For some of us, deciding what laptop to buy is a difficult decision. Being tied down to one operating system and forced to use whatever software you can find for it is not for everyone, but just because you decided on one laptop with one operating system in particular does not mean you have to be tied down to using just that one system.
In the past, if you bought a PC, you were stuck with using just that one operating system. If you decided to buy a Mac, you were stuck running the Mac OS X operating system. However, things have changed and now you are no longer tied down to whatever OS happened to ship with the laptop that you decided to purchase.
Now, you can easily run multiple operating systems on one computer so you gain access to all the benefits and strengths that come with each operating system. This will allow you to gain access to more software and allows you to use your laptop the way you want to, not the way Microsoft or Apple want you to.
Part 1: The Benefits of Running More Than One Operating System
Before we get down to the nitty gritty details, let’s take a few moments first to look at some of the many benefits you get from running more than one operating system. I think you will find that you will not only receive a lot of benefits from running more than one operating system, you will enjoy it, too.
Why Should You Do It?
Why do I need multiple operating systems? There are so many reasons. Running multiple operating systems on your laptop give you more freedom while using your computer. You gain access to more software and are able to run some older and even some newer operating systems on one computer which can save you quite a bit of money in the process.
Before you get into running more than one operating system, you should be aware of both the benefits and the drawbacks of doing it so you know exactly what you are getting into and are prepared to deal with this new way of computing.
Benefits of Running More Than One OS
Running more than one operating system on your laptop can provide you many different benefits that will enhance your computing experience.
Expand your Knowledge
Learning is always a good thing and enhancing your computer skills can only help you, not hurt you. Setting up a different operating system and learning how to use it will help you learn more about how your computer works and how other operating systems function expanding your knowledge in the process. This knowledge could even help you in the future when you start looking for that next great job.
Access to More Software
There is a lot of great software out there that is only available on one platform or another. While the lines have been blurred in recent years with more and more developers releasing on multiple platforms, you will still find software that is only available on one platform or another. This is especially true on the Linux platform that has tons of open source software that isn’t available on Mac or Windows. Running more than one operating system can open up a whole new world of software to you and give you access to some of the best applications across multiple platforms all on one laptop.
Run Older Operating Systems
There are times when you still need to run older operating systems like Windows XP. This usually happens when there is a piece of software that you just love or you must use for work. Luckily, you can still buy a new laptop with the latest operating system without having to worry about losing access to those old applications if you run more than one OS on your laptop.
Test New Operating Systems
Windows 10 is almost here but will it work for you? The easiest way to tell is to try it ahead of time by running more than one operating system on your laptop. Running multiple operating systems allows you to test some of the latest and greatest operating systems and other applications without risking the health of your laptop.
We all know that security in Windows can sometimes be sketchy at best. But, if you run more than one operating system alongside Windows, you could easily gain access to better security if you choose an operating system such as Linux. That way you can do more sensitive tasks in the more secure operating system so you don’t have to worry about being hacked.
Drawbacks of Running More Than One OS
Like anything, there is the good and then there is the bad, and it is important to be aware of both before you begin your journey toward running multiple operating systems on your laptop.
Hard Drive Space
Running more than one operating system means that you will have to allocate enough space for both the operating system and the storage of files while you are using that operating system. This can take up quite a bit of space depending on what operating system you are going to use and may require a mid-range laptop of under $1000 or more. While most hard drives today are large enough to handle it, if you are low on space you could have a difficult time setting up more than one operating system.
Depending on how you set up your system, switching between operating systems is not always the most convenient things you will do. For example, switching operating systems could mean you have to close everything on your computer and reboot just to load the new operating system. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you need something from the other OS while you are working in another, closing everything just to load up the other OS can be quite a hassle.
Setting up a laptop with more than one OS can be a hassle especially if you need older operating systems that weren’t designed to run with your computer. You need to be sure you set it up in the proper order or you could run into major problems on your laptop.
What Operating Systems Can You Run
The good thing is, there are very few limitations when it comes to operating systems. Basically, you can run almost any operating system you can think of depending on how you decide to do it. I have even seen classic systems such as DOS and Windows 3.1 run on modern computers for those seeking a nostalgic experience from time to time. While I can’t say that running something so old is very useful, it can be fun to take a look at some of these older systems that paved the way for modern computing today.
