How-To Geek

How To Easily Change Your Dual-Booting PC’s Default OS


I love Ubuntu, but there are times when you just need to use Windows.  The GRUB boot manager that’s installed with Ubuntu is more than happy to leave it the default OS. We can easily change this with some help.

I hate walking away during after restarting my computer only to come back and find that I’m in the wrong OS. Linux is, among many things, about choice, so It’s funny how Ubuntu doesn’t really give you a choice of which OS you’d want as the default. GRUB is pretty robust and also really daunting to configure for beginners. Luckily for us, there’s a great GUI-based tool in Ubuntu’s repositories: StartUp-Manager.

Fire up a terminal, and enter the following command to install StartUp-Manager.

sudo apt-get install startupmanager


Enter your password, hit ‘Y’ at the prompt, and let it install.

Once that’s finished, go to System > Administration > StartUp-Manager


You’ll see a very beginner-friendly screen pop up.

change default

Much better, isn’t it? You’ll see a handful of pertinent options.

  • Timeout: This is the countdown (in seconds) that GRUB waits before automatically booting the default operating system.
  • Default operating system: Pretty self-explanatory; just click the menu and choose your preference.
  • Display: Here you can choose the resolution and color depth for GRUB.

You can also choose to show the splash screen and current text while booting.


Now when you’ve walked away after a restart, you won’t come back to the wrong OS.


As a dual-booter, do you have any other pet peeves about Ubuntu or Windows? Share you thoughts in the comments!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 06/14/11

Comments (41)

  1. MinDokan

    I use Windows boot loader, in combination with EasyBCD.

  2. sakisds

    I dual-boot Archlinux and Windows 7, using archlinux for everything and windows 7 only for games, so most of the time I need to boot directly into Arch. I’ve set GRUB’s timeout to 1 so if I want Archlinux it will just boot Archlinux with almost no delay and if I want Windows I mash the down/up arrow so the timeout cancels and I can pick any OS.

  3. Danny

    Rookie question.

    Does this solution only work in situations where both OSs are on the same hard drive? I currently have Win7 (64-bit) and Ubuntu 10.9 on two different hard drives and when I reboot it goes straight to Win7. For the time being the only way I can get to Unbuntu is to change the boot device order in BIOS. If the solution you have here applies to OSs across multiple drives it would save me a lot of trouble.

  4. psal_dun

    This was the topic , I was wondering for ,and it came to me as a lot of help , but still I am wondering are there any windows tool I can use for same thing ….?

  5. mark

    Another issue is getting rid of multiple instances of Ubuntu in GRUB. GRUB gets cluttered with multiple Ubuntu entries after a while. At one point there were so many entries for Ubuntu, I thought I lost my XP partition.

  6. John

    I wonder about an install using Wubi? I have one of my work PCs set up using Wubi. I use Ubuntu for personal stuff since it isn’t directly connected to the network, and then XP when I need to harness the power of two computers. With three monitors for my main Win7 machine and then this system I really have 7 monitors when using Ubuntu because of the desktop switcher. Combine that with Synergy & I have a nice setup. Pretty sweet :)

  7. MKZ

    That´s the big problem. Two HDs, C with Ubuntu 11.04, D with Win7 and no way to switch each other without a boring ceremony. What to do?? Help…

  8. Gualter

    It isn’t working for me. I just have done that steps, but there’s a problem: I have 3 OS, 2 of them are Windows XP and Windows 7, as you might know the GRUB just seprate Ubuntu and Windows OS’s, so I have Windows XP and Windows 7 together in that option of “Windows 7 (loader)”, so it doesnt boot any of windows operating systems. My question is, if there is any way to boot with my contitions?

  9. raburruss

    I’ve been using startup manager for quite some time. Works fine. My default OS is Windows 7 with a 5 sec timeout. My question is how to get rid of one of the choices. I really don’t want the recovery mode choice for 7. I accidentaly chose this one time and it created major problems. In fact I had to reinstall Grub just to be able to boot. Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

  10. cam2644

    I love Ubuntu, but there are times when you just need to use Windows………

    so few times for me that I gave up on Windows and now dual boot between Linux systems

  11. Brian Carr

    dont forget there is GRUB2 Bootloader Editor

    GRUB2 Bootloader Editor

  12. Wiperman

    Since I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04 I have not been able to run Startup Manager. When I attempt to run the program nothing happens. I have tried uninstalling/reinstalling and it still not run. Does anyone have a solution for this issue?

  13. brianzion

    GRUB2 Bootloader Editor 0.5.0 is another good option if running KDE 4.x

  14. Esteban

    I have a small tax practice. I really only use Windows 7 for the tax programs. Otherwise I am booting into Ubuntu.

