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Guide to Ubuntu Linux for Windows Users

Dual-boot: Keeping Windows on the Same PC

  • November 24, 2008
  • By Eric Geier
Going through hard financial times���who isn't? As you may already know, you can use free operating systems (OSs) and software applications, provided by the Linux open source community.

Instead of paying Microsoft for another copy of Windows, you can put that money in a savings account or toward your shrinking entertainment and vacation fund. Using the Ubuntu operating system, a popular Linux distribution (distro), is one way you can save money. It's totally free, downloadable from their website. Put it on the old PC that you want to upgrade, or even your new machine. Since the Linux community offers all the usual software packages, such as office suites, money management programs, games, and graphics editors, for free, going open source is always beneficial.

If you haven't used Linux yet, you'll have some things to get used to. Linux distributions have a somewhat similar look and feel to Windows, however you'll discover many differences. This tutorial takes you through some of these new features. We'll also discuss why you don't have to throw out Windows.

Let's get started.

Dual-boot PC: Keeping Windows on the Same PC

Don't want to give up Windows? Well you don't have to; you can configure a dual-boot PC.

When done right, you'll see a menu when you turn on your computer, where you can select the operating system you feel like booting into at the time. Multi-boot options are essentially endless. With patience you can install Ubuntu and other Linux distros along with Windows XP and/or Vista. You can even throw Mac OS X into the mix if you have an Intel-based Apple system.

Though there are many tutorials and testimonials out there on configuring dual and multi boot systems which, in some cases, don't require you to reinstall the original OS, you always want to make sure you have everything backed up before attempting anything. Make sure any data you want to keep is off the hard drive you are installing the new OS(s) on.

Tip: Did you know you can run Ubuntu on your computer without installing a thing? It's true, like other Linux distros, you can use the Live CD feature to load Ubuntu from the CD-ROM. This gives you a way to try out Ubuntu and see how it works before deciding to install.

To start the process, edit the partitions of your hard drive (possibly using a live CD of Gparted), creating empty spaces for each of the new OSs you want to install.

Next, pop in the disc for the OS and install onto the correct partition. For the boot menus, you can use GRUB for Linux/Windows systems or rEFIt if Mac is also in the mix.

That's it in a nutshell. It's common to knock out the boot information for an OS when installing another. You may find yourself having to use your Windows CD to repair the XP or Vista installation in order to fix Windows boot, reinstall GRUB to boot into Ubuntu, or refresh the partition info for rEFIt to correctly bring up OSs.

Discovering the Desktop

After you have installed and booted up Ubuntu, you can start getting familiar with the look, feel, and functionality of the OS. Just like in Windows, you can place files, folders, and shortcuts (Links or Launchers) on the desktop. As you can see in Figure 1, Ubuntu, by default, has two bars that run on the top and bottom of the desktop, called Panels.

ubuntu to windows

Figure 1

The top Panel has the Applications, Places, and System menus that drop down. The right end of the top Panel is similar to the system tray of Windows, where you can reference the time, access networking settings, and change the volume level. Additionally, you can click the Quit icon for shut down options or click your name to quickly switch to another user's account.

The bottom Panel holds the title bars of opened windows or applications, just like in Windows. The icon on the left is a shortcut to minimize windows and show the desktop. The right end of the bottom Panel is where you can move between Workspaces.

What are Workspaces, you ask? They offer multiple virtual desktops where each can contain different opened applications and windows.

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