There's no doubt that Linux—particularly Ubuntu—is a killer operating system full of excellent apps, but for about a million reasons, you're stuck running Windows as your main operating system. We understand, these things happen. But what about all those killer Linux apps you've left behind when you decided to live the Windows life? Sure you could dual-boot or run Linux in the confines of a virtual machine window, but wouldn't it be great if you could run those apps side-by-side with your Windows apps—like Linux users can do with WINE or OS X can do with Parallels or VMWare? You can, and today I'll show you how to seamlessly run your favorite Linux applications directly in Windows with a free software called andLinux.
What Is andLinux?
andLinux is actually a full installation of Ubuntu Linux running on top of your Windows operating system. Similar to how you can run coherence mode in Parallels or unity mode in VMWare Fusion, andLinux takes your Linux apps out of the virtual machine and creates a seamless interface in which they co-mingle with all your Windows apps. Kinky, huh?
To get you salivating, I've put together a gallery of my Windows desktop full of Windows and Linux apps giving each other sideways glances and touching in unnatural ways.
andLinux works with Windows 2000, XP, 2003, and Vista (32-bit only), so if you're running one of those versions of Windows, head over to the andLinux download page and find a mirror to download the installer or just grab the torrent here (the torrent download was really fast). andLinux comes in two flavors: the minimal XFCE version (143MB) and the full KDE version (665MB); for this guide, I'll be using the full KDE version.
Once you've finished your download, launch the installer and let's get started.
Installing and Configuring andLinux
Most of the andLinux installation process is relatively straightforward, but there are a few points worth highlighting. The first installation screen worth noting is the memory configuration, where you choose how much RAM you want to allocate to andLinux when it's running on your system. You can choose anywhere from 128MB to 1GB, but 192MB is actually recommended as a minimum. I chose 256MB on my system, but your choice may vary depending on what kind of free memory you have on your computer.
You'll also run into a screen asking you to set the startup type. You can choose to always run andLinux automatically as a service, or you can require andLinux to be started manually through the command line or by starting andLinux by launching it from Windows. I chose the "run andLinux manually as an NT service" option (despite what you see in the screenshot), but if you're sure you're going to be running your Linux apps on a frequent and regular basis, you may want to set it to start automatically.
andLinux isn't able to access your entire Windows filesystem by default (yet), so in order to share files between Windows and Linux apps, you'll need to set up Windows file access during set up. I've chosen to do so using Samba (as you can see in the screenshot). Here's how it works.
You need to set up a shared folder somewhere on your Windows computer (anywhere, really) by creating a folder, right-clicking it, and selecting Sharing and Security. Then just enable sharing for this folder and allow users to change the folder contents. Make sure your share name doesn't contain spaces or andLinux will complain. Hit Apply to save those sharing preferences, then just give the andLinux installer the name of the share, then the username and password to your Windows account.
When you're finished with the installer, you'll need to restart your computer before you start using andLinux and running all those Linux apps on your Windows desktop.
Run Applications with and Linux
If you didn't set andLinux to start automatically you'll need to start andLinux with the helper app in the screenshot before you do anything with it. After it's started, you can now launch any of the pre-installed applications you want. You can do this in a number of ways, but I'll highlight a couple.
First, you'll notice that you've got a new system tray app running; it's a little KDE Start Menu, giving you access to several default KDE apps, from Konqueror (a file manager, web browser, et al) to Synaptic (a package manager from which you'll install new apps). I'm highlighting these two in particular because you can browse and launch more apps from Konqueror and you can install new apps from Synaptic.
First, if you launch Konqueror and go to the Applications tab, you can browse some of your installed Linux applications by category, from Entertainment and Games to Internet and Multimedia. If this is your first time playing with Linux, I'd recommend trying out a few different apps to get a feel for what's available.
Install New Linux Apps with andLinux
Now that you've done that, you've probably got an itch to install new apps. To do so, click your KDE start menu and launch Synaptic, which is sort of like the Add and Remove Programs app in Windows—but way more useful. From Synaptic, you can browse the mind-boggling wealth of Linux apps. Use Synaptic to search for specific apps or just browse for apps by category. If you find something you like, mark it for installation, then apply the changes. Synaptic will automatically download and install everything you need to run that app, and when it's all installed you'll be able to launch it from Konqueror. Handy, huh?
andLinux even tweaks your right-click context menu in Windows, so if you click on a text file, for example, you can open it in the default andLinux app for that program. That means you can open a document or folder from Windows in the parallel Linux environment in any of those supported applications. I had some trouble getting this functionality to work correctly, so your mileage may vary.
Keep in mind that andLinux is currently in beta, the release at the time of this writing being beta 1 release candidate 6, so this is pretty bleeding edge stuff. Most of the core functionality is there, but it can be a little buggy at times, so not everything will work perfectly. If you're not ready to take that jump, it's understandable... just keep your eyes open, because once this hits a more stable and well-tested release, those OS-lines that were once so strict will become that much more blurry on your Windows box—as if those lines weren't already blurry enough now that you can installed Mac OS X on your Hackintosh PC and then run Windows seamlessly from the Mac.
Linux lovers, let's hear what apps you'd recommend Windows users try out on their newly Linuxed Frankenstein PCs in the comments. Likewise, if you've tried out andLinux, let us know how it's working for you.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who won't rest until there is peace and harmony among all his operating systems. His special feature Hack Attack appears regularly on Lifehacker.