One of the most essential components of a computer is its operating system. The almighty OS is the lifeblood of a rig, determining software compatibility, and interacting with both hardware and software. For many, it’s either Linux vs. Windows or Linux vs. Mac.
Enter dual booting.
Essentially, this is having two operating systems available from boot. Windows has its pros, Linux has its pluses. Linux draws include its customization, security, dedicated open source community, and that distributions are (usually) free. Windows or Mac of course have their devout followers, and certain situations, like native apps and less complexity, call for a non-Linux distro.
Dual booting isn’t without its issues, and in some cases your operating system might actually inadvertently break your dual boot. That said, if your Windows Update deletes Linux, you can recover it.
But why not opt for both? Here are five reasons to dual boot and two reasons you shouldn’t.
Reasons You Should Dual Boot
1. Gaming: Old and New
Face it, there are pros and cons of both operating systems. Native gaming on Windows is better, while programming on Linux is much improved over Windows. Sure, thanks to Steam OS there’s been a push to optimize games for cross-compatibility. Such titles as Alien: Isolation and Half-Life 2 saw Linux versions alongside Windows and Mac iterations, and there are some fantastic gems hiding right there in the software center, but gaming is unarguably stronger on Windows.
Want to play those old games (think 16-bit)? Well, modern (64-bit) Windows architecture can’t handle them. Linux gracefully offers support of 16-bit programs via both 32- and 64-bit operating systems. Thanks to Wine, many Windows apps run like a champ. Want the best of gaming, both old and new? Dual boot.
2. The Host
When running an operating system natively on a system (as opposed in a virtual machine, or VM), that operating system has full access to the host machine. Thus, dual booting means more access to hardware components, and in general it’s faster than utilizing a VM. Virtual machines typically are more system-intensive, so running Linux or Windows inside a VM requires pretty beefy specs for decent performance.
You may find that many of your favorite programs don’t function quite as well in one operating system versus the other. Until recently, a case in point was Netflix (but this has since been overcome). However, regular use of Adobe applications and/or particular video games may compel you to dual boot. Having two operating systems installed ensures surefire access to all your programs and services.
4. Programming Is (Sometimes) Better on Linux
Want to get into programming? Linux has many advantages. It’s free, which is always a plus. Then there’s the bevy of languages including Java, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Python, and C/C++, loads of coding apps, and bash support. Oh, and knowledge of Linux looks fantastic on a resume. So familiarity with the ecosystem is in-demand.
Want to develop for Windows or Mac? Sure, you can totally use Linux, but it’s typically preferable to code apps for an operating system natively. Windows, for example, has the ultra-powerful Visual Studio and it’s the go-to for Windows apps. Consider dual booting for programming, and use Linux as a development environment.
5. It’s Really, Really Easy
There’s a misconception that Linux is ridiculously complex. Sure, the command line can be a bit daunting to the first-time user, and yes more tweaking is occasionally required when compared to using Windows or Mac. Ultimately Linux is merely an operating system, and may be used as simply that.
Similarly, dual booting is a cinch. There are guidelines that ensure a smooth install. For instance, always make sure to install Linux second, after the primary operating system (failing to do so may result in problems booting). Sharing files is totally feasible as well, as Linux allows access to many Windows files.
Reasons You Shouldn’t Dual Boot
As with any installation scenario, there are some downsides that you should also consider.
1. Increased Complexity
While installation is not terribly difficult, sharing files across the two operating systems can be a challenge. Linux usually provides ease of access to Windows files, but accessing the Linux file system via Windows is a bit trickier. Linux mostly uses the EXT4 file system, and Windows requires a third party app for EXT4 compatibility. Although installation might be fairly simple, uninstalling can create a mess.
Overall, a dual boot set up is nowhere near as challenging as many tech tasks, but it will require a dash of patience and a side of ingenuity. If you’re not up to some mild troubleshooting, maybe skip the dual boot setup.
2. A VM Basically Accomplishes the Same Objective
As discussed earlier, a virtual machine is a great solution for running an operating system within an operating system. This method may be used to run Linux on a VM within another operating system, or vice versa. Plus, installation and uninstallation are pretty easy as it’s like removing a program and doesn’t affect anything with boot loaders.
Opting for the VM solution does take up more hard drive space, and resource allocation is much more than running just a Linux distro. Older hardware may not be suited to running a virtual machine, whether from lack of hard drive space or low system specs. Further, an operating system within a VM might not have full access to the host PC. When I first tried Ubuntu in a VM, I encountered problems using my DVD drive to install programs. Running Ubuntu natively on my hard drive (that is, installing it) alleviated this issue.
There’s no shortage of reasons to use Linux and Windows or Mac. Dual booting vs. a singular operating system each have their pros and cons, but ultimately dual booting is a wonderful solution that levels up compatibility, security, and functionality. Plus, it’s incredibly rewarding, especially for those making the foray into the Linux ecosystem.
What’s reassuring is that if you’re not satisfied with your new Linux experience, you can safely switch back to a Windows-only setup.