This article is part of a series on how to install Linux on Windows and Mac. As there are several factors to consider, which range from the choice of the Linux distribution to the configuration of the virtual machine itself, I divided this procedure into three articles:
Overview of the procedure, hardware and software considerations
- This article. It provides an overview of the elements to consider before you install Linux on your Windows or Mac computer.
- This article guides you through the different characteristics specific to Linux and helps you decide which distro to choose as your additional operating system.
- This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to configure the parameters of the virtual machine that will host your new Linux OS.
What Are the Different Ways to Install Linux on Windows or Mac?
There are several ways of running Linux on a computer, some of them being more permanent than others. Amongst these are:
- Burning the disc image of a Linux distro on a USB drive and running its live version upon booting the computer. This method requires changing your UEFI boot order priority and disabling secure boot (instructions on how to do so HERE). This option allows you to temporarily test out a Linux distro without having to install it on your computer.
- Burning the ISO image of a Linux distribution on a pen drive and installing the OS on your hard drive upon booting the computer. This method also requires changing your UEFI settings and results in a permanent change of your primary OS to Linux. If you have an old computer that doesn’t respond so well to the latest release of Windows or macOS, you might want to consider running Linux on it. You can find installation guides for Debian, Ubuntu (LINK) and Linux Mint (LINK) on ITgirl.tech.
- Downloading the disc image of a Linux distribution and using a virtual machine to host the OS (the goal of this ITgirl.tech series). By doing so, you can install Linux on your Windows 10 or macOS machine without having to dual-boot it or permanently install the OS on your internal drive. If you ever decide that the distribution you downloaded isn’t for you, you can delete the whole OS at the click of a button by deleting its virtual machine.
Why Opting for a Virtual Machine to Install Your Linux Distribution on Windows 10 or macOS?
Virtual machines provide an excellent way of booting a second OS without the commitment of a full-on hard drive installation. However, this method still requires dedicating parts of your system’s memory and internal disc storage to the second OS. That is why I suggest first getting a feel for the distribution by booting its live version from USB. If you are new to this procedure, you can find a step-by-step guide on ITgirl.tech. Once you have tried the OS, then I recommend doing the virtual machine installation.
A Linux distro hosted on a virtual machine lets you use it as if it were a fully installed OS. In other words, once you end your VM session, upon restarting it, you can resume anything you were doing in Linux. Whatever files you had saved in the OS will be there upon starting the VM again. By booting a live version from USB, you lose everything each time you end the session. Your Linux system settings will reinitialize, and you will lose anything you had saved or programs you had installed.
A Virtual Machine Can Serve You Well in the Following Situations:
- You want to use a software application that isn’t available on your current operating system, but that is available on Linux. By configuring a virtual machine, you can install Linux on your Windows or Mac and run the software.
- Trying the OS on a virtual machine offers the advantage of checking for hardware compatibility before doing a hard drive installation of Linux. You don’t want to troubleshoot peripheral compatibility issues right after switching your primary OS to Linux. Replacing your old OS only to end up with problems with your wifi adaptor, while having no ethernet access, is a royal pain. Trust me on this one.
- Using a virtual machine is an excellent alternative to dual-booting, providing users with a flexible way of booting into another operating system. You can quickly configure a new VM host if your current one is taking too much RAM or disk storage. You cannot change these modalities so easily when dual-booting. Moreover, removing a VM can be done at the click of a button (unlike with dual-booted operating systems).
- Not sure of which distro you prefer? Are you hesitating between a lightweight distro and a mainstream one like Ubuntu? By using virtual machines, you can install two or more Linux distributions on Windows or Mac. If you use dynamic storage allocation, then you can easily have several VMs without having the distros taking up all your system’s storage space.
- Using a virtual machine provides more security against viruses than using your primary OS. By having its content contained within the virtual machine, an operating system ran this way is less prone to contaminate your computer. If you ever get a virus or malware, deleting the VM and all its content should, by the same token, remove the virus. That is also the reason why secure operating systems work mainly through single-use virtual machines (ensuring that none of them maintain their current machine state upon exiting). If you ever have to open files that you suspect might contain viruses, trojans or malware, use a VM. Open and scan the suspicious files from the Linux distro that the VM is hosting before downloading the file to your primary operating system.
Once you have decided to install Linux on your Windows 10 or macOS Mojave computer by using a VM, it is time to take a look at your hardware components.
Getting Your Hardware Specs
Before downloading the disc image of a particular operating system and adding it to a virtual machine, it is highly recommended to have in mind your system information.
- Some operating systems require a specific architecture; you have to make sure to download the ISO file of the OS associated with your particular architecture, i.e., 64-bit or 32-bit. As the way of finding this information depends on your current operating system, I recommend reading THIS ITgirl.tech article if you run Windows 10, and THAT one if your run macOS Mojave.
- As you configure your virtual machine allocated storage space and memory, you have to make sure that you opt for an amount that will not be too taxing on your hardware; otherwise, your computer’s performance might suffer. By knowing how much RAM your machine has, as well as the total internal drive storage space and its percentage available, you ensure that your machine will be able to properly run both the virtual machine and your computer’s main OS simultaneously. Just as with the architecture, finding your hardware specs depends on your current OS.
- The choice of a specific RAM and storage amount to dedicate to a VM will depend to some extent on the Linux distribution you choose. Some of them require more powerful machines than others. Be sure to compare your current OS hardware specs with the minimum and ideal hardware requirements of the distro.
Generally speaking, here are the hardware specs you will need, both for your VM configuration and your choice of a potential Linux distribution.
- Your RAM (memory)
- Your total internal disc storage
- Your available internal disc storage
- Your processor
- Your architecture
Of these, your processor and architecture are the least important if your computer is relatively recent (i.e. less than five years old). For older hardware (especially those released before 2011 or 2012), and older lower-tier models of popular brands, I recommend using a lightweight distribution. And to check whether you are using the 32-bit architecture.
Choosing a Virtual Machine Software
Because configuring a virtual machine depends on its software, we will focus on a single VM program. Otherwise, I would need to provide a step-by-step guide for the configuration of several distinct virtual machines, which would be counter-productive. This article will focus on Oracle VM VirtualBox, a free cross-platform virtual machine software that I chose for its availability on both Windows 10 and macOS Mojave.
Official website: https://www.virtualbox.org/
Windows and Mac download page: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads (click on the appropriate link under “VirtualBox 6.0.10 platform packages”)
The configuration of your virtual machine will depend on which Linux distribution you want to install on your Windows or Mac. Instructions will be provided in part three of this article, once we have discussed the choice of an OS.