Using Windows 7 And Linux On The Same Computer


For many reasons, often related to security, Windows users are drawn to looking at Linux as an alternative. Some may not realize that Linux can also be used as a complimentary system by dual booting it alongside Windows.

Linux is all about choice but unfortunately this is where the journey for many Windows users begins and ends. Not only are there so many Linux distributions to choose from, many also offer a variety of desktop environments making the choice process highly confusing.

In order to try and cut through some of this, I’ve put this guide together assuming a current Windows 7 user with a fairly modern desktop or laptop would like to dual boot this with Linux.  

The great advantage of Linux is that most distros offer a live CD or DVD version. This means you can boot from your optical drive and run this live system just as you would if it was fully installed. Some functions, notably saving, will be restricted/missing and generally all operations will be slower than for a full installation, but you can still try out most of the functions, change the themes etc., in order to get a feel for each one before deciding whether or not to install it. Many also offer the option to boot into a live session from a USB drive. You can create this using the freeware UNetbootin to convert your downloaded Linux ISO images. Merely rebooting your machine after each live session will return you to Windows which is not changed or affected in any way.

Bear in mind also that whatever default look appears when you run your live session can be customized as much as you like once you have your preferred distro fully installed. You can play with different theme, icon and font settings during a live session to get a flavor of what is possible.

Discounting the different desktop choices for now, there are several “types” of Linux distro. Minimal is what it suggests and most of these I would not recommend for new users to Linux as they can encounter issues with initial settings, especially regarding the all important internet connection. Next are the main distributions which profess to supply a fully operational and complete system. How each one of these achieves this is somewhat open for debate which is why a few “kitchen sink” variants have also sprung up. Although these might look attractive on the face of it, I’ve encountered enough problems with some of them to advise caution, but not all.

Before we go any further, it’s worth now just making a brief statement about the various desktop environments. I’m also going to simplify this by not including all of them which I don’t see as necessary for the context of this guide.

Basically there was KDE and Gnome, plus the others. A while back now, Ubuntu developed its own system called Unity and Gnome which was V2 moved to V3. There is so much argument about the pros and cons of these deviations, but this should not affect new Linux users because not having seen what went before, they can make up their minds about what is being offered now without the nuisance of history to worry about. I guess we should also mention the Cinnamon desktop which since its adoption by Mint and some other distros is gaining in popularity and also MATE which was developed to fill the gap left by the demise of Gnome2 and placate the many haters of Gnome3 and Unity.

So, down to the recommends.

Recommended Linux Distros

Please check the version numbers of the screenshots listed below because not all of them relate to the latest releases.

UbuntuUndoubtedly and despite the gripes about Unity, Ubuntu remains hugely popular so this is where I would advise to go first. Users of mobile apps especially should feel at home with the interface and enjoy the experience overall. The live online updating process during install, including language packs, can be a bit lengthy so users with a slow connection might need to consider this when looking at the other alternatives.

More screenshots here.

Linux MintLinux Mint originally set out to be an “improvement” on Ubuntu and its rise to the top of the distro charts suggests they were successful. Mint has developed it’s own desktop called Cinnamon but also offers a variety of other choices.

More screenshots here.

ZorinNext we should consider Zorin which has been purposely designed to appeal to Windows “migrants”. I’ve recommended Zorin to several folks here locally, and only one has opted to change it for something else.

More screenshots here.

Zorin also produce a "lite" version for lower powered computers.

A final Gnome 3 based distro with enough differences to make it interesting is Pear OS from France. Check it out and see what you think.

MageiaMoving to KDE, if you like “pretty” then check out Mageia. Some KDE distros are quite demanding resource wise, but Mageia is one of the lighter ones and I love it.

KororaaDesigned to be a more complete version of Fedora, Kororaa is one of the heavier KDE distros but most modern machines will cope admirably, especially if they are already running Windows 7. 

More screenshots here.


There are some other contenders well worth the effort to download and try as a live session.

SuperX has provided by far the best KDE experience for me and runs error free on three different systems, all of which are dual booted with Windows 7. Screenshots here and here.

Another good KDE contender is the German distro ZevenOS Neptune. Screenshot here.

Alternatively, how about combining KDE and Xfce components together? Centrych does this and the result is both different and pleasing to the eye. Customized screenshot here.

