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How to Run Linux on a Windows Machine

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Programmer working on windows and linux

Kipling once said, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet …” This same sentiment was often echoed about Linux and Windows. However, today, Linux can run on a Windows machine. This article discusses the several ways in which this is possible.

When you meet any Windows user and talk about using Linux, the first thing you will probably hear is, “I cannot use Linux because I don’t know the commands and I am not a computer guru.” The fact, however, is that today’s top Linux desktop distributions such as Mint, openSUSE and Ubuntu are much easier to use than Windows 8.

Can Linux be run on Windows?
Another misconception among people who want to use Linux but are still on Windows is that the only way to use Linux and Windows on the same hardware is by making it dual boot. And they feel that with Windows 8 bringing in secure boot, a dual boot could turn into a nightmare.
But the truth is that it is not only possible but also very easy to start using Linux on a running Windows system, and there are many options for doing this.

Ways to use Linux on Windows
Let’s look at the various options available to run Linux on Windows that we will be discussing in this article.
1.  Take the online Ubuntu tour
2.   Try Linux CLI on the Web browser
3.   Try Linux-like Windows software
4.   Try Linux with a live CD
5.   Try Linux using a pen drive
6.   Try Linux using a virtual machine
7.   Try coLinux based distributions
Now let’s start discuss each option in detail.

Take the online Ubuntu tour
This should be one of the easiest ways to try your hand at Linux. Ubuntu offers a Web application that simulates an installed Ubuntu desktop in your Web browser. Just open any Web browser and go to and start exploring the Ubuntu desktop version. This gives an interactive view of the Ubuntu desktop, where the user can experience various Ubuntu menu options.

Try Linux CLI on a Web browser
The earlier option allows you to experience the Ubuntu GUI. But if you want to try Linux in its original form, i.e., CLI, open any browser from Windows, go to and start trying out Linux CLI. This is a JavaScript based emulator which lets you run various Linux commands. You can write shell scripts, use regular expression utilities like SED and AWK, experience editors like Vi and Emacs, and can also look up the man pages.

Try Linux-like Windows software
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could install Linux on a Windows machine just as we install any other software in Windows? Well, let’s take a look at WUBI.
WUBI is the acronym for ‘Windows based Ubuntu installer’. It is a very small utility that helps you install Ubuntu on a system running Windows. The important thing to note here is WUBI does not require a separate partition, whereas it creates a special file on the Windows partition and uses that file as the Ubuntu drive. The user can very well uninstall Ubuntu from the Windows control panel.
To install Ubuntu using WUBI, one needs to follow a few basic steps:
1.    Download the WUBI utility from and then install it on a Windows desktop machine.
2.   Start the WUBI utility and in the Installation directory, select the Ubuntu flavour to install it from the drop down menu.
3.   Click on Install to start the installation.
4.   The normal Ubuntu installation will proceed and in the end, you will see the wizard asking you to reboot.
5.   After reboot, the next boot user will see the Windows boot manager displaying two operating systems to boot from.
6.   Choose Ubuntu, boot into it and start exploring it.

Try Linux with a live CD
Till now, we have looked at how to experience emulated versions of Linux on Windows. Let’s move a step ahead and try out real Linux. Now, we certainly have to leave our Windows environment. But here, the objective is to experience Linux without affecting the already installed Windows in any way.
Let’s see how we run Linux with a live CD/DVD.
1.   First, download the desired Linux flavour LiveCD image from any of the hundreds of available repositories, some of which are listed below:
2.   Now go to your systems BIOS setting and alter the boot options to enable you to boot from the CD/DVD.
3.   We are now ready to boot into Linux. Just put the CD/DVD in your disk drive and reboot your desktop.
4.   When the boot is complete, you will see that you have booted into Linux.
5.   The only disadvantage of using a live CD is that nothing is persistent and everything starts from scratch with the next boot.

Try Linux using a pen drive
We have booted Linux with a CD/DVD image but what if our system doesn’t have a disk drive? The solution is to boot into the Linux operating system from a USB stick. Any normal USB stick can be used to install a live Linux image, which gives us a mobile operating system ready to use anywhere, right in our pocket. To install Linux on a pen drive, you need one with a minimum capacity of 2GB, a Linux installer ISO image, and a computer to boot from.
There are broadly two ways of installing Linux on USB flash drives.

1. Installing Linux on a USB flash drive manually: Here, we start a normal Linux installation and at the stage where we have to select the disk drive on which to install, the user carefully selects the USB flash disk drive. The only concern with this approach is that the user must have a very basic understanding of how disk drives are represented in Linux, and should be able to differentiate between USB flash storage and other disk drives present in the system.

2. Use the USB Linux installer utility: The concern mentioned in relation to the first approach is not so serious. Various Linux distros provide a solution to it. There are hundreds of free utilities available on the Internet, which install Linux on a USB flash drive from Windows. A few such utilities are listed here.
a.  LinuxLive USB Creator: This is a free, open source Windows application that allows you to install Linux on a flash drive. You can download and install the application first; and then, in just four to five steps, have your USB flash drive ready to boot Linux:
i.    Start the application from the Windows Start menu and choose the disk from the drives list.
ii.   Select the ISO file or a CD as the installation source.
iii.  Choose the size of persistent data, so that the contents on this disk space on the flash drive will persist on it even after reboot.
iv.  Now, click on the ‘lightning’ button to start the image creation/installation.
v.   This utility can be downloaded from
b.  Universal USB Installer: Universal USB Installer or UUI is another live Linux USB creator that allows you to install Linux on a flash drive from Windows. Here again, you just need to download and install the utility and follow a couple of very basic self-explanatory steps to have a Linux bootable USB flash drive ready. UUI can be downloaded from
c.  UNetbootin: This is another application that allows you to create a bootable Linux image on a flash drive using Windows. UNetbootin can be downloaded from
The list of such utilities is never ending and they are increasing, day by day. One advantage of running Linux using a USB flash drive rather than a live CD is that you get persistent data storage space, where some critical data can be saved and remains persistent.

Try Linux using a virtual machine
All the methods discussed till now provide a way to experience Linux, but if you really want to use Linux on Windows what you need is an environment which is persistent, more robust and gives you greater freedom to do more than just running Linux. Installing a Linux operating system as a virtual machine (VM) is the answer to this. VMs allow you to have multiple full-fledged Linux distros running on top of Windows, simultaneously. The only limitation to the number of Linux distros is your system’s hardware resources. More importantly, all Linux operating systems will be completely isolated from the host Windows system—and from each other as well.
There are various ways to create VMs in Windows but the most common and free open source tool is VirtualBox. You can just download it and use it to create as many virtual machines as you want, to experience running multiple Linux distros simultaneously.

Try coLinux based distributions
Another way to run Linux on Windows is to use coLinux distributions. coLinux or Cooperative Linux is a very new way of running Linux on Windows natively, without any extra partition. Conceptually, coLinux is a port of the Linux kernel that allows it to run cooperatively alongside other OSs. With this, you will not require any virtualisation software to run Linux on Windows. Currently, it only allows the KNOPPIX Japanese version on Windows. But this is a project which is hot and offers a host of development opportunities to all open source enthusiasts.
More details on coLinux can be found at