I'm a little confused as to whether I should install Ubuntu on its own partition on my hard drive, use VirtualBox or another virtualization package to install it, or use Wubi to install it directly on top of my current OS (Win 7). I definitely want to learn and use Ubuntu, so this is not just for playing around with it.

Also, if I choose to partition, should I partition the hard drive myself or should I let the Ubuntu installation menu do it for me? I understand that I am going to need a main partition, for Ubuntu's core components, and also a swap partition. Then there is the option to add a partition for "home"- I don't understand what combination of these partitioning options I should choose, or whether it is better to partition in Windows before I install Ubuntu or just partition my hard drive when I install Ubuntu itself

  • How do you plan to use Ubuntu? What kinds of tasks do you need to perform and/or what kinds of applications do you need to run? And do you just want to try it out, or do you plan to use it long term? – Eliah Kagan Jun 12 '12 at 9:19
  • Hi Eliah- I plan on using Ubuntu long term, but from what I understand, it can be used as a primary OS from a number of installation options (like the ones I listed above), so that's why I'm unsure as to which way to go. – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 9:27
  • For a different approach, see Full Circle Magazine, issue 41, page 36. Shrink. Make extended partition. Within it, create / swap and /home (three logical partitions). – Gord Campbell Jun 19 '12 at 1:30

If you are starting with Linux and you would like to give it a go then VirtualBox is the best option:


  • No modifications to your system;
  • No harm done if something goes wrong and you mess up Ubuntu completely;
  • Ability to create snapshots and restore them on the fly, ie: Create a snapshot before issuing a weird command that you are not sure about, if something goes wrong you can restore the snapshot and continue with your life;
  • Mappings can be done so that the file from your Windows system are shared with Ubuntu without the worry of mounting file systems, its easy pie;
  • If you find that you do not like Ubuntu and you want to remove it from your system you can simply remove VirtualBox and delete the virtual machine files and your system will be back to were it was, no harm done.
  • No partitioning mistakes! The disk Ubuntu is going to install to is just a file inside your Windows system, delete the file, Ubuntu is out and you can start over.
    • Create as much partitions as you like;
    • Play with mount points as you desire;
    • When in doubt go back and re-do it as you like
    • No harm done to your Windows installation


  • Not as a fast as a live installation, still bearable and great to try and use;
  • Eye candy supplied from accelerated graphics is not present or is not as fast as it could be, depending on the system. It will still look imba, but not the same.

The 2 points that would make it a bad choice to install it in a virtual computer do not overcome the pro points, just the simplicity of it should be the main reason to use Ubuntu in VirtualBox if you are using it for the first time.

Later, when you are confident that you want to use it and you are ready to do a real installation you will have all the steps covered and you will feel confident on what to do.

Other best options are:


  • Ubuntu is installed in a file in a Windows directory (normally c:\ubuntu\root), GRUB will replace your Windows boot manager and will let you choose between booting Windows or the Ubuntu system inside that file;
  • Its a good option because you are actually booting to Ubuntu directly
  • It makes partitioning easy since everything is done to the file keeping Ubuntu, not really modifies your hard disk partitions
  • Its bad because if GRUB for any reason gets messed up you will need to go trough some work to restore it, not hard, but for a newbie nothing is simple.

Windows partition resize

  • Resize your Windows partition using the Ubuntu LiveCD or the Ubuntu installer and install Ubuntu in to its rightful place!
  • It allows your to keep Windows and Ubuntu on the same computer, allows you to fully play with partitioning and choose mounting points directly in your hard disk space
  • Installs GRUB to manage the dual boot between Ubuntu and Windows;
  • Its bad because it installs GRUB and for the same reasons as a Wubi install, if GRUB gets broken you need to fix it. Also resizing can be dangerous (normally is not), make a backup before you do it. Careful so you don't accidentally overwrite any Windows data!
  • Can be a problem if you somehow destroy Ubuntu or mess up your Windows system from Ubuntu and then you can't boot anymore.

