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Why would you ever want to run multiple operating systems on one computer? A computer / network technician may need access to many OSes, possibly all at once. But what would a regular user want with more then one OS? There are many reasons why someone may want to do this, the most common of which is that the user prefers Linux or Unix (Mac OS X) for the speed, security, and stability but occasionally need to run Windows specific programs. Now, you can run some apps under virtualization without Windows by using utilities such as Wine or CrossOver. However, it may be easier (if you have a Windows disk around) to install Windows along side your favorite OS. There are two methods for running multiple OSes; dual booting and virtual machine. One method is not better then the other but we will discuss the pros and cons and find out which method suites you best.

Dual booting offers the most power. With the dual booting method you install the second OS on a separate partition and, during the computer startup, choose the OS you want to use. Usually the feature allowing you to choose the OS to boot into is automatically setup. If, for example, you install Ubuntu on a PC that has windows on it it will install the GRUB boot loader automatically. Also if you install Windows on a Mac then you can hold the alt/option key during the startup chime and choose the disk to boot from there. Once booted the OS will run at full power because it will not need to share system resources with another OS. This is ideal for high-end gaming, graphics, video, 3D rendering, etc.

Running a virtual machine is more convenient but lacks the power because it is sharing RAM, Video, Processor, etc with your primary OS. There are many VM applications available including VMware ($ Mac & Windows), Parallels ($ Mac & Windows), and VirtualBox (Free, Linux, OS X, Windows). With these programs you can install and run another OS without ever shutting down the PC or leaving you primary OS. You can use a virtual machine as you would any other system baring some high-end heavy graphics stuff. So if you absolutely need a single Windows program like Outlook or you just want to play with good ol’ Windows 3.1 then consider a virtual machine. Also VMware Fusion and Parallels have the ability to run your Mac’s BootCamp Partition as a virtual machine so you can have the best of both worlds.

What is the best way? I don’t know, you choose. The process for setting up VMs and/or dual boots varies drastically depending on your hardware configuration and the software’s you are using. There are tutorials online but just backup everything and give it a try. Things may go wrong the first time but keep trying. Once you get it working you just might be glad you did it.

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Tags: boot, dual, linux, mac, machine, parallels, virtual, vmware, windows


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Comment by Ninesvnsicks on February 1, 2009 at 11:36am
I dual boot Linux Mint / XP SP3. I use Linux for everything and only boot into Windows when I need to play a game or do video encoding however I've just been using my moms for video encoding since her CPU is faster.
Comment by Marc Buckingham on February 1, 2009 at 7:38am
This is my present setup:
-1TB HDD Windows Vista HP x64 with VMs(using VirtualBox) of Windows XP Home and openSUSE 11.1 x86
-250GB HDD Windows 7 Beta 1 x64

So, I am utilizing both solutions simultaneously.
A tip for VMs: If you have more than one HDD, it is good to create the VM's HDD file on a separate drive than the host OS.
Additionally, if you use dual monitors, VMs are cool because you can run one OS on each monitor if you wish.
A tip for Dual Booting: I have found that, for myself, it is more optimal to eliminate the Boot Loader altogether. This is done simply (again, if you have multiple HDDs) by unplugging the first OS's HDD at the time of the second OS's installation. After installation is complete, reattach the first HDD. Enter BIOS and select your primary boot drive. Then when you want to enter the second OS, at boot, press the "Boot Selection" key (for my BIOS this is F12), and select the appropriate disk. By eliminating the regular Boot Loader, you're saving a lot of hassle if you change your configuration at a later time, whether by choice, or because something terrible happens, and you lose an OS.
Comment by Eddie on February 1, 2009 at 2:47am
VMware has some time before I decide to start using it again.

FreeBSD / Windows XP Pro SP3 :)
Comment by azaas on February 1, 2009 at 1:55am
hmmm first of all that was an interesting read!

I must say that just a few months ago i would pick the dualboot over a Virtual machine. The boot time would be balanced by the ability to use my hardware in its full potential.
But nowadays virtual machines seem to have advanced quite a lot offering users a pretty smooth [ soooo tempted to say silky smooth xD ] experience. Dropping files back and forth between two operating systems,running a windows application "natively" inside OSX and generally being able to work on two operating systems in the same time is something that every geek had been dreaming for the last couple of decades now :D
There are a lot of things that can be done to make virtual machines even better,but at this moment they seem to work pretty fine both for regular and power user stuff,for me to never use dualboot again.
Comment by on January 31, 2009 at 8:05pm
There's a program called Synergy: requires two monitors, two computers, one mouse, one keyboard. Works on WinNT though XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.

