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First off, no, I'm not going to do the standard partitioning install. I've gone through a few hours of dealing with boot managers that wouldn't install properly and accidentally temporarily "breaking" my machine, I can live with negligible performance decrease and the lack of a hibernate function.

Anyways, I'm debating whether or not I should opt for the Wubi installation or the VMWare installation. Specifically, here's the factors that should influence my decision

1) I'll be using it for lightweight computing, word processing, graphs, logs, data collection, maybe some programming, etc. (I'm a college student). So while I don't need my full graphics potential or anything, I'd like to have an installation that works as fast and efficient as possible, without hangups/stutters/etc.

2) I have a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus (switchable graphics). These graphics work properly through Windows, and semi-properly through Wubi Ubuntu with the Bumblebee utility. If Optimus works a-ok in Windows, will it work just as well in a Virtual Machine hosted by Windows? Or will I have to find a way to get Bumblebee working with the VM installation?

3) I have 6GB of RAM, which is a good quantity and can nullify the memory deficiency that having Windows 7 and Ubuntu running at once could cause. However, I want to use absolutely no swap space if possible. In addition, will having Windows 7 running in the background affect my CPU's processing power vs. Wubi?

4) I heard somewhere that 3D graphics can be iffy with VMware. I'd like to have a 3D desktop environment with effects included. Will this be as possible with VMware as it is with Wubi?

5) Is running Ubuntu in a VM going to make my computer more vulnerable as opposed to a dual-boot through Wubi? I like Ubuntu's tight security, and I'm not sure if running it within Windows' less tight environment would affect it.

In general, I want something that works without a hitch, and runs and looks sleek. While I'd love the ability to switch between 7 and Ubuntu with the press of a button so I could do more Windows-specific things such as MS Office and gaming, the whole idea of running a whole operating system inside of another operating system seems questionable. If the security and performance cost of running it in a VM is too high, then I'll stick with Wubi, but I really do like the idea.

addition - Can't believe I forgot this. I'm running a laptop in a university setting, so battery life is going to be a huge deal for me. I imagine that the virtual machine will require more power to run, but will this be a noticeable and significant difference?

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I suggest VMWare, especially given your dual-graphics system.

1) With 6GB RAM, give 1-1.5 to the Ubuntu VM and it will be sufficient - no swap necessary.

2) The VM uses Windows graphics drivers and doesn't care about the actual graphics card. No Bumblebee needed. If you want full dual-graphics advantage go with the VM.

3) Install Ubuntu 32-bit, and 1-1.5GB of memory should be enough to do most things without swap. The total CPU power is shared between Windows and the VM, obviously; just having Windows 7 in the background will not affect your VMWAre experience, but if you are doing something heavy in Windows 7 the proportion of CPU power available to the VM will decrease correspondingly.

4) Enable 3D-acceleration in that VM's settings in VMWare and you should be good to go.

5) A virtual machine is separated from the host, so Windows vulnerabilities won't affect Ubuntu. However if you enable shared folders you should make sure you have a good updated antivirus running on Windows.

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Thanks for the quick response. Two questions - first and foremost, will running VMWare cause a noticeable/significant decrease in battery life vs Wubi? Battery life is a big priority for me. Secondly, do you recommend against installing Ubuntu 64-bit? I have a 64-bit Windows system and plenty of RAM, after all. –  Alex Jul 12 '12 at 8:21
    
1) For a lot of laptops, the reverse is true: Ubuntu/Wubi/Linux have poorer battery life because drivers for the hardware are often not fully compatible (manufacturer's fault). I also recommend using VMWare's "suspend" feature to pause the VM when you're not going to be using it for a while. 2) 64-bit will use somewhat more memory, and given that you probably won't be giving the VM more than 3-3.5 GB of RAM, won't offer any perceptible benefits over 32-bit for your regular use-needs. I'd recommend at least 1.5 GB of RAM if you go for 64-bit. –  Bogie Jul 12 '12 at 8:26
    
Well, more battery life is always a great thing - not to mention better, full usage of my graphics drivers. I guess in the end, the best way to tell is to try. I'm downloading VMWare right now, and I have some experience with Wubi, so I'll be able to tell which is more stable and efficient. But you certainly helped alleviate most of my uncertainties about it, so thanks. –  Alex Jul 12 '12 at 8:31
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Sorry to have to say that but you need to refine your need's preferences as

  • there is no way to switch between 2 OS running in parallel other than trough a virtual machine.

  • there is no way to get a half decent 3D desktop with effects working smoothly in a virtual machine.

  • there is no way to keep Windows malware 100% out of your system as long as you run Windows. In a Wubi or VM installation this malware may also affect (but not infect) your Ubuntu installation.

From what we can guess from applications you like to run you may well be happy with Ubuntu running in a virtual machine, but don't expect that Compiz with a lot of effects or other heavily 3D GPU demanding applications will perform well.

Your idea to make use of your Optimus graphics from Window is a good one. The virtual machine will offer its own graphical adapter emulation using the GPU provided from Windows drivers. In addition power management features will also be controlled by Windows drivers.

Once you hopefully feel comfortable with Ubuntu you may find ot that you use Ubuntu more than Windows. This will then also be the time to decide whether we want to set a dual boot system up, or we may want to install Windows in a VM running on Ubuntu.

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I don't plan on running massive 3D programs or something. I just want it to look polished - maybe something along the lines of Windows' Aero's resource cost. And I've spent plenty of time trying to get a "true" Ubuntu installation running. I actually managed once, but after it took an hour to properly install grub and I found that the dual-boot was slower and less reliable than the Wubi install, that kind of killed it for me. –  Alex Jul 12 '12 at 8:54
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@AlexBixel: yeah, you may be happy with limited 3D in a VM - just try it out. I have no idea why your Wubi install runs faster or be more stable than a dual boot, that definitely should be the other way round. –  Takkat Jul 12 '12 at 9:01
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There's no way WUBI is faster than an actual Ubuntu install (dual boot or not). I've been using Wubi on and off to test new Ubuntu versions (sometimes as long as a month). Wubi is definitely slower. –  Marky Jul 12 '12 at 9:16
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