The most common operating systems you will see people run today are:
- Windows XP
- Windows 10
- Windows 7
These are just a few of the most common operating systems run on computers. The great thing about running more than one OS is the sky’s the limit. If you want to run a different OS regardless of the reason, you can do it. You just have to know how to properly set it up.
How Do You Run More Than One Operating System?
Now that you know the what, how and why of running more than one operating system, it is time to look at how you do it. For the purpose of this article, we will look at the methods at a very high level so you understand the options available to you. For more in depth instructions on how to do each of these methods, stay tuned over the coming weeks as we will be releasing detailed guides and information about each method.
There are two basic methods for running multiple operating systems on your computer:
- Dual Booting Operating Systems
Dual Booting Operating Systems
Dual booting involves installing more than one operating system on a separate partition of your hard drive and choosing which one to load each time you startup your computer. Basically, you set up a second partition on your hard drive and then install each of your operating systems on the different partitions. When you turn on your computer, you will then be able to choose which one will load on your computer.
This setup is nice if you prefer to run each operating system completely independent of each other or if you want to make sure each OS has access to the full resources of your computer while you are using it. However, it does require that you reboot your computer each time you want to switch between operating systems which can be inconvenient if you ever find yourself in a situation of needing something on both at the same time.
The other downside to dual booting comes if you want to run older operating systems as well as newer systems. In this case, the older systems may not run well on your newer hardware and you may run into problems when trying to install an older operating system on a laptop that has a newer operating system already installed.
Still, if you want the fastest experience with the best performance on all your operating systems, dual booting is the way to go as each OS will have access to all of your systems resources each time it loads giving you the fastest experience possible.
Virtualization may be a little more difficult to wrap your head around. Basically, it is running an operating system inside another operating system using applications that are designed to emulate a hardware environment. In this scenario, you always boot into your main operating system, also known as the host operating system, and then when you want to run another operating system you open the software that is used to create these virtualized computers.
The main benefit of running a virtualized computer on your laptop is convenience. You don’t have to worry about rebooting your computer every time you want to use a different operating system and there are even ways you can seamlessly share files between your host system and the virtual machine.
When running a virtualized machine, however, you do take a hit on performance. Essentially, your laptop must share resources between the host operating system and the virtual machine at the same time, meaning that not all of your RAM and processor will be available to your virtual machine. In most cases, all modern processors are more than capable of handling both at the same time, but if you are wanting to run high end games or other resource intensive applications, you will notice a big hit on performance and, in some cases, they won’t run at all.
If your main reason for running a second operating system is for gaming, virtualization is not the way to go. The ability of virtual machines to take advantage of 3D technology on your video card is limited at best, even though great improvements have been made over the years. Still, if you want to game, your best option is to dual boot your system so you can take advantage of the full power of your system.
But, if you are wanting to test new operating systems or maybe you want access to an operating system that is more secure, like Linux for example, and you don’t plan on running anything too intense, virtualization is a much more convenient and easier way to do it so you don’t have to reboot every single time you want to use it.
As you can see, there are many benefits of running more than one operating system on your computer. Whether you choose to dual boot your computer into more than one operating system or you decide that creating a virtual machine is the way to go, when you install more than one system you open up an entirely new world of computing that many people never even realize.
No matter why you choose to install and run more than one operating system, you will find that it gives you the freedom you need to use your computer how you want to and not how the big manufacturers think you should, and freedom is always a good thing. From gaming, to security or even just experimentation and testing, there are lots of reasons for running more than one operating system, and by doing so you can add a little fun to your computing experience while also accomplishing whatever goals you have at the same time.
Part 2: Dual Booting Your Computer with Multiple Operating Systems
Now that you understand the benefits of running multiple operating systems and you have a handle of the basics of how it is done, it is time to dig a little deeper and look more closely at the different ways of doing it. First, we will take a look at dual booting your computer. Let’s examine why you would want to do it and how its done so you can understand the process in much more detail.
Why Dual Boot?