The down side is, it requires two computers, the upside being, it lets you use two computers wtih cooperating clipboards with all the power of a whole computer under each OS.

I haven't used it. But I tend to prefer Ubuntu for internet, email, & Open Office, and Windows XP for video and music. So some times I think about trying it.
Comment by Joe Kinney on January 31, 2009 at 7:54pm
I prefer virtualization. My desktop is a gaming class PC, so all of my high end Windows graphical apps (mainly games, but there's some video editing software too) are on that box. My laptop is a Mac, and I use it as my primary machine for school. This means I still need to run some Windows apps, such as Office and SQL. Plus, I also like to be able to move files seamlessly back and forth between Windows and OS X.
Comment by David on January 31, 2009 at 7:26pm
Dual booting never served me well. I often want to cut and paste between OS sessions, share files, etc. VMWare Server (free for personal use--nice little freebie that beats the socks off VMWare Player and VirtualBox, for me) lets me do all that and more.

Until yesterday, when Ubuntu 8.10 began eating disk space like crazy (that's a rabbit trail that leads through brambles like you wouldn't believe), I regularly had two or even three VMs running in an Ubuntu host--WinXP, PCBSD, Suse Linux, whatever. The nice thing about VMWare Server, as opposed to Virtualbox, which I otherwise liked well enough, is that it works well with 64-bit clients, which Virtualbox did not last I tried it.

With a nice dual core machine with 4-8GB of RAM, etc., I found that XP, for example, ran better as a VM client using one core than on a similarly-configured single core machine with 3GB RAM, using the bridged hardware solution VMWare Server offers. YMMV, but rebooting just to fire up Windows--or a different version of Windows or whatever--and NOT being able to cut and paste between the two OSes, like can be done with properly-configured Host-client vm situation is just so very... 20th century. I did it for years and it's just too cumbersome for me any more.
Comment by Wisc Wolf Wisdom on January 31, 2009 at 6:30pm
Another Bonus to Virtual Machines - The VHD *Virtual Hard Drive* file can be created and backed up. This is very useful as you can use TrueCrypt to make a container and put this file into for protecting your Virtual Machine or encrypt the file any other means you like. And what I like about this, is you can create one for doing all your sensitive work like banking, shopping, etc.

And if you ever find yourself infected with spyware or malware on a virtual machine, you can simply take your .VHD file you backed up when you created it, and copy it over the infected one and your back to square one in a matter of minutes! If you have a dual boot, and your unable to remove all spyware and malware, you might be looking at starting from scratch and that would involve more time.

And for browsing the internet, you don't need anything more than what the virtual machine offers. And getting on the internet is where you end up getting spyware and viruses more often than not. I do wish the Virtual PC offered by Microsoft would support better mouse drivers so I could use my tilt wheel feature on my mouse. I wonder if there is a list of features from each virtualization solution somewhere? What does VirtualBox, VMWare, and QEMU/KVM have that Virtual PC doesn't? I'd answer my own question and google the answers, but I'm out of time for the day!
Comment by franklin on January 31, 2009 at 6:27pm
i like virtual machine because you dont have to wait to switch oses
Comment by J. Walker on January 31, 2009 at 6:15pm
The permutations around which option is better is a bit daunting.

I personally prefer the VirtualBox solution for my own desktop virtualization solution(s). The VirtualBox application pretty much allows all of the OSes to run that I have thrown at it. Additionally, I have been able to use USB devices and/or bridged network connections for my guests.

Also, the guests work with any host I have used as well. Well, any host that is supported. I have used Windows XP, Vista, and 7 as a host without a problem. For Linux, I have used Suse 10+, Fedora 8+, and Ubuntu (plus variants) since 7.04.

The latest round of boot loaders, including Windows Vista/7 and GRUB, have been a pain to try to keep track of what OS is actually the owner of the boot record.

The first step in getting a final solution, in my opinion:

- Land on a virtualization solution: Virtual PC, VirtualBox, VMWare, and QEMU/KVM all have free(ware) options
- Don't change your host (primary) PC if you are not looking to move to something new.
- Have a good backup (can you validate your backup?)
- Pickup a laptop sized external drive (example)
- - The external drive is good for hosting the virtual disks for the virtual PC guests without dealing with space concerns on your primary hard drive. Also, you can save the original data and backups to an external.

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