Trisquel stands out as being one of the few distros to include only free software. It also has a more classic look which might appeal to some. Screenshots here and here.

Point Linux is a Debian based distro that uses the MATE desktop. One of the advantages of Point is that with a few clicks you can install and enable both Compiz and Emerald, giving access to a multitude of great themes.

Finally, a  lighter weight recommendation that is blindingly fast, compared to Windows 7, and a joy to use.

BodhiMy final recommendation is a minimal distribution called Bodhi. It does come with a browser installed, but little else, although all the programs you need can be automatically installed from the Bodhi AppCentre with just a couple of clicks. Bodhi uses the E17 or Enlightenment desktop which is certainly different, but also highly configurable. If you are the type of person who relishes the ability to customize looks, then this one is for you. There are a range of set themes available which change the whole look, including desktop gadgets. The individual theme components can also be mixed and matched so there’s enough here to keep you occupied for hours.

More screenshots here.

Dual Boot Linux with Windows 7

In order to dual boot Linux with Windows 7, it is necessary to free up some space on your hard drive for it first. This is a simple operation as detailed here in this guide to dual booting with Ubuntu.

Most users will be able to dual boot their computer with no issues at all, but as ever, something can always go wrong. To overcome this risk, please consider the following.

1] Back up your important data and preferably have a complete image of your Windows system available should you need to restore it.

2] Google for “How to dual boot Windows 7 and (your chosen Linux distribution)” and read the guide first. Many of these are also on Youtube.

I hope the above will encourage more people to consider dual booting their Windows 7 with Linux and enjoying the same experience I do. This process can be a little frustrating to begin with, but once you discover the speed, safety, reliability and configurability of Linux, then the journey is well worth the effort.

With thanks to our member phrnk for pointing out I should also have included some information about how to return your PC to a Windows only state (apart from using an image). This link works for my machine but your mileage may vary.  Depending on your own circumstances it might be necessary to use a variant of the command line code described in the link. Please Google for a few more options before you attempt this process. You will also need your Windows install CD so if this is not available and/or you are uncomfortable with the thought of using the command line, you may wish to consider if a dual boot is right for you.  Another option is to use the program EasyBCD which does not require the Windows installation disk to function (the link to the free version is at the bottom of the page). See also this guide.


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If you have multiple hard disks and your system can accommodate it you can arrange to have Linux boot from the 2nd disk and keep the Windows boot on the first disk. On my PC the method (with OpenSuse Linux) is
1)Switch hard disk boot order to disk2 then disk1
2)Boot from DVD/USB and install Linux (I have O/S's on disk 1 and data on disk 2). Set Linux to install its boot loader to MBR on disk 2.
3)On reboot the system will see Linux - GRUB allows booting to Linux and Windows.

If needed (like installing Windows updates with multiple reboots) you can switch hard disk boot order to disk 1 and the system sees the Windows boot loader and goes straight into that O/S. Once stable you can switch the boot order back to Linux/GRUB.

I'd just like to add my support, or reinforcement, to the recommendation about EasyBCD.

In making the transition from Windows to Linux, I wasn't keen to abandon Windows 7 completely as I have a few Windows-only programs which I continue to use. So dual boot was the obvious route to follow. But I wasn't happy about the idea of having to ditch the Windows bootloader (MBR) and replace it with Linux's GRUB - mainly because the reinstatement of a Windows-only setup, and the reinstallation of Windows MBR, looked like a challenge and a headache.

EasyBCD is the solution. With EasyBCD installed in Windows 7, the Windows MBR is retained, and provided you take care when partitioning and installing the Linux (GRUB) bootloader(s) it's possible to have not only dual but multiple-boot OSs without losing, rewriting or deleting the original Windows MBR.

On my (modest) laptop I have Windows 7, Linux Mint, Linux Lite and PCLinuxOS. The choice at boot-up is simple and clear. In terms of work, saving files on a shared 'data' partition means that any of the three Linux OSs can access them; and saving files on an external USB HDD enables Win7 to see them too.

I have no plans to revert to a Win7-only setup. But I like the fact that if I did want to do so, it would be a simple and pain-free step.

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I shall try hard to instal Windows7 in my Linux/ubuntu

Thank you for jogging my memory about this article which needs a clean and polish. :) I've already removed some of the dead stuff and I'll be updating the links and adding some new content as soon as I can get round to it. MC - Site Manager.