  15. elyodj

    GREAT……… I tried to ‘mod’ grub files and ended up reloading ubuntu .. this is so GREAT, if it works

  16. Lee

    Set the time out to -1 if you do not want a timer

    DO NOT SET THE TIME OUT TO ZERO!!! It is a proper pain to get it back. It is easier to be in linux to amend it but if you have set your time out to zero and your first boot option to windows, you will never see the grub menu and never boot into linux. I got the grub menu back, eventually!

    Otherwise this is a very useful tool and saves a lot of the previous grub editing or package removal that it usually took.

  17. blknss

    great tip. My issue is I want my Ubuntu OS to have priority boot. i.e. I want it to boot up first automatically. So I think I will try these steps to make it happen

  18. James

    Use WUBI instead. If your ubuntu install gets pooched you can uninstall and reinstall Ubuntu with WUBI. You can also just uninstall WUBI if you no longer want Ubuntu on your system. The WUBI install only makes 1 change to your system. It adds the ubuntu image to the BOOT.INI/mgr file. If you uninstall WUBI for good, you will need to just remove the ubuntu entry from your BOOT.INI file or the bootmgr for windows 7. Use EasyBCD for the bootmgr in windows 7. Don’t know what that is? Google it!

  19. john3347

    I have a boot problem that is a bit different. I had Linux Mint 9 in Mint2Win configuration and everything worked just fine. I had 10 seconds to make the decision, and change the default selection, to boot to Mint or it would automatically boot to Windows 7. I have recently uninstalled Linux Mint and replaced it with Ubuntu 11.04 (using WUBY). Now the boot screen still shows Linux Mint along with Windows 7 (default) and Ubuntu. Linux Mint, of course, does not load, it is removed from the harddrive, but the selection remains. The biggest new problem, however is that I now have a 30 second delay to make a choice instead of the original 10 second. This long delay is unnecessary and undesirable.

    How does one edit this boot selection page that needs correction?

  20. Anonymous

    Why do you guys always use the command line? Is this a retro-cool geek intimidation thing to be using DOS like commands? GROW UP! The seventies, eighties, and nineties are over! I mean, can someone PLEASE come up with a Debian based Linux distro that never involves using the Terminal or a full fledged drop of the GUI? I hate command lines! So you can probably imagine how I feel about the terminal – it sucks! …Must be a “coder” thing, I guess.

    Anyway, FYI: If using Ubuntu, you can find “Startupmanager” in the Synaptic Package manager rather than use the more cryptic DOS-like apt-get command. And you don’t even have to add/change repositories either which is great for the Linux noobs. In fact, I believe this Startup Manager utility is pretty much a standard for most of the modern Debian based distros too. That is, if it isn’t already installed!

  21. James

    @ Anonymous – You won’t always be a noob. The day will come when you understand grasshopper :)

  22. James

    @ john3347 – Google EasyBCD.

  23. nasdizzle

    that was so cool. it worked perfectly and ready to learn more. thanks very much.

    another problem with me is after the installation of windows and ubuntu, the windows 7 might corrupt and needs to be reinstalled. the boot loader of the windows overtake the ubuntu after the installation which would have provided accommodation for both OS. how do you install the ubuntu grub without formatting the win 7. i really need this.

  24. tmradius

    Maybe some of you gurus can guide me. I have a dual boot (XP and Ubuntu 11.4). However, when booting into Ubuntu my screen resolution is limited to 480 X 600 (with no other resolutions avaialble) whereas when I was dual booting with 8.4 the resolutions was 1280 X1084 which is what I was satisfied with. With I boot to XP I use 1280 X 1084 and also have other resoltutions available.

  25. Vincent

    That is what Linux is all about. It’s about customization, power, and tweaking to your heart’s content in the command line. The command line is not dead. And the DOS/NT shell is nowhere NEAR the power of the Linux shells (bash, [b]sh, csh, tcsh, zsh, etc.) If you want a completely GUI based distro, you can make one yourself (though I’m sure there are many around at…All servers run without GUIs….you can run a Linux install on almost anything with a CPU and RAM, albeit without a GUI since they take up SO much memory. I start GNOME Shell and take a look at the system monitor an hour in, 100 freaking Megabytes of memory…..from the CLI with no GUI I start top and it notes oh, about 80 MB or so used RAM, including the kernelspace (which occupies about 24MB). Besides all you are doing is installing a program from the command line and then starting it from GUI, not compiling a kernel or something like that.

    Try updating your drivers, and posting in the forums for help. Try searching your card manufacturer on The Arch Linux Wiki, very excellent guide that’s helped me on far more than just ArchLinux:

  26. Fernando Melo Medeiros

    Dear Anonymous,

    I love command line. When I first had to use Linux, I studied and practiced on how to use the DOS command line so that I could easily learn how to use the command line in Linux.