Many people wonder why they would ever need to run a different operating system alongside their existing one. The fact is there are many reasons why you may want to try this. Different operating systems have their own strengths and weaknesses, so by dual booting, you can take advantage of the strengths of each operating system and gain access to some of the best software designed for each of the different operating systems you choose to use.
For example, you may really like Windows 7, but you want to give the new Windows 10 a try to see what Windows will be like in the future. In this case, setting up a dual boot system is one of the easiest ways for you to try out Microsoft’s latest operating system without having to completely reformat your computer.
Maybe you want to try to use Linux for most of your day to day computer activities but still need Windows for the occasional game or specific Windows only piece of software. In this case you simply install Linux alongside Windows and you get the safety and security of Linux along with access to traditional Windows applications and games that you just don’t want to give up.
Why you could just setup a virtual machine of the operating system you want to use, dual booting allows you to use the full resources of your computer on each operating system instead of having to share them between multiple systems loaded at the same time.
How Dual Booting Works
Your computer’s operating system is usually installed on the internal hard drive of your laptop. When you boot your computer, the BIOS loads what is known as the boot loader from the hard drive and then that loader launches the operating system that is installed. When you choose to dual boot, you are essentially giving the boot loader a set of options and telling it to let you pick which one to load.
While we talk about dual booting specifically, there is actually no limit to the number of different operating systems you can install. The only real limit is the amount of space on your hard drive and how much time you want to spend setting everything up. Each hard drive needs its own location on your hard drive. Another way you can even get around this limit is by installing a second hard drive in your system (assuming there is room in your laptop) or even booting an operating system from a USB drive.
Even if you only have one hard drive, you can still install more than one operating system onto it by simply dividing the space between the operating systems. That way you could, for example, run Linux alongside Windows or even multiple Windows installations if that is what you need.
How To Switch Between Operating Systems
When you install a second operating system, your boot loader will appear on your screen every time you reboot your computer. This is to give you the chance to select the operating system you want to use. In most cases, one of the operating systems will be set as the default operating system so if you do nothing that operating system will load automatically.
In a single operating system scenario, you never see the boot loader. That is because there is simply no need for you to see it and it is much faster to have it quickly select the operating system and load it without you having to do anything. However, once you decide to run more than one operating system, you will need to see the boot loader in order to make your choice. While this does delay the start of your machine by a few seconds, overall it won’t impact the boot time of your laptop very much.
Many people wonder how they will be able to select the different operating systems once they are installed. Luckily, the update of the boot loader occurs when you install that second operating system so you don’t have to worry about manually configuring anything if you don’t want to. It will just work.
Setting Up a Dual Boot System
Setting up a dual boot system is pretty straightforward and most anyone can do it. However, depending on the type of setup you choose to use, there are different quirks that you must keep in mind and you must follow different procedures in order to make sure that everything works once you are done. Let’s run down the most common dual boot scenarios that people use.
- Dual Boot Windows and Linux: This is, perhaps, the most common scenario that you will find many users do with their PC laptops. No matter what flavor of Linux you choose, the install process is essentially the same. When setting up this type of dual boot scenario, install whatever version of Windows you have first, if there is no OS on your laptop. Then, using the Linux installation media, boot the Linux installer and allow it to configure your system for a dual boot setup.
- Dual Boot Multiple Copies of Windows: This scenario is usually used for people to try out the different versions of Windows as Microsoft continues to develop new releases of their Windows operating system. In this setup, you need to shrink your existing Windows partition on your hard drive from inside Windows and create a new partition for the other version of Windows. Once you create this new partition, you can then install the other version of Windows onto the partition you have created.
- Dual Boot Multiple Linux Versions: One of the easiest setups you can perform, all you need to do to install two different versions of Linux alongside one another is simply install them one right after the other. The second installation you perform will configure the hard drive for multiple operating systems and create an updated boot loader that allows you to select which version of Linux you want to install.
- Dual Boot Mac OS X and Windows: For years you simply couldn’t install Windows on a Mac. However, times have changed and now using Apple’s Bootcamp utility included with Mac OS X, you can easily create a separate partition on your MacBook and install whatever version of Windows you want to run including Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. While not officially supported as of yet, some users have even had success installing the developer’s preview of Windows 10 onto their Macs.
