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You can install and run Ubuntu from within Windows without any risk of accidentally deleting your existing programs and files by using Wubi, an unofficial Ubuntu installer for Windows users. Unlike UNetbootin, which installs Linux on a hard disk partition, Wubi works by installing Ubuntu within a file stored on your Windows drive, and adding itself to the Windows boot.ini file to allow you to choose between Windows and Linux at boot time.
Wubi is based on Ubuntu 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS), which will be released this April. Both Wubi and Ubuntu 8.04 are available now in stable beta versions.
You can install Wubi by downloading Ubuntu 8.04, burning it to a CD-ROM, and running the installer included on disc, or you can download the 10MB Wubi installer and run it. That approach may be a little slower, as Wubi has to download the installation files it needs over the Internet, rather than from a local CD image.
Wubi requires a system with a processor of at least 1GHz, at least 256MB of RAM, Windows 98 or newer (although Windows 2000 and above is recommended), and a minimum of 4GB of free disk space. For my test, I used an Acer Aspire 5315 laptop equipped with an Intel Celeron M 540 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and Windows Vista Home Basic.
You install and remove Wubi the same way you work with any other Windows application, which is great if you're new to Linux and aren't yet comfortable with partitioning or dual booting. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu beta ISO image, burned it to a blank CD, and inserted it into my laptop. The Windows autorun program appeared, and displays options for Demo and full installation, Install inside Windows, and Learn More. I chose the option to install Ubuntu within Windows. The installer gave me an option to change the installation drive and set the amount of space to reserve for Ubuntu. It prompted for which language to use, and what username I wanted to log in as. I kept all of the default options as they were; I only needed to set my password and click Install before I was ready to go.
Installation took only about 10 minutes. When I rebooted my machine, an option to boot Ubuntu was added to my Windows boot list, and after selecting it, Ubuntu started loading just as it would if installed on a dedicated drive. I was even given the normal GRUB menu.
After the operating system finished loading, it started another install process within Ubuntu, which took an additional five minutes or so. The second installation ran through partitioning and installing packages. Once the second install routine was complete, my machine rebooted a second time, and I finally saw the Ubuntu login screen.
My new Ubuntu install allowed me to do everything I can do in a dedicated install, such as download and install applications and updates, browse the Internet, check email, play music, and configure my themes. Ubuntu's flashy desktop effects also worked as expected.
The performance of Wubi was equal to that of a dedicated Ubuntu install, with the exception of slightly slower hard-drive seek times. If your Windows host drive is heavily fragmented, you can expect an even greater slowdown. On my machine the difference was barely noticeable, as I always keep my Windows drive as defragmented as I can. glxgears showed that I have the same level of hardware acceleration as I would if I had a dedicated install; yet when I tested 3-D games such as PlanetPenguin Racer and Neverball, some of the textures were corrupted.
The only downside I could find was that I was unable to access files stored on my Windows drive from Ubuntu; it appeared not to be mounted under Wubi. Running
fdisk -l didn't show me the host drive either. The ability to view files stored on the Windows drive would have been nice, and it would've been nicer if Wubi integrated my home folder in Ubuntu with the My Documents folder in Windows.
Once you're comfortable with your new Ubuntu installation, you can transfer it to a dedicated drive or even overwrite Windows by using Loopmounted Virtual Partition Manager. That process requires downloading a .deb package, installing it, clicking on the icon for LVPM located under Applications -> System Tools, and finally selecting the "transfer" option. LVPM requires that you already have a spare partition to install to; if you don't, you'll need to create one.
Overall, Wubi provides an alternative for those who would like to try Ubuntu without the slow performance of a live CD or the responsibility of partitioning a hard drive. Wubi includes most features of a typical Ubuntu install, is painless to set up, and can later be transferred to a dedicated drive without any loss of installed applications, settings, or files.
Jeremy LaCroix is an IT technician who writes in his free time.