  27. jo

    Danny, should make your Ubuntu HDD the default in CMOS and add your windows HDD to the grub menu. Now about the command line, now that I took the time to learn to use it. I realize what a powerful file manipulation tool it really is. It is amazing what it can do and the more you learn the more a hindrance a GUI becomes. for example the ability to take a directory full of downloaded music sort it out and copy only the .mp3 files with none of the other .JPG or text files to a new location with a quick one line command is great

  28. KTown

    I need to just set it to where the GRUB will wait for me to decide

  29. leejosepho

    I used to multi-boot 7 OSs — 4 Windows and 3 Linux — in my machine, and there is just no perfect boot loader that will fit and work well in every situation …

    … and then each new version of Debian, Mint, GRUB or whatever handles startup/bootup a little differently.

    Whenever possible, it is best to leave Windows loaders alone and use EasyBCD to add a Linux OS to the Windows 7 boot loader … but *always* be sure Windows 7 is on your *first* hard drive (any partition) if you have more than one HD and you might ever need its startup repair to work. However, even EasyBCD can be tricky and might not always make a working entry.

    Ultimately, the best “solution” I ever found was to have either SuperGRUB or SuperGRUBII — neither is best for *all* Linux OSs — on a CD and to boot my machine from that CD and to then manually select an OS to run.

  30. Jim

    I would like to see a graphical representation in the Linux installer for hard disks; a pie chart-like graphical representation showing where the boot loader is being placed on which device. Device names in Linux always confuse me and I wish it was just simplified instead of sda1 etc,…and some devices in Linux are treated like SCSI devices (at least, SATA drives were at one time….). This is all confusing to anyone new to Linux and long time Linux users have agreed again and again on line that the terminology is confusing – even so, Linux keeps on mindlessly using the same terminologies for hardware devices.

    I would like to see those graphical representations within the manual formatter for the hard disks – where GRUB is placed AND where root, boot and home partitions are located and on which hard device.

    I used Fedora and found the manual formatter and partitioning tool so confusing! I complained to Fedora and some of them said, “If you don’t like it the way it is, just leave.” With that kind of arrogance, I dumped Fedora for good…apparently, they are living in some other kind of world where they don’t think they need anyone else but themselves – oh well, pet peeve.

    I think the installer can be imporved and simplified making it easy for everyone to install multiple disks and manage them all in Linux, with the simplification of hard device terminology. That is what I would like to see done.

  31. Knightwing

    I use GRUB but find that when I switch from Ubuntu to Windows that the Windows side will restart itself as if booting the first time didn’t work. Mind you after it restarts again everything is fine.

    I wonder if that has to do with the new Ubuntu or Windows 7.

  32. LeVa

    Thank you so much, like ubuntu, but my brother uses the pc, and gets mad when it loads up ubuntu.

  33. Marno228

    I use XOSL to boot Windows 7, XP and Linux Mint. It works great! It’s not attached to a OS, you can change all the settings from the boot menu.

  34. Colin

    Is it possible to set up a usb drive to choose to boot into natty or win7?
    on the same flash drive?

  35. leejosepho

    [quote=”Jim”]I think the installer can be improved and simplified making it easy for everyone to install multiple disks and manage them all in Linux …[/quote]
    In my own experience, there is no single installer compatible with all Linux OSs.

    [quote=”Knightwing”]I use GRUB but find that when I switch from Ubuntu to Windows that the Windows side will restart itself as if booting the first time didn’t work. Mind you after it restarts again everything is fine.

    I wonder if that has to do with the new Ubuntu or Windows 7.[/quote]
    As I recall, that is related to how Windows 7 and Linux each deal with date and time at startup/bootup, and I had to disable something in Linux to get that to stop … but I do not now recall those details.

  36. JohnR

    This is so useful. Thank you very much indeed.

  37. JohnR

    Alas, when I rebooted it still defaults to Ubuntu :(

  38. Allison

    After trying the above instructions with no luck I decided to try using the software tool that is on the left toolbar on the desktop of Ubuntu 11.04. I opened it, typed “startup manager” in the search and immediately found what I needed! It is the exact thing you see in the screen shot above and downloads in no time at all. Just install, open, and change the default OS to Windows, no computer lingo and whatnot involved! :)

  39. Eruaran

    I’m so sick of seeing this kind of ‘help’. All over the place I see people giving the same instructions. Seriously, its like being on a Microsoft help forum where you can’t boot Windows and the first thing the Microsoft guy says is “click start and then…” I have installed Startup Manager many times and IT HAS NEVER WORKED. You can set your default OS to whatever you like and IT DOES NOT CHANGE ANYTHING. IT DOES NOT WORK. Are we clear yet?




  40. saransh

    i installed win 7 with redhat linux 6
    how can i change my default OS from redhat linux to win 7 through CLI??
    pls assist

  41. Don54321

    For people having problems with Startup Manager: As you add distros, each new install takes control of GRUB/2. It only works from that LAST distro installed. For instance, if you installed XP, Ubuntu, and then MINT, only STARTUP MANAGER installed on MINT would work! My question is how to return control to Ubuntu, in case I wanted to delete MINT?

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