113: Can I run more than one operating system on my computer?
Yes, most likely. Most computers can be configured to run more than one operating system. Windows, MacOS, and Linux (or multiple copies of each) can happily coexist on one physical computer. There are two basic strategies available for installing multiple operating systems on a single computer:
- Dual (or multiple) boot: In this case, we divide the computer's hard drive into multiple "partitions," then install different operating systems in each partition. With a dual-boot setup, the computer must be rebooted to switch from one OS to another. During the boot sequence, a list of available operating systems is presented to the user by software called a "boot loader." This method is fairly complicated to set up and cumbersome when switching between operating systems. Only one operating system may be accessed at one time. Detailed knowledge is required to configure such a system correctly. However, for those with the requisite technical knowledge, dual-boot systems require little or no added software (beyond installation disks for the OSes themselves), and no added system memory (RAM). Since all RAM is used by only one OS at a time, speed is maximized. This is a common way to get started with multiple operating systems on one computer.
- Virtual machines: In this case, "virtualization" software is installed as just another program within the parent operating system. The virtualization program is then used to set up multiple "virtual" computers than run within the main operating system. Multiple operating systems may be running, and accessible, simultaneously. The most well-known virtualizationprograms today are:
• VMWare Workstation Pro (http://www.vmware.com/products/workstation) for Windows and Linux.
• VMWare Fusion (http://www.vmware.com/products/fusion) for MacOS.
• Parallels Desktop for MacOS (http://www.parallels.com).
• VirtualBox for Windows, MacOS, Linux, and Solaris (https://www.virtualbox.org).
Virtualization software may be free or cheap -- around $50. Creating multiple virtual machines is perhaps more versatile and elegant than dual-booting. It also requires more available RAM as each running virtual machine needs 1-2 GB of added RAM memory to function. Adding a few extra GB or RAM is a good way to speed up your virtual system.
Both methods -- dual boot or virtual machines -- can be complex to configure, though virtual machines are generally somewhat more straightforward to set up. Both methods can cause you to lose data. Be sure to back up your data before setting up multiple operating systems, especially if you are using the dual-boot method.
For most in the Mines community, the best way to set up a computer with multiple operating systems is ... have someone else do it. Contact the campus Computing, Communications, and Information Services department (CCIT) via Mines Help Center "Helpdesk" (http://helpdesk.mines.edu) for expert configuration support.
If one of the operating systems in question is to be MacOS, then the host computer should be an Apple desktop or laptop of some kind. While Windows and Linux may be installed on a Mac, MacOS may not legally be installed on other brands of computers (there are some unique technical difficulties to overcome as well). Thus the Mac is the most versatile computer to buy when contemplating multiple operating systems on one machine.
For those using a dual-boot setup, Mac users have one more advantage: The MacOS installation disk includes a program called Boot Camp, which automates the process of setting up multiple hard drive partitions. Though it is not for novices, this may be the easiest way to set up a dual-boot system.