You want to install Ubuntu on your Windows computer, don’t you? The thing is, you’re not 100% certain, yet. What if it goes wrong?
Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can try Ubuntu Linux and see whether you really like it, from running a Live CD to installing the OS in a virtual machine, before going all the way and installing it alongside Windows to dual boot.
You might even abandon Windows altogether, converting your device into a 100% Ubuntu computer!
Are You Ready to Switch?
The first thing to do is work out whether or not you’re ready to switch to Linux. That you’re reading this is a good sign that you have strong inclination to try out Linux, and the ideal place to start is with Ubuntu.
While Linux isn’t identical to Windows, Ubuntu is the most accessible Linux distribution, offering both an intuitive user interface and a solid package manager.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, you might have spent some time thinking about how to use Ubuntu as your new, main operating system, replacing Windows entirely. For this, you will need to understand how you can migrate your data from Windows to Ubuntu, assuming that is the version you’re going to be switching to.
Which Linux Version Should You Choose?
As you’re probably aware, several flavours of Linux are available. Some are intended for hardcore enthusiasts, while others come with a Windows-esque user interface, designed to help newcomers to the platform ease their way in.
Ubuntu is a happy medium between the two types of Linux distribution, and while the remainder of this guide applies specifically to Ubuntu, there is no reason why you shouldn’t take a look at our list of the best Linux distributions and try some alternatives.
After you’ve downloaded your Linux distro, remember to burn it to DVD in preparation for installation. If a DVD isn’t available, USB flash devices can also be set up as installation media.
Not that you should install just yet.
Get Started: Test with Live CD or Virtual Machine
Before installing Ubuntu, you should spend some time with the operating system in live mode, which enables you to load the OS from the optical disc into your computer’s memory. Do this by inserting the disc, rebooting your PC and selecting Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer from the boot menu. Soon Ubuntu will appear, giving you the chance to try out the apps and become more familiar with everything before making the decision to install. While some functionality may be missing here, this is the best way to take your first steps towards Ubuntu.
Not all Linux distributions have a live mode, so check the documentation if you’re looking at an option other than Ubuntu.
For ease of switching between Windows and Ubuntu, meanwhile, as well as testing the OS at your convenience without the somewhat inflexible presence of the Live CD (you can’t switch to Windows easily when running a Linux distro from the DVD), you may instead consider using a virtual machine.
As Joel recently wrote, you can keep your main computer safe by testing new operating systems in a virtual machine. Briefly, free tools like VMWare Player and VirtualBox create a virtualized software PC using your device’s hardware.
Using a virtual machine is an easy way to try Ubuntu Linux. If you’d like to go with that option, have a look at our detailed VirtualBox guide.
Dual Booting Windows 8 and Ubuntu
After discovering that you quite like Ubuntu, you may still have reservations about switching completely. The answer here is to dual boot Ubuntu with Windows, which is essentially done by creating a new partition on your computer’s hard disk drive and installing the Linux OS into this, as explained in our Windows/Ubuntu dual booting tutorial.
Following installation, you’ll see a boot menu each time you boot or restart your computer, with your preferred operating system selected using the arrow buttons on the keyboard.
(Incidentally, if you are interested in dual booting Ubuntu and Mac OS X, this is also possible.)
Help! I’ve Made a Terrible Mistake!
In the unlikely event that you realize that Ubuntu Linux doesn’t cut the mustard for you and your productivity takes a terrible nosedive, the best thing that you can do is switch back to Windows. If you have been using a Live CD or virtual machine so far, this shouldn’t be an issue.
However, if you installed Ubuntu to dual boot alongside Windows, then you might be happier switching back to the primary operating system and deleting Ubuntu from your HDD. Fortunately this is relatively straightforward and can be done safely, without any loss of data.
The process involves backing up your Linux data to an external device, then switching to Windows to delete the partition and restore the MBR. The explanation we provided for XP users still applies through Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1.
Meanwhile, if you decide that actually, yes you do quite like this new OS, you can install Ubuntu as your computer’s sole operating system, ideal for bringing an old computer back to life or enjoying new functionality on a modern device.
Do you have plans to dual boot Ubuntu or another Linux distro on your Windows PC? Tell us all about it in the comments.