I suppose to buy a Laptop and want to install Linux OS(not decided which distribution to use), and I have a large volume of data with the NTFS format drive externally.

How do I need to format my laptop hard-drive? (I mean to which format). And if I need to install Windows on it after that, can I do it? Is it possible? Further, to which format do I need to format my laptop hard-drive, if I want to access the files in the hard-drive from both OSs(Linux and Windows)?

Thanks in Advanced.

  • 2
    If you haven't decided which distribution to use, you may be better off asking this on Unix and Linux.
    – dv3500ea
    Dec 19, 2010 at 12:15
  • @dv3500ea : Thanks for clarifying it. I'll decide it, but my main problem is accessing the files on the hard-drive from both OSs. Dec 19, 2010 at 12:24
  • What do you mean by "having a large volume of data with the NTFS format"? That's nonsense. Individual files are not saved "in NTFS format". Are these external harddrives or something with that file system? That should have no bearing on what file system you use for a newly formatted drive.
    – frabjous
    Dec 19, 2010 at 14:45
  • @frabjous : Yea, I know that, individual files arn't in the NTFS forma, but the drive which have those files. I've edited it. Thanks for correcting it. Dec 19, 2010 at 14:53
  • Ok I've tried to edit the title to be the actual question. Dec 19, 2010 at 17:04

6 Answers 6


You can Install Windows later. There should be no problem in it. There are many threads on internet covering Windows/Ubuntu or Windows/Linux dual boot scenario. This one is from Ubuntu help https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WindowsDualBoot

As far as the question of partition format goes, almost all Linux distributions can handle all commonly used file system types including FAT32 and NTFS. Windows on the other hand doesnt understand EXT3 or EXT4 file systems which are most common on Linux distros. So if you want to be able to install Windows later and want to access all of your hard disk from both OSes then you should choose either Fat32 or NTFS because both Linux and Windows can handle them.

A better solution would be to use ext3 for Linux partition and NTFS for Windows partition and have a third partition for common files/data and format it to Fat32 or NTFS.

  • Thanks a lot for your kind advice. But, I just read a thread in this forum, that says, "If you just install Windows onto your new machine it will overwrite your bootloader, so you won't be able to boot into Ubuntu anymore. Generally it's better to first install Windows and then Ubuntu, as Ubuntu recognizes your Windows Installation and creates a Grub-Entry to start it." You can find the link here, askubuntu.com/questions/5344/… . What is you openion? Dec 19, 2010 at 12:19
  • When you install windows after Linux, it overwrites MBR and so you cant start Linux afterwards. But it is a common scenario and you can easily repair MBR using a LiveCD. The link I provided in my answer has a section named "Installing Windows after Ubuntu" section which details how to repair your MBR if you install Windows after Ubuntu
    – binW
    Dec 19, 2010 at 12:26
  • There is software available for Windows for accessing EXT4 drives.
    – Lekensteyn
    Dec 19, 2010 at 15:19

In case you buy a new laptop - as you say - you will most likely have some basic Windows OS already preinstalled. You need to complete the setup first sometimes. However all partitions on your laptop will have been NTFS formatted for Windows only use. Some installers give you an option to leave part of your harddisk unpartitioned - very good idea when you plan to install Ubuntu later. If not you will need to shrink your partitions to give an unpartitioned space for Ubuntu. If you have used Windows already it is advisable to defrag your partitions first.

Installing Ubuntu gives you the choice of using the entire disk (thus deleting Windows), or to install it in a dual boot setting in case a preexisting OS was detected. Then you will have the choice which OS you would like to boot into but there is no way switching between both OSs during runtime. By default Ubuntu will format the partition(s) in /ext4 format. You can't install Linux on an NTFS partition like you can't install Windows on a Linux partition. Ubuntu can access NTFS (and FAT) partitions by default. No need to install anything else.

For testing different Linux distributions, and to see which on meets your needs I therefore recommend you installed them in a virtual machine and play around a bit. You could even simulate the dualboot situation in such a virtual machine and learn how to do it before you go for your main system. However keep in mind that a virtualized OS has a much poorer performance as compared to a real installation.

I do not recommend any unexperienced users to install Windows after Ubuntu.


I would suggest, you install Windows first and then Ubuntu, if you would keep Ubuntu as your primary OS. For a fresh Linux / Ubuntu User, making changes in MBR could be a disaster.

Best would be to search in google for dual booting ubuntu with Windows and look for the article posted by http://howtoforge.com

My experience with this website has been quite good.

Have fun.....Cheers



I would suggest installing Windows first and then Ubuntu later. You don't have to format any partitions. On windows, all you have to do is to go to control panel> and under Administrator tools you will find a parition layout where you can shrink your partition to create some free space. Afterwards, it would be really simple to just install ubuntu in the free space. Your grub menu will also be made. You there are tools available that will enable you to access your files such as this one http://www.fs-driver.org/


As others have suggested, it is typically better to install Windows first, and then install Ubuntu (or some other operating system) after that. This is because the free software operating system distributions tend to be more accomodating; they will fix up the boot loading process so that both operating systems can boot, without much effort on the part of the user.

If you go in the other direction (that is, installing Ubuntu first and then Windows later), you will lose access to your Ubuntu installation until you bring it back. That is to say that you will need to fix up the boot loader after installing Windows. I know that there are some situations where Windows will even wind up doing things strangely and result in a total no-boot situation, though that is not the case I think for the latest versions of Windows (such as Windows 7). Either way, though extra work is required when you install Windows last over installing it first, for no other reason than Windows assumes that it is the only family of operating system installed on a computer.


I have used 2 OSes (WindowsXP and Linux) installed on the same computer for about 2 years. Now I switched completely to Linux (Ubuntu 10.10 32bit). I had the same dilemma how to access files from both OSes. All my documents were located in NTFS partition. So I had an access to them from WindowsXP and Ubuntu (or LinuxMint). Now I moved my main document folder (there are DOC, XLS, PPT, and of course ODT files, photos, even some utilities for Windows OS :) ) to the folder inside my Linux home directory (I preserved the name of document folder, which is 'MyDocs'. I can access to MyDocs from VirtualBox machine (sometimes I need to edit original Powerpoint presentations, or to see how some MS Word files should be in MS Word 2003).

Good luck, Vincenzo

  • Sorry, I incorrectly expressed myself :) /I removed the sentence regarding permissions in NTFS/
    – Vincenzo
    Dec 19, 2010 at 19:51

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