- Dual Boot Mac OS X and Linux: Apple’s Bootcamp software doesn’t allow you to boot into Linux as it is designed specifically for dual booting Windows alongside Mac OS X. However, it is still possible to setup a system like this using a few third party tools, although the setup work is a little more involved than any of the other scenarios.
Dual Booting on a Mac
As we mentioned above, you can install Windows onto your Mac. In the past, much of the internal hardware was different on a Mac as Apple opted for PowerPC architecture on their machines. However, they abandoned that architecture long ago and now use Intel chips and hardware for all of their machines. That means that a Mac is essentially a PC with a different type of BIOS and boot loader compared to traditional Windows based PC’s. That means it is now easy to run Windows on your Mac in a dual boot scenario.
If you have a Mac, you will need to use the utility known as Bootcamp to prepare your Mac’s hard drive and start the Windows install process. The utility is very easy to use and allows you to specify the size of your new Windows partition and will resize and prepare it for Windows automatically while making sure that your existing partition with Mac OS X remains intact and all your files stay safe.
Once you have successfully installed Windows, you can easily switch between the two operating systems using Apple’s boot loader by pressing the Option key whenever you restart your Mac.
If, however, you want to install Linux on your Mac, the process is a little more involved and not recommended to users who aren’t more experienced in dealing with the setup of their computers. You must use third party tools such as rEFIt to create a new boot loader on your Mac that has the ability to load Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. Editing the boot loader on your Mac is not recommended for novice users as you could easily damage the boot loader on your Mac resulting in a loss of files on your laptop.
What Linux Versions Should You Use
With so many different versions of Linux available, you may not be sure which version would be a good fit for a dual boot setup. However, the truth is almost all of them are designed to work perfectly in a dual boot setup and can easily configure your PC laptop for dual booting with Windows. It really all comes down to which version of Linux you like and prefer. Some of the more popular versions that are easy to use are:
These are only a few of the different distributions available for download at not charge and they all will make great second operating systems for anyone looking to get into Linux dual booting scenarios. Personally, Ubuntu is one of the nicest looking and most polished versions available making it my go to distribution compared when it comes to setting up a dual boot scenario that just works. However, spend some time looking at the different distributions and even try them out using their live cd’s before you decide which one you are going to install on your system. If you want to learn more about other Linux distributions, Distrowatch is the place to check out as it lists most of the different distributions and ranks them by popularity.
Final Thoughts on Dual Booting
Dual booting is one of the easiest ways you can gain access to multiple operating systems on your single laptop. However, setting up a dual boot scenario must be done with care to be sure that your existing operating system installation remains safe during the process.
Remember, you aren’t necessarily limited to just two operating systems on your computer, either. If you want to, you can setup and install three or maybe even four different operating systems on your laptop, assuming you have the patience and the hard drive space for all these different installations.
Installing multiple operating systems gives you one key thing – freedom. When you run multiple operating systems, you can choose what software you run and how you work. You will no longer be limited to working and using your computer how Apple or Microsoft want you to, you can work how YOU want to, and that is your biggest benefit to multiple operating system setups on your laptop.
Part 3: Using Virtualization to Run More Than One Operating System (VirtualBox Tutorial)
Now that we have dual booting out the way, let’s look at my favorite way of running multiple operating systems – virtualization.
Today, we bring you the final segment of our three-part series on running multiple operating systems on your laptop. Previously we have discussed the benefits of running multiple operating systems while highlighting the different methods you can use to accomplish this task. Last week, we got a little more specific by looking at dual booting and examining the strengths and weaknesses that using this method provides.
This week, we take a look at my personal favorite method for running multiple operating systems and the method that I use each and every day – Virtualization. We will examine exactly what virtualization is, how it works and both the benefits and drawbacks of using this method to access more than one operating system on your computer. Finally, we will end this article with a tutorial demonstrating how you setup a virtualized operating system by walking you through how to install elementary OS, a flavor of Ubuntu Linux, on a Mac.
What Is Virtualization?
