What are the best options that allow running a Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu inside Windows XP, i.e. within a window?

By "best" I mean quick startup time, low memory requirement, good graphical performance, easy access to the main (host) Windows XP file system.

I know about Wubi and standard Ubuntu with the dual boot capability, but I'd prefer to be able to switch from XP to Linux without a reboot. I know the Linux experience may not be ideal this way, but it would be pefectly good for my needs.

I've downloaded VirtualBox and the latest Ubuntu and will try the virtual machine approach; however are there any specifically customised Linux versions for this purpose?

I think this would be a great way for people new to Linux to get used to the OS while still having the "safety net" of Windows.

  • Would this actually work as a Sandbox?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 10:29
  • What do you mean by "safety net"? And, are you aware of so called live versions?
    – Tim Büthe
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 10:50
  • Why are you against the vm approach, it works fantastically in seamless mode. Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 11:01
  • 2
    @Tim, Many people would argue that calling Windows a "safety net" is not very wise. I just mean people trying Linux for the first time would probably feel happier being able to immediately go back to Windows for specific tasks that they don;t yet know how to achieve in Linux.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:08
  • @Sam, I'm not against it, I have just heard that there are lighter weight ways to run Linux within Windows that don;t need full virtualisation. I also own a netbook that has plenty of RAM but an Atom processor, so a lighter way to run Linux would be better.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:10

9 Answers 9


Maybe this will help you: Portable Ubuntu Remix

  • Thanks, that was the one I'd heard of a while ago. Thanks for the reminder.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 10:20
  • Downloading ;-) This looks very promising
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 10:28
  • I think it's "Portable Ubuntu", not "Portal". :P Commented Jul 25, 2009 at 7:51
  • Actually, nowadays it's Portable Ubuntu Remix. ;-) portableubuntu.sourceforge.net
    – Arjan
    Commented Jul 25, 2009 at 14:00
  • @Arjan van Bentem Lol! DJs are everywhere =p Commented Jul 25, 2009 at 14:25

There is Colinux that allows you to run Linux in Windows without virtualization, in a sort of "user mode".

  • I tried it for a while, I much prefer Virtual Box in seamless mode. Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 11:00
  • @Sam, Yes I've installed Virtual Box and Ubuntu. Why do you prefer Virtual Box, isn't there an extra virutalisation layer that Colinux doens't need? Also, what's seamless mode? Is it just automatically saving state when closing the VM down?
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:05
  • (a) CoLinux runs alongside the Windows kernel, so definitely not in user mode. (b) yes, VirtualBox has an extra virtualization layer that CoLinux doesn't need, but that runs in ring 1, so just above the Windows kernel hence you don't see a very major slowdown, especially not with CPU virtualization support. (c) Seamless mode allows you to have the guest OS's GUI windows shown alongside the ones of your host OS, so basically just removing the VM's window and the guest's desktop.
    – Joey
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:22

From the Cygwin web site:

What is Cygwin?

Cygwin is a Linux-like environment for Windows. It consists of two parts:

  • A DLL (cygwin1.dll) which acts as a Linux API emulation layer providing substantial Linux API functionality.

  • A collection of tools which provide Linux look and feel. The Cygwin DLL currently works with all recent, commercially released x86 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Windows, with the exception of Windows CE.

Note that the official support for Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me will be discontinued with the next major version (1.7.0) of Cygwin, which is in beta testing right now.

What Isn't Cygwin?

  • Cygwin is not a way to run native linux apps on Windows. You have to rebuild your application from source if you want it to run on Windows.

  • Cygwin is not a way to magically make native Windows apps aware of UNIX ® functionality, like signals, ptys, etc. Again, you need to build your apps from source if you want to take advantage of Cygwin functionality.

  • I had heard good things about Cygwin, it's probably not exactly what I'm after but I may look at it. I've actually heard a fe people say they used to use Cygwin but now just use a Virtual Machine running Linux or a Live CD.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:02
  • Depending on the wishes of the OP, Cygwin won't help. It's better to go through the VM route. Commented Jul 25, 2009 at 7:32
  • I guess I don't really see the point of running a full-blown Linux, when what I really want are tools and utilities that cygwin offers.
    – Sun
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 15:58

What you are after is virtualization, such as VMWare or, like you said, VirtualBox. These allow you to run any guest operating system within a host operating system, inside a window, just like you are after.

If you set the virtual machine to suspend (or 'save state') every time you are finished with it, you can have 'boot times' of something like 15 seconds.

VMWare and VirtualBox are probably the most reputable cross-platform virtual machine offerings (that are 'consumer friendly'). You could always give Xen a go, which is more for servers, instead of desktops PCs. Here is a guide on installing Windows XP on a Xen VM

  • @Josh, I know that, please read my question again. I've heard that there may be other options then just downloading VirtualBox and a Ubuntu ISO. That is what I want to know.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 10:15

There is andLinux what is a extension to coLinux and runs a complete Ubuntu. There a virtual Machines like VirtualBox and vmware and last but not least, I'd like to mention the Live CD feature which is supported by most distributions these days.

  • Thanks for the info, but I thought a live CD requires a reboot. Are there live CDs that you can run within windows?
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 22, 2009 at 12:00
  • Not that I know of, but I though you only were afraid of doing harm to your windows installation...
    – Tim Büthe
    Commented Jul 23, 2009 at 7:22

I'm currently using virtualBox. Free, and works nicely.


You can try VMware Server to install on your Windows and run Linux or other operating systems. Or you can also try Virtual PC which is what Microsoft will use to provide Windows XP Mode on Windows 7.


I switch between Windows and a USB Booting Linux.
Sometimes keep the Windows in hibernate and do this.
However, the boot partition will not be accessible from linux this way.
Have found the Ubuntu install very smooth and comfortable for this activity.


Get a virtual server with a Linux distro. Install the desktop package and FreeNX server. Although you cannot physically see the screen you can log in absolutely fine with the No Machine NX client from any PC and get to your Linux desktop instantly. You can also share your Windows drive across the network this way to work on the same files.

I too have a netbook and it can get a bit 'lumpy' when running VirtualBox machines. I've never had this problem with NX client/server.

I know this answer is not what you are expecting - but try it. Chances are that your virtual server is quicker at uploading/downloading than your own machine is, so, even though the machine is not local it is a lot more responsive. The programs that are rubbish with this technique are things like running video in a browser on the remote machine, but you would be doing that locally anyway.

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