This guide looks at what dual booting actually means and why you may or may not want to do it and it also covers the theory as to the steps that we have to take in order to dual boot multiple operating systems.
So if you are thinking of dual booting Windows and Linux or indeed multiple Linux operating systems then read on.
What Is Dual Booting?
By default most people who buy a laptop from a shop are stuck with a default installation of Windows 10 and for them it works just fine and they think it is the Rolls Royce of operating systems.
If you are reading this article though you may well have suspected that you have been sold a lemon and what is really under the bonnet looks something like this:
At this point you may have heard of Linux and everything you have read seems really impressive and in your mind you picture the operating system equivalent of a Ferrari.
The trouble is that you have been duped before and you are worried you might not get everything with your Linux Ferrari as you would with the Windows Rolls Royce.
For instance you have read articles where people say that you can’t run all of your favourite software such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop and Dreamweaver.
You might also have heard that Linux is difficult to install and hard to use.
Maybe you should dual boot Linux and Windows to see if you like Windows? What do you think?
Should you dual boot if you just want to try Linux?
If you are thinking of dual booting Linux with Windows to see if you like Linux then you are far better off running Linux as a virtual machine.
A virtual machine can be spun up quite quickly with a full version of Linux installed. You can try it out, use it and if you like it replace Windows with Linux.
I only ever really see dual booting as a good idea if you have a piece of software that runs under Windows that doesn’t run under Linux.
For example I am going to say Photoshop doesn’t really play nicely in Linux. Some people will say that you can use WINE but in reality it isn’t a perfect experience.
You can’t run a full version of Microsoft Office 365 under Linux. You can in theory run older versions of Microsoft Office using Linux and WINE or you can use the online version of Microsoft Office.
The only other thing to consider is games. If you are a heavy Windows gamer then you will need to use Windows for that.
These are in my opinion the only 3 things that would make you want to keep a version of Windows handy on your computer.
How many of you really use Photoshop to its full power and do you use it professionally or just play around with it? If you aren’t making a living out of Photoshop why not consider using GIMP. It is free and it will take away one of your Windows dependencies.
How many of you use all of the features of Microsoft Office? If the most you ever do is type a letter, do basic spreadsheets and create the odd presentation there is the online version of Microsoft Office. If that won’t do you can use LibreOffice which contains most of the features of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. This will save you paying for a Microsoft 365 subscription.
If you have tried Linux in a virtual machine (or just plainly don’t want to) and you really need to keep Windows then the rest of this guide will help you to understand the steps involved in dual booting.
Dispelling One Of The Biggest Linux Myths
If you read one of those rubbishy Windows loving guides which state that Windows is better than Linux because Linux is hard to install then I am going to dispel that myth once and for all.
Installing Linux is actually easier than installing Windows. The truth is that most people are lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) enough to have Windows installed when they buy their machine.
If you have ever had to install Windows 10 then you will have performed many of the same steps as you would need to follow in order to install Linux.
Linux is not difficult to install!!! Simply insert a USB drive, state where you live (in order to set the time on the clock), choose your keyboard language, choose the disk you are installing Linux to and create a user.
The bit that these guides think are tricky is the dual booting bit and I will tell you this now. It is a lot easier getting Linux to play nicely with Windows than it is trying to get Windows to play nicely with any other operating system.
Installing Linux isn’t difficult, it is the theory behind dual booting which some people find troubling, and that is what this guide is all about.
Disk Partitioning Is Like Parking Cars On A Drive
The first thing that you need to do if you want to dual boot Windows and Linux is to create an area of space on your hard drive for Linux to be installed to.
A disk drive is much like a car park or the driveway outside your house. Each partition on a hard drive is much like a parking space.
Dual booting operating systems is akin to having multiple cars on your drive. Ultimately you just have to make a space for each car.
Unfortunately much like the car in the image above, Windows likes to hog all of the space. It doesn’t matter how much space you have on the drive it wants all of it.
In order to put Linux on a single drive alongside Windows you need to shrink the Windows partition which is the equivalent of calling the driver over the tannoy and asking him to go back to his car and park properly.