Other options

LiveCD booting

Just download and burn the Ubuntu CD from the downloads site, boot from it and use it as a LiveCD. It will be slow because it is using the CD as the system but it wont harm your system or require installation. Once you reboot everything that was not saved in to your Windows disk or a removable media will be lost.

Install to a USB drive

Most systems now a days allow you to boot from a USB drive. You can install Ubuntu to a USB drive and use it as a spare. GRUB will be installed to the USB drive, it will be a real system and act like one.

Good thing about this is that you do not modify your Windows install.

Bad thing is you need to select the USB drive each time your need to boot in to Ubuntu, or you need to modify GRUB to recognize Windows and give you the option to boot to it.

This is a good option if you have a spare USB drive around and your system allows you to boot from USB.

For a newbie it is always better to have it installed in a way that what ever happens your previous system is safe and that no big changes are done. For the moment stick with a VirtualBox install and when you are more confident move on to the next step. Better a slow start that a fast and disastrous one.

  • Thanks Bruno- so if I go the Virtual Box route, do I simply download the ISO file to my Windows hard drive, then download VirtualBox? I have not used Virtual Box before, so am I correct to assume that I first have to set up VB (i.e., specify space and RAM?) and then open the Ubuntu ISO files inside VB? I'm unsure if I have to run VirtualBox and then open the ISO files or do I open the ISO files WITH VirtualBox? – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 10:18
  • Virtualbox should make things fairly easy and has some sensible defaults for Ubuntu. You will need to create a virtual hard drive in Virtualbox first, then boot from the installer ISO once you boot the virtual system, and install onto the virtual "hard drive". Once booted into the installed virtual system, you'll need to "install Guest Additions" to get a slightly smoother desktop experience, but still not perfect. – thomasrutter Jun 12 '12 at 10:28
  • @Jay Download the iso and VirtualBox from the site (google for it or ask and I can guide you, you should find it easy). Install VirtualBox and start it up, select Create new machine, select which arch from Ubuntu (32 or 64bits), press next a couple of time and select at least 15Gb disk space, press finish and from the list start up your new machine. It will ask you for a bootable media (since its the first start up form the vm), select the iso from Ubuntu you downloaded and the rest should be just like a normal install, if you mess it up or your not sure just delete and create a new one ;) – Bruno Pereira Jun 12 '12 at 10:41
  • Thanks a million for all the info, Bruno. I think I will go with the VB option to start out- when I run the ISO in VB, will the VB ask me or give me the option for partitioning for 'root' and 'swap' (and possibly 'home' if I want to include that too) within the main partition space that was designated as the virtual drive? – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 11:09
  • @Jay Everything you do on a computer installing Ubuntu you can do in a VM, partitioning, different mount points for /home if you want, etc... You can even add another virtual disk to it (check the virtual machine you created, settings) and Ubuntu and the installer will recognize it and you can partition it as you want. – Bruno Pereira Jun 12 '12 at 11:26


Ubuntu will run inside your existing Windows operating system. You'll be able to simultaneously run Ubuntu while using other Windows applications. However, Ubuntu will run quite slowly, in its own box (which albeit can still be maximised) and it won't be representative of an actual Ubuntu installation - not making full use of your hardware. It will be frustratingly limited, IMHO, if you want a full desktop experience. It may, however, be useful if you want to use Windows as your primary operating system but you need to run one specific Linux program, or a Linux server, for testing purposes.

Own partition:

Ubuntu will run natively on your machine, separately from Windows. You won't be able to run the two simultaneously, but you can choose which one to run when you boot. This is a good option if you want to get a full desktop experience, as long as you are able to resize some existing partitions to make space and you are reasonably confident in doing so (that is, you won't trash your existing partitions, and you are good with backups). If you are thinking of moving to Ubuntu permanently in the future, this is the only option of the three that will let you do that smoothly, since you will be able to remove or shrink your Windows partition later without affecting Ubuntu.


