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I'm currently running a Vista machine, but would like to switch over to Linux, Ubuntu in particular. My question is can I switch over to Ubuntu, keep my Windows partition and use VirtualBox to access the pre-existing Windows partition? Or does VirtualBox require me to create a new install for Guest operating systems?

If not, are there any other free alternatives to accomplish this?

Thanks

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

First, verify you have up-to-date working backups.

The most direct way to attempt this is with VirtualBox's raw hard disk access feature. It's effectively like swapping the motherboard and video card; the virtual machine's hardware is different than the real hardware. You create a small .vmdk file in Linux that "points" to the real hard disk, do some other mumbo-jumbo, then setup the VM to use that .vmdk as the virtual disk. Boot the VM and see what happens.

As @neurolysis says, it's possible (or probable?) that Windows won't boot correctly. You can then attempt to repair Windows, and if that works, pretty much everything will be where you left it.

Another complication is Windows Activation, if it thinks the hardware has changed "too much". You might then have to call Microsoft, plead your case, then read out and/or type in some forty-digit numbers to make that work. Note that this might also happen if you reinstall Windows from scratch, since your existing serial number is tied to your "old" hardware.

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wubi is your friend. It lets you keep your existing Windows System as it is and lets you dual boot the two operating systems(ubuntu and Vista). Also its the easiest way to go, and you don't need to mess about with setting up everything manually. Here's a guide to using wubi.

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The last time I tried Wubi was significantly slower than native installarion + you still need to reboot to change the OS. Even if you wan't a dual boot system I suggest not to go with Wubi for any serious Linux use. –  Matti Pastell Dec 22 '10 at 4:15
    
Matti, why would you not recommend it for serious use? –  Perishable Dave Dec 22 '10 at 18:16

Windows is very resistant to change - specifically, hardware changes. If you change too much from the original install, it simply won't boot (Linux is somewhat more tolerant, it will (probably) boot, but might complain a bit). The best way to do it would be to reinstall cleanly onto the virtual machine and use Windows Easy Transfer to back up what you want and reinstate it on the VM.

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You can also actually copy the existing Windows installation into a VirtualBox image (in the case where you just care about keeping the system image but not necessarily the partition). The VirtualBox wiki has a guide: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Migrate_Windows

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