Many users of Windows XP and Vista will want to try Linux at some point, often just to see what all the fuss is about. There are many different Linux distributions and it isn’t convenient for a non-technical user to set up dual booting alongside an existing Windows install. Thankfully, there are tools available which mean you can play with a full Linux install inside the familiar surroundings of Microsoft Windows.
There are several pieces of software that let you run a virtual PC within Windows, allowing you to install virtually any operating system in an emulated PC environment. There are two main solutions available, firstly the free Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, which is reasonably good and easy to install. The second choice is also a free piece of software and is called VMware Player, and features several more advanced features. For this article we will be using the MS Virtual PC virtualisation software as it provides more flexibility in the free version.
Step 1 - Install the Microsoft Virtual PC Software
This is a very straight forward installation, and the download is around 30-60MB (depending on components) at the time of this article:
Step 2 – Locate and download a Linux Distribution
Once Virtual PC is installed, you need to download a Linux distribution. Some popular choices are:
Ubuntu : http://www.ubuntu.com
Fedora : http://fedoraproject.org
Mandriva : http://www.mandriva.com/
Proceed to the download section of whichever distribution you choose, and if you are given plenty of options of types to download then look for a 32bit i386 ISO file.
This article will use Ubunutu, and the download URL at the time was:
Once you have found the file, download it to your PC.
Step 3 – Setup a Virtual PC
Load MS Virtual PC 2007 from the start menu and begin the wizard to create a new virtual machine, the screenshots below illustrate this process using recommended settings. Click Next to begin the setup process:
Select “Create a new virtual machine”:
Call this virtual machine whatever you like, for example “Linux” or “Ubuntu”:
Select “Other” from the OS dropdown menu to customise the virtual PC:
Choose how much system RAM you wish to allocate to the virtual PC, if you can spare it, 512MB would be recommended. It does appear to allocate the whole amount of memory to the software, even if you are only using a small portion of it within the Virtual PC. 512MB should be fine for users with 2GB+ of Ram, but those with 1GB may struggle to run much else in the background.
Select create “A new virtual hard disk”:
Choose a location to save this virtual drive and assign a size (dependant on how much disk space you have left). You can make up to 3 virtual hard drives, but if you wanted more drives you can always partition them to as many drive letters as required.
Click finish to create the Virtual PC:
Step 4 – Install Linux
Select the Virtual PC listed under the name assigned during setup, and then click start:
This will start to boot up the Virtual PC, although there is no operating system installed at present. To install Linux, click CD > Capture ISO Image and then open the saved Linux ISO from Step 2. If you find that your mouse pointer is stuck within the Virtual PC window, press right-ALT to release it:
Once this is done, click Action > Reset to reboot the Virtual PC and start the Linux Install. During boot, the Linux install will automatically load and the onscreen installation steps must be followed. These steps will differ slightly for each Linux distribution, but it should be a straight forward process. If you use Ubuntu, select the “Install Ubuntu” option rather than running the Live CD:
This will start the graphical installer where you can customise your install options. This article will not cover each installation step, as it will vary for each install. However, in most cases it is just a case of filling in basic information and clicking “next” as there is only 1 possible installation drive. Unless you are an advanced user, allow Linux to automatically partition your virtual drive:
Once the installation is complete the Virtual PC will restart, at which point you should unmount the ISO file by clicking CD > Release CD. Once the restart is complete, you should now be at the Linux login screen:
Congratulations, you now have a working Linux install from within Windows! To boot in to Linux again simply load Virtual PC 2007 from the start menu and double click on the Linux name (as in the first stage of Step 4).