Windows 7 and Ubuntu, despite their opposing missions, can get along like best pals on a single computer. Here’s how to set up a dual-boot system that lets you enjoy the best of both worlds in perfect harmony.
By default, Windows 7 takes over your boot-up process and wants to be your only OS, and Linux treats Windows like a weekend hobby you keep in a shed somewhere on your hard drive. But I’ve been dual-booting Ubuntu and some version of Windows 7 for nearly a year, and I’ve learned a lot about inconveniences, annoyances and file-sharing necessities, and now I’ll walk you through how to set up your systems to achieve a peaceful union of your dual-boot OSes. (Both with Windows 7 already installed, and with a clean system ready for a new dual-OS existence.)
Follow through this guide, and I’ll explain how to rebuild a system from the ground up with Windows 7 and Ubuntu, with either a backed-up and cleaned-out hard drive (recommended) or Windows 7 already installed. When we’re done, you can work and play in either operating system, quickly and conveniently access your documents, music, pictures and other files without worry or inconvenience, and boot into either system without having to worry about whether Windows is going to get mad at you. Plus, when Ubuntu 10.04 or Windows 8 come along, you’ll find it much easier to install either one without having to start over entirely from scratch.
What you’ll need
- Windows 7 installation disc: For clean installations, either a full installation copy or an upgrade disc is needed. If you own an upgrade disc, but want to start over with your hard-drive setup, there’s a way to install it from scratch, but that’s a rather grey-area route. Then again, there’s probably not a person on this earth that doesn’t have a licensed copy of XP or Vista somewhere in their past.
- Ubuntu 9.10 installation image: You can grab an ISO at Ubuntu.com — hit “Alternative download options” to reveal a (usually very fast) BitTorrent link. You’ll want to get the ubuntu-9.10-desktop-i386.iso download for 32-bit systems, or ubuntu-9.10-desktop-amd64.iso.torrent for 64-bit on AMD or Intel systems (despite the name).
- Blank CD or empty USB drive: For burning the Ubuntu ISO, or loading it for USB boot. Grab UNetBootin for Windows or Linux, plug in your USB drive and load it with the downloaded ISO image.
- All your data backed up: Even if you’re pulling this off with Windows 7 already installed and your media and documents present, you’ll want to have a fallback in case things go awry. Which they shouldn’t, but you never know.
- Free time: I’d reckon it takes about two hours to pull off two OS installs on a clean system; more if you’ve got a lot of data to move around.
Setting up your hard drive
If you’ve got nothing installed on your system, or you’ve got your data backed up and you’re ready to start from scratch, you’re in a great position — skip down to the “Partition your system” section. If you’ve got Windows already installed, you can still make a spot for Ubuntu, though.
(Only) If Windows is already installed: You’re going to “shrink” the partition that Windows 7 installed itself on. Before we do that, clean out any really unnecessary applications and data from your system (we like Revo Uninstaller for doing this). Also, open up “Computer” and take note of how much space remains on your main hard drive, presumably labelled “C:”. Head to the Start menu, type “disk management” into the search box, and hit Enter.
Windows 7 probably put two partitions on your hard drive: one about 100 MB in size, holding system restoration data. We don’t want to touch it. Right-click on the bigger partition to the right and choose Shrink Partition.
Partition your system: You’re aiming to set up a system with three partitions, or sections, to its hard drive: One lean partition for the Windows operating system and applications run from it, another just-big-enough partition for Ubuntu and its own applications, and then a much larger data partition that houses everything you’ll want access to from either one. Documents, music, pictures, application profiles — it all goes in another section I’ll call “Storage” for this tutorial.
How do you get there? We’re going to use GParted, the Linux-based uber-tool for all things hard drive. You could grab the Live CD if you felt like it, but since you’ve already downloaded an Ubuntu installer, you can simply boot a “live”, no-risk session of Ubuntu from your CD or USB stick and run GParted from there. Once you’re inside Ubuntu, head to the System menu in the upper left when you get to a desktop, then choose the Administration menu and GParted under it.
Click on the unallocated space and hit the “New” button at the far left. In the “Free space preceding” section, click and hold the up button, or enter a number of megabytes, to leave space for Windows at the front. When you’ve got the “space preceding” set, set the actual size of the Ubuntu partition in the “New Size” section and leave “Free space following” alone. Choose “unformatted” under file system — we’ll let Ubuntu do the format itself and hit “Add”. Back at the main GParted window, click on the space to the right of your two OS spaces, hit “New” again, and set the file system as “ntfs”. Give it a label like “Storage”, hit “Add”, and at the main GParted window, hit the checkmark button to apply your changes. Once its done, exit out of GParted and shut down the system from the pull-down menu in the upper-right corner.
If Windows is already installed: If you’ve shrunk down its partition for free space and booted into a live Ubuntu or GParted, click on the “Unallocated” piece next to the two “ntfs” partitions that represent your Windows 7 installation and system recovery tools. Create a 15(-ish)GB unformatted partition, and give it a label like Ubuntu. If you’ve got a good deal of space left, format it as “ntfs” and label it something like “Storage”. If it can just barely fit the Ubuntu partition, you can just keep your media files in the Windows partition — until you can remedy this with a full wipe-and-install down the line.
