Ubuntu inside Windows: the Good, Bad and the Ugly

Monday Apr 20th 2009 by Matt Hartley
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Running Ubuntu inside Windows has its place, but it’s far from an ideal solution.

Recently there has been tremendous buzz surrounding a method of running a full Ubuntu Linux installation within Windows. Unlike similar alternatives for Windows, however, the user is not installing Linux only to have to reboot out of Windows to enjoy their new Linux install.

Instead, Portable Ubuntu for Windows allows the end user to enjoy the options provided by an Ubuntu installation without needing to deal with installation niceties or hardware compatibility.

In this article, I’ll explore the benefits along with the shortcomings of choosing this type of Linux installation. As a full time Linux user, I’ll be putting myself in a unique position as I work to better understand the attraction of using Portable Ubuntu for Windows versus making the commitment to use Ubuntu Linux full time.

Ubuntu in Windows: It's just easier

Before I discovered Portable Ubuntu for Windows, I was still wrapping my mind around another project called Wubi. This project's goal was to allow users to install a full installation of Ubuntu, from within Windows, only to reboot later to access their new operating system.

At first, providing such a "Linux tease" seemed counter-productive. It didn’t encourage newbies to truly break away from the Windows world.

With time, however, Linux users slowly began to see the value of using Linux from within a Windows environment. As it turned out, the Wubi project meant that these folks were able to enjoy Ubuntu Linux on their own terms.

Best of all, should any of them opt to leave the Linux world behind, these departing individuals could do so without the frustration of trying to "un-install" their Linux installations only to mess up their Windows MBR (Master Boot Record) along the way.

Today we see Portable Ubuntu for Windows taking the Wubi idea and making Ubuntu even more accessible. Portable Ubuntu for Windows has provided a solution where Windows users find immediate access to everything Ubuntu based, without ever needing to reboot out of Windows.

What's good about Portable Ubuntu for Windows

Now that you are familiar with what Portable Ubuntu for Windows is, let's examine some of the positive aspects of getting Windows users working with it:

• Linux apps without the typical Linux installation – For many individuals, this surpasses any other reason for trying and continuing to use Portable Ubuntu for Windows.

• Learn about running Ubuntu without touching your Windows MBR – In the the strict "package management" sense, sure, Portable Ubuntu for Windows allows you to "be an Ubuntu user" without requiring the typical extra requirements needed for an Ubuntu installation. You can also become more familiar with Ubuntu file management while getting your feet wet with the terminal window as well.

• Remove Ubuntu easily – Because Ubuntu Linux may not be for everyone, there is definitely some attraction to being able to remove it without a lot of fuss or frustration. As previously mentioned, there’s no worrying about messing up your Windows MBR should you choose to leave the world of Ubuntu Linux using this installation method.

What's not good about Portable Ubuntu for Windows

Speaking as someone who started off with Linux before LiveCDs were really ever an option, I believe that many people are only getting half of the desktop Linux experience.

Allow me to elaborate below:

• Not supporting Linux compatible peripheral vendors – When you use Portable Ubuntu for Windows, there is no compelling need to make sure you are using peripherals that are doing their part to provide Linux support. The Ubuntu install is still in Windows, so the hardware support is a moot issue. There is no reason to make sure the peripheral is compatible with Linux as the users are not using Linux natively.

• Still using an inherently insecure operating system – Despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, if you run any OS as a system administrator, regardless of given safeguards, you are playing with fire. Portable Ubuntu for Windows does not help users to understand this. Most of them are going to be running Portable Ubuntu for Windows as administrators on their Windows PCs, so there is not really any security advantage here for using Linux. Windows processes are still being used.

• From standalone OS to a toy – I feel that we taking a functional, well supported Linux distribution like Ubuntu and turning it into a toy to be marveled at by Windows users that are not able/willing to make the switch like the rest of us. Yes, the inside Windows portable option has some appeal, but in the end you are not really using Linux to its fullest in my opinion.

Portable Ubuntu for Windows as a gateway to standalone Linux

Despite my own struggles with the value of using something like Portable Ubuntu for Windows, the fact remains that it is most definitely piquing the curiosity of Windows users who have not been interested in trying desktop Linux previously.

Portable Ubuntu for Windows is putting newbies into an interesting position. Some of those using it will never go anywhere with Ubuntu, while others may decide to take the plunge in a more permanent sense as their comfort with Ubuntu grows.

Yet the following question remains: Will Ubuntu for Windows provide more long term Ubuntu users over time, or instead provide a false impression of what using Linux is actually like?

Speaking only for myself, I believe running Ubuntu within Windows is no substitute for going native and running desktop Linux installed as a standalone operating system on my own computers.

Does this mean that I am advocating not trying this portable Ubuntu option?

Not at all. I think that it's fine for those of you wanting to see what all of the Ubuntu Linux fuss is about. But when it comes time to really use this platform, you would do well to install Ubuntu onto a dedicated box. Or, as long as you understand how to do so properly, on a newly created partition.

ALSO SEE: How to Run Ubuntu Safely

AND: Remote Desktop Between Ubuntu/Linux and Windows, Part I

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