How To Shrink The Windows Partition
You do not need a magic wand or a shrinking ray gun in order to make your Windows partition smaller. All you need to do is reclaim the space that Windows isn’t using.
In order to shrink a partition right click on the Windows start button and click on “Disk Management”.
Look at the drive and look for the Windows partition. If the partition says EFI or recovery leave it well alone. Windows is usually easy to spot as it is normally on drive C (C:), it has an NTFS file system and it is probably taking up most of the space on the drive.
In order to shrink the Windows partition right click on it and choose shrink volume.
A window will appear asking how much you want to shrink by.
By default the pop up window will tell you the maximum you can afford to shrink the Windows partition by.
Do not make the number any larger than the default option otherwise your Windows operating system will be the equivalent of this:
Whilst at the moment your Windows partition might only be the size of a Rolls Royce, you should allow for growth because Windows likes to install lots of updates and never give any of that space back and if you are a gamer you would be advised to leave space for more games.
You basically need to make sure there is enough room for Windows and also that the amount of space you are creating for Linux is big enough to allow it to be installed with space for growth as well.
As it happens Linux isn’t greedy at all and can fit into a relatively small space. Windows can take upwards of 100 gigabytes by the time all updates and software is installed. Linux on the other hand will take around 20 to 30 gigabytes.
Dual Booting Multiple Drives
If you have multiple drives available to you then you don’t really need to shrink the Windows partition. In this instance multiple drives are akin to having a multi-storey car park.
It doesn’t matter how much space Windows takes on one drive as you can always install Linux on the other drive.
You still need to make sure there is space available for Linux. You can do this by shrinking the volume on the drive you are hoping to install Linux to or if you don’t need any of the data on the other drive you can delete the partition.
The EFI Partition And Boot Orders
If you look at my drive above you will see there is a partition called EFI. This stands for Extensible Firmware Interface.
All the way through this guide I have likened your hard drive to a car park. To keep this analogy going the EFI drive is like the little china bowl in your hallway where you throw each set of car keys into. Each set of keys in the bowl works with one car.
The EFI partition contains the necessary links to each operating system installed across your system. You generally don’t have to worry about this partition because when you install an operating system it puts the necessary keys in the bowl for you.
When you have installed Linux you might find that when you boot the computer it still goes straight to Windows without giving an option for booting into Linux.
This is the equivalent of picking up the wrong set of keys from the bowl, pressing the clicker and seeing the lights flicker on the Rolls Royce instead of the Ferrari.
In order to boot into Linux you need to change the boot order which is the equivalent of putting the Ferrari keys on top of the Rolls Royce keys in the bowl. When you go to pick up the keys next time you will pick up the Ferrari keys and when you click you will hear the satisfactory pip pip of the Ferrari doors unlocking.
To change the boot order all you have to do is press the relevant function key when booting your computer in order to enter the boot order settings and then amend the order so Linux is above Windows.
Linux is more sociable than Windows and so when the Linux partition boots a little menu appears giving you the option of booting into Linux or Windows.
Is Dual Booting Worth It?
I dual booted for many years before I realised that I was just wasting disk space. I much prefer dedicating my entire disk space to Linux as I never used the Windows partition.
The trouble with dual booting is that when you get to the point where you realise you don’t need Windows then it is much more annoying at that point trying to get rid of it.
Getting rid of Linux is actually much easier as this guide to uninstalling Ubuntu from a dual boot system shows.
Personally I don’t like dual booting and the only reason I can see for doing it is to allow you to run Windows programs that don’t have a suitable Linux equivalent.
Full Guides To Dual Booting
I have written a few guides showing how to actually install various operating systems alongside Windows using dual boot as shown below.
If you want to actually do it then these guides should still work even though they are a few years old.
- How to dual boot Ubuntu and Windows 10 using an SSD
- How to dual boot Linux Mint and Windows 10
- How to dual boot Ubuntu and Windows using an older BIOS
- How to dual boot Linux Mint and Windows 7
- How to dual boot Ubuntu and Windows 8.1
- How to dual boot Windows XP and Linux
- How to dual boot Windows Vista and Linux