Should you dual boot Windows and Linux or use one of the many alternatives? This discussion works equally for any mixture of operating systems loaded onto the same machine, including multiple versions of the same OS.
For people who have never used a dual boot computer, the dual boot mechanism is built into the boot code loaded from the start of your system disk. You start your computer, notebook, laptop, desktop, or server, and see the computer brand displayed by the hardware's BIOS (or UEFI).
The BIOS is programmed into the computer hardware as firmware and loads first. The BIOS then reads the start of the system disk to load the second stage of the boot process. In a standard boot, the second stage does not display anything. The second stage just loads the operating system and you see the logo from the OS.
In dual boot, the second stage code will display a list of one or more boot options. The options might be Linux and Windows. When you have just one OS installed, the options might include a standard boot of the OS and an alternative boot of the OS for emergency repairs.
The second stage boot usually has a timeout, perhaps ten seconds. After the timeout, the second stage boots the first option in the list. You can trim down the delay to a couple of seconds and have the boot load the default faster for those situations where you use only the one OS most of the time.
Ubuntu is the most popular distribution of Linux for notebooks and desktops. Ubuntu provide a guideu to creating a dual boot system. All the guides recommend installing Windows first then adding Linux. The most popular Linux distributions, Ubuntu and Linux Mintm, provide versions you can boot from a USB memory stick. After the boot from USB, you can test Linux on your machine then install Linux as a second boot option.
Two separate projects
Dual boot works when you have two distinct projects with each using a different OS. Last year I had a project using Windows that was a few hours each day for two or three days per week. When I used Windows, I performed all the work in Windows. When each task was finished, a few hours per task, I rebooted to return to Linux.
Dual boot was only a tiny overhead. Alternating between the two operating systems was easy because all the data files were on a shared disk partition accessible from both operating systems. Common applications, editors, etc, were the same on both operating systems. I only switched from one OS to the other once per day.
Two mixed projects
In a previous year, I had two projects overlapping with one project using Windows. Jumping back and forth between Windows and Linux was painful. I used a separate NTFS partition for files shared between Windows and Linux. Most applications worked on both operating systems. Everything should be easy.
For a variety of reasons, I had to switch back and forth many times per day. I had to frequently use an application that ran only on Windows. I also needed frequent access to something installed on Linux that would be difficult to move over to Windows. Dual boot did not work for that project.
Open source software
Switching back and forth between Windows and Linux is a pain. Open source software can help because the best choices in open source software can be used on both Linux and Windows.
For example, you can use the Gimp image editor on both Windows and Linux. Boot to Linux. Place your images on a shared NTFS partition. Do everything with images in Linux. When you need to work in Windows, you boot Windows and continue using the same Gimp on the same images.
For a project some years ago, the documents supplied by the customer worked equally well in Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer until one long document had revisions switched on. Some revisions from Microsoft Word did not work in OpenOffice Writer. This one big document required Microsoft Word which meant using Windows.
Today LibreOffice has replaced OpenOffice and that type of revision works in LibreOffice. I no longer have a need to boot Windows for Microsoft Word. Switch to open source software as part of your strategy to remove the need for frequent booting to the other operating system.
With the same open source applications installed in both operating systems, you do not have to switch OS as often. You might switch only once per day. You then do not need the alternatives described below. In the long term, the alternatives are easier for some projects when they work. For instance, you could keep a chat session running in Linux while activating one windows application to find some information.
Winew is a Windows emulator that runs in Linux. When you are down to only a few old Windows applications, there is a good chance the applications will run in Wine under Linux, removing the need to boot Windows. Will wine work for you?
As a general guide, Microsoft programs will not work in Wine until they are a few years old. Wine can take a long time to build compatibility with the latest releases of Windows applications. On several occasions, I tested recent releases of Microsoft applications under Wine and they failed. Dual boot is easier. Replacing Microsoft applications with open source applications is easier.
Some projects require applications that are not from Microsoft but only run on Windows. Many of those applications will not work in Wine. The applications are often bent to depend on some new code in a recent version of Windows. Wine has problems with some applications written for 64 bit Windows and versions of Windows from Vista onward.
You have to run your own test because the incompatibilities are unpredictable. What fails for me today, might work for you tomorrow due to an update of Wine. This year Balsamiq Mockupsb worked in Wine under Linux. The slightest change to either Mockups or Wine might break their compatibility.
PS, Pencilp is an excellent open source alternative to Balsamiq Mockups. If I was running the project that used Balsamiq Mochups, I would have used Pencil.
QEMUq is a machine emulator for Linux and is flexible. QEMU does not specifically target Windows with some versions of Windows creating problems. Like Wine, you might have to wait a while for full compatibility with your shiny new version of Windows.
QEMU can require some installation and configuration tricks to make Windows applications work. Most people recommend VirtualBox" ahead of QEMU. QEMU is recommended more for odd emulations such as emulating an ARM processor.
VirtualBoxv is an open source virtual machine emulator supported by Oracle and for use on any OS. The current version is 5.2. I tested 5.1. VirtualBox 5.1 failed to do what was required and I reverted to dual boot. You might have more success.
VirtualBox worked for many things but something important was missing, making it impossible for me to use the required Windows applications in Windows under Linux. I had to revert to dual boot.
I can see some reasons why people might use VirtualBox during their conversion from Windows to Linux. In my case, I replaced most software with open source before needing something like VirtualBox.
You could also use VirtualBox for application and Web development, running up a test system for every project. VirtualBox uses too much overhead for performance testing, you would use something closer to the virtualisation mechanism used on your target server.
Plan your move to open source OS independent software to make life easier. Test the alternatives to dual boot. If the alternatives do not work for you, dual boot with a shared disk partition will work, you just need a little planning and configuration to reduce the number of times you boot.