To put it simply, virtualization is the act of creating what is known as a virtual machine that runs on top of your existing operating system. This virtual machine will run a completely different operating system such as Linux. The virtual machine itself runs somewhat independently from your main machine as the virtualization software mimics the hardware you find in a laptop or desktop. However, both the host and the guest share resources and can be made to interact giving you a more seamless user experience.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Virtualization
Virtualization provides many benefits over the traditional dual booting option when running multiple operating systems. The main benefit is time. You don’t have to wait to reboot your computer every time you want to use a different operating system. It also allows you to experiment and try out many more operating systems and is a great way for setting up a basic test machine for testing apps.
However, when running a virtual machine, you have to share resources with your host operating system. This means that running a virtual machine can slow down your host machine and you will never have the same amount of speed and resources available on your virtual machine compared to if you just chose to dual boot to that operating system instead.
What Operating Systems Can You Virtualize?
So now that you know you can virtualize an operating system, what OS’s can you virtualize? The answer is, almost any. Some are more difficult to virtualize than others and the performance you get from them will definitely vary, but almost any computer operating system can be virtualized. Some of the most common operating systems that can be virtualized are:
- Windows – XP, 7, 8, 8.1, 10
- Linux – All Distributions
- BSD – All Distributions
- Mac – Can Only Legally Be Virtualized on a Mac
It should also be noted that while you can run any of these operating systems as a virtual machine, you need to be sure you have the right to run them. All commercial operating systems such as Windows need to have a purchased key in order to legally run them. If you are running Linux or even Android, it won’t cost you anything as they are free operating systems available from the open source communities. Virtualizing Mac OS X, on the other hand, is the strictest of the operating systems as Apple only allows their OS to be virtualized on another Mac.
There are many applications out there that are designed to allow you to virtualize an operating system on your computer and many are available for both PC and Mac. The following list contains the most popular virtualization options that are available for both platforms.
VMWare – One of the earliest leaders in virtualization, VMWare offers products that start at no charge for home users and goes all the way up to professional, business level suites for running fully virtualized servers.
VirtualBox – An open source, free solution to virtualization, VirtualBox offers a full array of features allowing to create almost any guest operating system you can think of and run them simultaneously on your computer. Available for both PC and Mac, VirtualBox could be the only solution you ever need for virtualization and it won’t even cost you a dime.
Parallels – Designed originally for Mac users to be able to run Windows on their Macs, Parallels has since evolved into a virtualization software that will not only run Windows, but a vast array of other operating systems on your Mac. Its true strength still lies in its Windows virtualization features, but today you can run almost everything using this piece of software.
This is by no means the be all, end all list, but instead contains the most popular applications available for you that provide some of the best features while still being relatively easy even for a novice to use.
Tutorial: Virtualize a Linux Operating System with VirtualBox
With so many options, it is impossible in one post to show you how to setup every operating system using every type of virtualization software. But after you see the steps using one of the platforms, it should be enough for you to understand how the setup process works on all of them. Down the rode, I may create more virtualization tutorials to show you how to create and setup more virtual machines. Today, however, we are going to show you how to setup the Linux distribution elementary OS on a Mac using VirtualBox. The process using VirtualBox is almost identical on a Mac or PC, so you should be able to use this tutorial no matter what operating system is on your computer.
Terms You Should Know
For this tutorial, there are a few terms you need to know and understand:
- Virtual Machine – A virtual machine is what you are creating when you virtualize an operating system. Essentially, you are setting up what your laptop will think is a whole new computer using the virtualization software that runs on top of your existing operating system.
- Host OS – This is the operating system that your computer uses to boot into. So, on a PC, it is most likely Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you are running a Mac, it will be Mac OS X.
- Guest OS – This is the operating system that you are trying to virtualize. It will run on top of your main or host OS.
Let’s Get Started
1. Download and install VirtualBox on your laptop.
2. Download elementary OS from their website. You will have the option to select 32-bit or 64-bit. If your computer is newer, go ahead and select the 64-bit version but if your computer has some age on it, try using the 32-bit version.
