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IT administrators who must support multiple platforms often ask how to install Linux on Windows 7 machines. Fortunately, you have a number of options, including a dual-boot setup, virtualization and running off a USB stick.
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A dual-boot configuration works well when you want to use Windows 7 sometimes and Linux at other times. You have to ensure that the hard disk has enough available space to install and run the software you intend to use on both operating systems.
To use a dual-boot configuration, start with Windows 7 already installed and then install Linux. Many Linux distributions will recognize a device with Windows installed and let you decide if you'd like a dual-boot configuration or a Linux-only configuration.
A second option is to run Linux in a virtual machine (VM). First, you will need a VM application such as Oracle VirtualBox or VMware Player. Both are available for free. You can then download and install a Linux ISO file and install it in the VM. You can then run the VM like other Windows applications. This is a good option if you want to use a small number of Linux applications but want to work mostly with Windows.
If you'd rather not dedicate disk space to a Linux installation, you can always boot from a USB device with Linux. LiveLinux Creator is a Windows application that lets you create a Linux-bootable USB stick. Don't expect superior performance running Linux from a USB device. It is a great way to experiment with Linux, especially if you are not sure which distribution you would like to use.
Finally, if you're considering installing Linux because of its useful command-line tools then consider using the open source tool suite, Cygwin. Check out this long list of Linux utilities and tools that could be available from the Windows prompt by installing Cygwin.
Once you know how to install Linux on Windows 7, users can switch between OSes as needed.
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