Once installed, this is fairly functionally the same as running Ubuntu in its own partition: you won't be able to run Ubuntu and Windows simultaneously, Ubuntu will have full access to your hardware and you get to choose Ubuntu or Windows when you boot. This option, however, is for when you don't want the permanence of re-sizing any existing partitions. It is good for if you want to try Ubuntu temporarily without changing any partitions. The trick here is that special magic allows you to create the Ubuntu partition as a virtual partition inside your existing Windows partition, rather than creating a real, on-disk partition. Ubuntu will see it as its own partition though, and Windows will see it as a normal file. You won't be able to delete your Windows partition though, which is why I said it's good if your use of Ubuntu is temporary. It is plausible that disk access might be slightly slower using this method than having Ubuntu in its own partition, but this may not be noticeable and in all other ways Ubuntu will run just as fast.

Also, if I choose to partition, should I partition the hard drive myself or should I let the Ubuntu installation menu do it for me?

This in itself is a rather broad question and ten different people will have ten different opinions on this. In my opinion you may as well let Ubuntu choose its own partitioning. This will result in small partition for swap and a larger one for everything else. Some say it's worth having a separate /home partition. You can do this if you like, though if you don't know you need it, though, you probably don't really need it. The benefits of a separate /home to some people is that they can trash everything but keep the /home partition, so their files remain, when they want to do a clean reinstall. Of course, if you have backups of your files, then you could choose to restore from backups instead.

  • I personally use Ubuntu as my main OS and thus running from the hard drive and in the few cases I need Windows I run windows virtualized within VirtualBox. If you want to work mostly in Ubuntu, run it as the main OS from the disk. If you will be working long time in Windows too, have both of them installed in the disk in a dual boot machine (you choose which system to run when you start your computer). If you are just curious about Ubuntu run it virtualized with Virtualbox. – Ramon Suarez Jun 12 '12 at 9:33
  • Thanks for that, neon_overload. The "own partition" option sounds quite appealing. In the Wubi option, what happens if I try to open the Ubuntu file while in Windows? Will Windows simply not let me? Also, in the Wubi option, does a "partition" not mean the same thing as a "partition" in the Own Partition option? What I mean is, if I partition my C drive (my main drive) for Ubuntu, then disk manager will show a new partition, along with the remainder of the old one. Will the "partition" via the Wubi method show the same or does THAT partition refer to a partition that only Windows sees? – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 9:38
  • Wubi puts its partition files into a particular directory on Windows. Windows will not recognise the file type and probably won't be able to make sense of them if you tried to open them in Windows. In Wubi, the partition is not an on-disk or "real" partition but a virtual partition which is in reality a file inside your Windows partition. Windows will just see it as a file and will leave it alone. – thomasrutter Jun 12 '12 at 9:46
  • Ok, thanks again for the help- I think I'm starting to understand it. – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 9:51

I think the best and easiest way to test Ubuntu is to take the tour. You can test Ubuntu in your web browser, fast and easy.

If you still want more and don't want to install it, try it via a Live-CD. Then you will know what it's like to use on your computer.

I would suggest to download the Desktop 32-bit, it's the most likely to work without any issue. Also download Unetbootin and install the live cd on a Usb-stick.

  • Thanks for the link to the tour- I will check that out. Do you recommend I use a USB or a CD/DVD if I want to try Ubuntu live without installing or if I want to actually boot from something and install it on it's own partition? For now, I think I might try it out in a VirtualBox per Bruno's suggestion below- for that, I only need to download the ISO straight to my Windows desktop, right, and then run in the VB? – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 10:48
  • @Jay install it via USB, because you can erase a USb but you can't erase a CD/DVD. virtualbox will allow you to test it see what it's like without effecting your System in other ways. But if you want to real deal, install it. And on your VB question yes. – Alvar Jun 12 '12 at 10:53

As suggested by neon_overload, installing using VirtualBox/VMware won't be as fast as a regular installation.