3. Open VirtualBox and click “New” in the top left hand side of the menu.
4. Enter the name for your new operating system and select the type. Since elementary OS is Linux and more specifically, a derivative of Ubuntu, I selected Linux and the 64-bit version of Ubuntu.
5. Select the memory size of your new virtual machine. This will be how much RAM your new virtual machine will use. While you need at least 512MB, I recommend adding more to it assuming your laptop has plenty of memory to spare. If you allocate too much, the virtual machine will steal too much away from your host impacting performance of your laptop.
6. Select create a virtual hard drive so you have a place for your new operating system to go.
7. Choose the hard drive type. VirtualBox allows you to select different formats to be compatible with more types of virtualization software. For our purposes, we are using the default choice for VirtualBox.
8. You can now choose either Fixed Size or Dynamically Allocated. A fixed size hard drive will act just like a regular hard drive. If you run out of space, you are out of space. However, a dynamically sized hard drive will grow with you as you need it to. We chose dynamic as it will allow for more growth.
9. Set the size of your hard drive. If you chose dynamic, remember it will grow and resize as you need it. If you are using a fixed drive, you will need to set it to a larger size to be sure you have plenty of room for files.
10. You now have what is essentially a virtual machine ready for an operating system to be installed on it.
Install the Operating System
1. Before you can install your operating system, you need to tell the virtual machine where the ISO image is of your operating system. Click on the virtual machine and then select Settings.
2. Go to the Storage Tab and then click on the icon that looks like a little CD. Select your ISO that you downloaded.
3. Click Start to boot up your new virtual machine for the first time.
4. The ISO will then load and take you to the setup process for your version of Linux.
5. Click Install elementary.
6. At the verification screen, click Continue.
7. Select erase disk and install elementary and then click Install Now.
8. Select your region and time zone then click Continue.
9. Select your language and keyboard layout and click Continue.
10. Setup your username, computer name and password for your new system.
11. Once the installation is complete, reboot. Sometimes during this reboot the guest system will hang. If it does just close it and then restart it.
12. Congratulations, you are now running your very own virtual operating system on top of your existing operating system.
Updates and Guest Additions
1. Before you do anything else, run all the system updates.
2. Install Guest Additions. Go to Devices – Install Guest Additions. Then follow the installation instructions.
Enjoy Your New Operating System
Congratulations, you just performed your very first install and configuration of a guest operating system on your computer. You can now move files between the two operating systems and use the vast libraries of software available for Linux.
Should I Dual Boot or Virtualize
It all comes down to this in the end really. Trying to decide how you should run multiple operating systems can be a difficult choice to make. In the end it all comes down to exactly how you plan to use your second, or even third operating system.
For example, on my MacBook Pro, I utilize both options. I have my Mac setup to dual boot into Windows. That way I can play games and use other applications that require that I have access to the full resources of my laptop. However, on both my Mac partition and Windows partition, I have a virtual machine of Ubuntu Linux that I use for work and other tasks as well. I find this situation works best for me as I work more in Ubuntu while I play more in Windows and use photo editing more in Mac.
Look at how you work and how you want to work before you choose how you plan on setting up your laptop. Virtualization may work for you but dual booting may be required if you need more resources.
Final Thoughts on Virtualization
While guest operating systems are never quite as fast as booting directly into that operating system, running a virtual machine with a different OS is one of the easiest ways you can access multiple operating systems on your computer. They offer the full range of features of that operating system while allowing you to seamlessly switch between the two without having to take the time to reboot your computer.
Virtualization allows you even more functionality that dual booting as you can install and run a wide variety of operating systems that may not be compatible with your computer such as Android and you can even load more than one virtual machine at a time allowing you greater flexibility while you are trying to work.
Well there you have it. Now you know the very best ways to run multiple operating systems on your laptop. As you can see, it’s easier than you think. The key is choosing the best method for your needs. If you need access to both your operating systems at the same time, and you don’t need heavy graphics or full access to your processor to do it, then virtualization is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you need access to high graphics or your full specs and don’t care about accessing your different operating systems at the same time, then dual booting is definitely the best way to get the job done.
Do you run multiple operating systems? If so, tell me what systems you run and how you do it in the comments below. As always, if you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best to answer them for you.