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I want to use Linux and Windows 8 on the same machine with minimal effort switching between them. My questions are :

1) I heard that one can physically install Windows on a Mac, then "overlay" a VM on top of this physical install via Parallels in OSX, allowing the ease of use of a VM (open up a window and you're good to go), while maintaining the performance of a physical OS. Is this true? Can this same idea be used in my situation with a Ubuntu VM in Windows 8, but with a physical installation of Ubuntu?

2) Are there any drawbacks to this method?

3) What are the exact steps I'd need to follow to accomplish this goal? I am not opposed to wiping my Ubuntu install if it means I can finally get this set up the way I want.

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It is theoretically possible. I've never tried it, but I know VirtualBox (and possibly VMWare player) can create a virtual disk image that actually points to a partition, and then you can boot that partition.

In answer to your questions:

  1. Yes, it should be possible

  2. No, although it is more complicated than using parallels/vmware fusion under OS X, and has a higher risk as the Linux install would be able to

  3. http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/ch09.html#rawdisk

It should be noted (also within the manual for VBox above) that RAW disk access such as this can be very harmful if you aren't careful. Unless you need the extra performance in Linux that you would get from booting in to it natively on occasion, I would recommend just installing linux in a VM to play with.

If you really want to get to know linux, you can try using it as your primary OS and virtualize Windows as an option as well.

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Excellent. Thank you very much for the information. I'll try to get this working next weekend. And as much as I understand the power of linux, using it at work and school, I actually really like W8 (contrary to popular opinion i know haha). I THINK the raw access shouldn't be an issue as my configuration is a dual physical boot, with each OS given its own SSD and a common data drive, but that is also partitioned for the two OSes. Can you clarify if that would be safe? Or are you saying paging/etc might silently screw it over? –  im so confused Feb 14 '13 at 16:24
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If the goal is to use Windows 8 as the primary OS and have the ability to simultaneously run Linux for certain functions, then I think that installing Virtualbox on Windows 8 is a better way forward. As for hardware, anything with 4 cores or more, and 8G or more of RAM would be adequate.

If you ask around, you will find people who recommend VMWare instead of Virtualbox. This is not a bad idea, in fact of you use (or are likely to use) VMWare at work then it is probably better to install VMWare than VirtualBox. You do have to choose because you cannot start one of the two while the other one is running, but both are good solutions for running Linux on Windows and both provide a Linux additions package that you install on the Linux OS in the VM to seamlessly integrate it with the Windows GUI.

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hahaha damn you! ...telling me about VMWare - it looks really slick. I suppose for my relatively simple purposes, VirtualBox is more than sufficient, but now I am trying to justify $250 on VMWare to myself hahaha thank you for your answer! –  im so confused Feb 14 '13 at 16:33
    
VMWare has a free version for personal use. –  Michael Dillon Feb 19 '13 at 7:57
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I would use VMs than dual-booting; it takes less time to switch and they can run in parallel. Just give a try installing virtualbox or any other free desktop virtualization software. Will take only a few hours to set it up and you could evaluate the performace etc on your own. The VM performance could never be as good as a physical installation since it cannot use the available resources completely. But good enough for general use - if you are not running software which are too resource-demanding like a video/audio editor or a graphic intensive game.

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I understand completely, and that was one of my concerns about running a straight VM - Unity in Ubuntu as it is is quite laggy, despite my having a more than decent computer (i5-2500K, 8GB RAM, SSD, 660Ti). I didn't want to make it any worse by adding VM overhead, which is why i asked this question. Thanks for your answer! –  im so confused Feb 14 '13 at 16:30
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I've done that, in several ways, on a daily basis for a long time. I've always had Windows as the host ("Primary") OS and Linux as guest, using VirtualBox.

  1. Linux in a window - simplest approach: You get a window that is a new computer with linux. It's got network access over NAT, and each machine can't really see each other.
  2. Seamless Mode: a VBox feature that boils down to have the linux's background "transparent", so you can see (and click) the Windows "behind" it. This has a cost in performance (Probably not much if you have a reasonable GPU), but more annoying for me was the strange alt-tab behavior: once you alt-tab into the VM, you can't alt-tab outside of it - you have to click on a Windows item (Or hit the release-keyboard key for VBox, which never worked very well for me).
  3. Headless with an X-Server on Windows: In this configuration, the linux machine doesn't actually have a screen, but acts in "remote" mode, and displays its windows inside the Windows desktop, over the network (This is called X11 protocol, and is how linux work practically always). The resulting display elements are regular Windows windows, show up in your task-bar, and you can alt-tab freely between them and other windows. Two big disadvantages to this approach: (1) These windows are very ugly, and (2) to this day, I never found an X-server for windows I was happy with.
  4. This is what I use now - Headless, and mount the file-system as a windows drive. I use Putty for all interaction with the linux, and use native Windows software for editing files and most anything else. It does mean I don't run any Linux app that has a GUI, but I find this an acceptable cost. When I do need a full linux GUI, I just switch it from headless to regular vm-in-a-window, and use that.

In all cases, on modern architecture (Say, 2 year old CPUs), you shouldn't notice any performance issues.

The steps to get started are simple - download and install VirtualBox, download an Ubuntu ISO, create a new VM, and hit "start" - VBox will prompt you for the installation ISO, and then you're mostly set.

(VM-ware vs VirtualBox: I never tried VM-ware; I know it should be really good, but so is VirtualBox.)

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I actually like this answer the most for the detailed options within VMs, and I will most likely use your suggestions. However, the other answer directly touched on the physical OS + VM combo aspect. I can see how #4 is the best option (leveraging the power of linux without GUI bloat), but in addition to the fact that I am actually testing GUIs, I also just find GUIs easier to deal with :/ So I will probably try #3, keeping your caveats in mind. Thanks! –  im so confused Feb 14 '13 at 16:27
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