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Our PC was running Windows XP up to know. It has become incredibly slow and I'm considering switching to Linux (Ubuntu?!) as a fresh OS.

However, there are some applications we rarely use which run only on Windows and I also want to have the possibility to easily go back to the old system, if I should find during testing linux, that anything is missing or not available.

So the idea is to install Linux on a new (second) hard drive and use the existing Windows XP from a virtual machine (converted by Paragon Drive Backup) in the transition time.

We have a lot of data on the PC, tens of GBs of Photos (managed by Picasa), ...

My questions:

  • What could be the best way to setup the new hard drive? (Partitions) I assume that I can not access the Linux data from Windows but I could access (read/write) windows drives from Linux?

  • Does anyone know good tutorials for this use case?

  • What other things might I have to consider for transition Windows->Linux?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Well, some of your questions are answered here. Let's see:

  • Installing Linux on old hardware generally works well, but Ubuntu might not be the best choice. The default desktop environment, Unity, requires modern, fairly high-preformance equipment. Consider using a lighter spin, Xubuntu or Lubuntu for instance, or just other distro like Mint XFCE. There are non-Debian alternatives available.
  • Check if the applications you require have Linux equivalents. The scenario you describe is similar to my own migration from Windows to Linux. I decided to dual-boot, as I considered Windows necessary for some purposes, but after a year or so I removed the Windows install. I was not using it at all as it was slow and felt buggy, and everything I used was available under Linux, which seemed to work better.
  • Most major desktop Linux distributions support dual-boot installation. The installer recognizes the Windows install and suggests a dual-boot option. You still need some free space for a partition, either on the same drive as the Windows install or on a separate disk. At least some distros' installers are capable of shrinking existing Windows partitions to make space for a new partition, provided there is unused space available. I don't think there you need to look for a tutorial - Linux installers are quite self-explanatory. If necessary, check the distro's site for documentation (here's Mint's).
  • Running Windows XP in a virtual machine may not be the best solution, unless you're using well-performing workstation. There is a noticeable overhead in processor speed in the VM, and RAM requirement approximately doubles. Graphic acceleration in VMs is in a sorry state, and depending on setup, there might also be issues with responsiveness. Dual-boot would be much better (faster), at least if you don't have to switch beween the two often.
    • Running software through Wine is likely a better option than a VM. Have a look at their site if the software you need works with it.
  • Ubuntu and Mint uses the ext4 file system by default, which makes his partitions unavailable from Windows unless an appropriate driver is installed. Conversely, Linux has support for most (all?) the file systems Windows supports, so the data on the Windows partitions is available from Linux.
    • NTFS is a special case of the above. The Linux kernel only supplies a bare-bones ntfs module, but there is an userspace program, ntfs-3g, which does a really good job of it. It's built-in in most major desktop distributions, except in cases where it crashes with ideological principles of the developers.
  • Back up your data. Regardless of which approach you choose (or if you choose one at all), all the data should be backed up. I suggest backing up to an external drive, which gives you a good, low cost/capacity relation and is at least sufficient for restoring losses related to OS installations.

Provide more details for more precise answers :)

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Thanks for your detailed answer! For point 2: My wife sometimes has to use some applications for work which are very special and not compatible to anything else, so we'll definitely need an option to run Windows sometimes, I fear. For your point 5: so Linux can read and write NTFS without any problem or restriction? – MostlyHarmless Sep 17 '12 at 13:19
I was editing, so I edited in some responses to your concerns. – Eroen Sep 17 '12 at 14:02
For this kind of very special applications, unfortunately, both Linux alternatives and even running using Wine may not work. In Wine you'll be never sure enough if program runs properly and saves correctly your work. For ALL programs I'm using, I never missed Windows equivalents, but I know there are tools which just cannot be replaced :( @Eroen - thanks for details you've added. – kurp Sep 18 '12 at 7:46
thanks for your comments - the Windows tools we'll have to use are not necessarily good tools, but the tools that the employer uses and which absolutely have to be used for certain tasks (not our decision) :-( – MostlyHarmless Nov 23 '12 at 13:10

...using the existing WinXP in a virtual machine is not going to speed things up. Also, switching to *nix because your old windows installation is becoming slow is not a good reason to switch: sorting out your junk, backing up your personal data, and then reinstalling windows will regain speed the same way installing a new OS would.

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+1 If he wants to switch anyway, though, I'll refer to my answer to a similar question. – Ansgar Wiechers Sep 16 '12 at 10:43
You're right that the old XP in the VM will not be faster, but this would be for me only a "backup" solution to be able to quickly get information or functionality which is not available in the new xp or windows. – MostlyHarmless Sep 16 '12 at 12:25

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