However, I suggest that you do use a virtual environment at first, if this is your first experience with Linux. Why? Because you can easily keep your computer clean (no partition, installations, boot screen with double entry, etc...). After you are confident with it, install it completely.


If you want to start the migration to ubuntu, as i understand it, i would recommend the following:

  • install ubuntu using 3 partitions (root, swap, home) alongside your existing windows installation (dual boot). This is by far the fastest and least errorprone approach. for that you have to choose manual partitioning and
    • shrink your windows partition (no data will be lost, but please do make a backup of all your data first)
    • create a root partition, 20GB should be enough, but if you have a large enough harddisk i would recommend 40-60GB.
    • swap partition about 2x the size of your ram
    • /home parition for all your files. Having /home on a separate partition will prove very handy: if you want to reinstall later, you can just overwrite your root partition and all your settings and files will remain intact!
  • sometimes you will need access to a windows system. For that you can reboot into windows, or you can install a virtual windows (virtualbox or vmware). I use both: dualboot windows 7 for running windows games, virtualized windows xp from ubuntu for running special applications.
  • also, don't forget that many applications run perfectly well under wine, directly inside ubuntu!

Looking at your need (long term use) I suggest you should install Ubuntu separately in a new partition instead of using Wubi (or Vbox).

Also, about your question about partitioning, I would always suggest you to partition it manually (Provided that you know how to do it) (I can help you with that too if needed)

It's always good to keep your Ubuntu apart from Windows (which is terribly unstable and you would not like to lose anything of Ubuntu in the Format Windows things that happen mostly.)

  • Hey Nirmik- thanks for your answer. The way my hard drive is setup now is probably standard: I have a small 100MB partition (System Reserved)- I guess this is where Windows puts its boot files? And then I have my main partition which is the only other one: 460GB, 60GB of which are used by Windows and my files. So I guess I go to disk manager and shrink the 460 by, say, 120GB or so? And then for the swap I either shrink the 120GB another 10-12GB or I shrink the original main partition again (which would be, in this hypo, reduced to 340GB) by 10-12GB. Does this sound like I'm on the right path? – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 9:58
  • Well firstly, i would suggest partitioning at the time of installation...not b4 thru windows..and also,about the sizes,there is no rule as such,but generally u shuld have swap if ur ram is below 8gb..otherwise its not needed.i will recommend the foll-1/2gb ram~2gb swap.more ram,equal swap.thats all u need for swap.and the other partition,if ubuntu is gona b long term,i suggest a bigger partition than 120 gb.probably 200gb(or 194/196/198gb for Ubuntu+2/4/6gb for swap=200gb total).and the remaining 260 straight as one drive or multiple ones as u wish. – Nirmik Jun 12 '12 at 11:47
  • oh well just 1 correction...partitioning(assigning swap and stuff) do during install...resizing(shrinking) will have to do through windows or gparted by first running ubuntu live(gedit more prefered through live boot..coz windows generally creates partition that are offset and are not alligned to physical boundry reducing the performance) – Nirmik Jun 12 '12 at 11:52

My recommendation is that you use Wubi to install it alongside windows. It will install Ubuntu in a big file on the Windows partition (no partitioning necessary, only about 32GB space on the windows drive) and you can choose the OS to boot in the Windows bootloader at system startup. Later if you don't like it you can even painlessly uninstall it via Add/Remove programs directly from windows (which cannot be said for a real install described below).

A VirtualBox install would install it as a virtual machine inside your Windows 7, so it has no benefits over using Wubi other than being able to use Windows in parallel, which you won't need anyway.

Doing a real install alongside windows would be the second choice, but if you are unfamiliar with things like disk partitioning, MBR, bootloaders, primary/logical partitions, etc. then I wouldn't recommend it until you get the feel for linux and familiarize your self with the boot process, bootloaders and partitioning.

  • Thanks Boris- I'm going to try to see if I can get a bit more comfortable with partitioning and boot-loading; if not, I'll probably end up going with Wubi and only do a real install later on. – Jay Jun 12 '12 at 9:54

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