running Windows 8. Holy cow is it difficult to run Ubuntu of any variety with my new Dell.

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