Experienced Linux geeks might be wondering where the swap space is going — but don’t worry, we’ll create one, just not in its own partition.
Installing and configuring Windows
Grab your Windows 7 installation disc — either a full copy or modified upgrade disc and insert it into your DVD drive. If your system isn’t set up to boot from CD or DVD drive, look for the button to press at start-up for “Boot options” or something similar, or hit up your system-maker’s help guides to learn how to change your boot order in the BIOS settings.
Follow through the Windows 7 installation, being sure to choose “Custom” for the installation method, and that you point it at that unallocated space we created at the beginning of your hard disk, not the NTFS-formatted media/storage space we made earlier:
Hit the Start menu, click Computer and double-click on the hard drive named “Storage” (assuming you named it that earlier). In there, right-click and create new folders (or hit Ctrl+Shift+N) for the files you’ll be using with both systems. I usually create folders labelled Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos — I could also see folders for saved games and data files from big software packages. Copy your media files into these folders now, if you’d like, but we’ve got a bit more tweaking to pull off.
In the left-hand sidebar, you’ll see your “Libraries” for documents, music, pictures and video. At the moment, they point to your “Public” shared folders and the “My Pictures”-type folders on your main Windows drive. Click once on any of the Libraries and at the top of the main panel you’ll see text stating that this library “Includes: 2 locations …”. Click the blue text on “2 locations”, then click on each of the folders below and hit “Remove” on the right-hand side. Now hit “Add” and select the corresponding folder on your Storage drive. Do the same for all your music, pictures, videos and other media folders.
That’s about it for Windows. Now get your Ubuntu CD or USB stick ready and insert it in your system. Ignore whatever auto-play prompts appear, and restart your system.
Installing and configuring Ubuntu
When your system boots up, choose your language, select “Try Ubuntu without any changes to your computer”, and you’ll boot into a “live” desktop, run entirely off the CD or USB stick. Once you’re booted up, try connecting to the internet from the network icon in the upper-right — it helps during the installation process, ensures your network is working, and gives you something to do (Firefox) while the system installs.
Click the “Install” link on the desktop, and fill out the necessary language/location/keyboard info. When you hit the “Prepare disk space” section, select the “Specify partitions manually” option, then hit Forward. Select the free space that’s after your first two Windows partitions with ntfs formats, then hit the “Add” button at bottom. Your partition should already be sized correctly, and the only thing to change is set “/” as a mount point. Here’s what your screen should look like:
When you start up again, you’ll see a list of OS options. The only ones you need concern yourself with are Windows 7 and the top-most Ubuntu line. You can prettify and fix up this screen, change its settings and modify its order later on. For now, let’s head into Ubuntu.
We’re going to make the same kind of folder access change we did in Windows. Click up on the “Places” menu, choose “Home Folder” and check out the left-hand sidebar. It’s full of links to Documents, Pictures and the like, but they all point to locations inside your home folder on the Linux drive that Windows can’t read. Click once on any of those folder, then right-click and hit Remove.
Ubuntu won’t “mount”, or make available, your Windows 7 and Storage drives on boot-up, however, and we at least want constant access to the Storage drive. To fix that, head to Software Sources in the System->Administration menu. head to Applications, then the Ubuntu Software centre at the bottom. Under the “Ubuntu Software” and “Updates” sections, add a check to the un-checked sources, like Restricted, Multiverse, Proposed and Backports. Hit “Close” and agree to Reload your software sources.
You’ll see a few partitions listed, likely as /dev/sda1, /dev/sda2, and the like. If you only want your storage drive, it should be listed as /dev/sda3 or something similar — just not the first or second options. Check the box for “Add”, click in the “Mount point” column to give it a name (Storage, perhaps?), and hit “Apply”. Check both boxes on the next window to allow read/write access, hit OK and you’re done. Now the drive with all your stuff is accessible to Windows and Linux at all times.
Adding swap to Ubuntu
“Swap” memory is a section of the hard drive that your system’s memory spills over into when it gets full and busy. Until recently, I’d been creating a whole separate partition for it. Recently though, I’ve found that swap isn’t always necessary on systems with large amounts of memory, and that swap can simply be a file tucked away on your hard drive somewhere.
Follow the Ubuntu help wiki’s instructions for adding more swap, but consider changing the location they suggest putting the swap file — /mnt/swap/ for the place your Storage is held — /media/Storage, in my case.
Share Firefox profiles and more
That’s about it for this guide to setting up a harmonious Windows and Ubuntu existence, but I recommend you also check out our previous guide to using a single data store when dual-booting. It explains the nitty-gritty of sharing Firefox, Thunderbird and Pidgin profiles between Linux and Windows for a consistent experience, as well as a few other dual-boot tricks.
What’d I miss that makes Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 get along even better? What needs clarifying or fixing? Tell us your questions and solutions in the comments.