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Dual Booting Windows & Linux is Not a Good Idea

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Bytes: Considering installing a second operating system, and want to be aware of the risks? Having Windows and Linux installed on your PC can increase productivity and give you the option of trying out a new OS. But it isn’t always smooth sailing. While most of these issues can be avoided, there are easy problems to fall into.

Here are seven dangers of dual booting that you should be aware of before installing a second operating system on your PC or laptop.

1. Accidental Overwriting of Data/Operating System

If this isn’t the most important, it’s certainly the risk that can scupper you before you even get started. After all, overwriting your existing data — or even the primary operating system — is going to lead to considerable problems. Sure, you can use recovery tools, but the chances of recovering all your data are minimal. Fortunately, most operating system installation wizards are capable of detecting primary partitions. This means that if you’re installing Windows alongside a Linux distribution, the wizard should highlight the existing partition and give you a choice of what to do next. Linux operating systems, meanwhile, are similarly smart.

But accidents do happen, so take care when installing. Make sure you’re installing the new operating system onto the intended device, and the right partition, without accidentally losing your data!

2. Productivity Can Take a Hit

Running multiple operating systems on your PC is a great way to maximize productivity. But sometimes it can be counter-productive. If you have a particular need to use, say, Windows 10 alongside Ubuntu 16.04, then it’s great to be able to switch into that operating system.

But do you really need to? Making sure you have alternative applications in Linux if you have switched from Windows is important. Similarly, you should ensure suitable options are available if switching the other way. Dual booting should really be for experiencing — and enjoying — the whole alternative operating system environment.

Then again, you might not even need to switch. Running Windows in a virtual machine on Linux is a great solution. Naturally, you can also install Linux in a virtual machine on Windows.

Ultimately, it’s important to make sure you’re using the best operating system for the task at hand. Check our guide to sharing data between dual-booting operating systems to minimize disruption when switching.

3. Locked Partitions

Perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls of dual booting is being unable to access your data. Most of the time, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you have organized things effectively (perhaps you sync data via the cloud, or use a dedicated HDD for personal files), then you’ll find your vital personal files are available via whatever operating systems you have installed.

However, problems can occur. If you’re using Windows and the system shuts down unexpectedly, any dedicated HDD or partition used for personal files will be locked. This means that trying to access the drive from your Linux partition will fail. You’ll see a message like this:

Error mounting /dev/sda5 at /media/karma/data: 
Command-line `mount -t "ntfs" -o "uhelper=udisks2,nodev,nosuid,uid=1000,gid=1000,dmask=0077,fmask=0177" 
"/dev/sda5" "/media/karma/data"' exited with non-zero exit status 14: The disk contains an unclean file system (0, 0). 
Metadata kept in Windows cache, refused to mount. Failed to mount '/dev/sda5': 
Operation not permitted The NTFS partition is in an unsafe state. 
Please resume and shutdown Windows fully (no hibernation or fast restarting), or mount the volume read-only with the 'ro' mount option.

As it goes, this is perhaps the most frustrating risk of dual booting. Fortunately it can be fixed, but it might take a few minutes (depending on how quickly your Windows installation boots). One option is to follow the instructions in the error and boot the device as read only. Or you can simply reboot into Windows, and the files will be accessible again. Follow this with an ordered restart to boot back into Linux, and again, the files are available to use.

4. Windows Update

Updating your OS is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure a robust and secure computer. Unfortunately, it can lead to problems in dual booting scenarios.

Whereas a system update from your Linux distribution of choice should result in few (if any) issues, a Windows Update can prove devastating. Even if it installs successfully, Windows Update can lead to a rewriting of the Master Boot Record (MBR), leaving you with a missing Linux partition. But failed updates, or even simple driver updates, can result in trouble on a dual boot PC. While Linux can be the victim of problems with a standard Windows Update, a failure will more often than not leave you with a copy of Windows that fails to start.

In this situation, it’s time to resort to the tried and tested Windows 10 recovery tools. Although time consuming, if you really need to run Windows, this is the way get it working again. For the best results, ensure that your computer’s boot order defaults to Windows, rather than your Linux OS.

5. Viruses Remain a Risk

Linux is famously virus-proof (even if this isn’t quite the truth). Although Linux-based operating systems are pretty robust, they remain largely untroubled by viruses and other malware thanks to the relatively small userbase. The many Linux operating systems collectively command only a fraction of the operating system market. Clearly, scammers target Windows computers because it’s more efficient for them to get results. However, many websites are attacked or even taken offline due to viruses and malware, and most web servers run on Linux.

If you’re running a dual boot computer, therefore, the likelihood of malware affecting the Linux environment increases.

As such, it is wise to maintain an internet security suite when running Windows. In your Linux operating system, running ClamAV (or an alternative) daily should also put your mind at rest. Don’t just focus on the operating system when scanning for viruses; take the time to scan your personal data files too.

6. Driver Bugs Can Be Exposed

From time to time, some hardware issues can occur when dual booting. These are typically linked to Windows device drivers, however, and are becoming increasingly rare.

Perhaps the most common hardware issue when dual booting comes in the shape of built-in wireless network cards. These switchable devices can end up being disabled in Windows, and therefore unable to initialize in Linux.

Why? Aren’t these operating systems completely independent of each other? Well yes, but the wireless card is hardware, and can be controlled via the system BIOS. In some ways, the disabled Wi-Fi card recalls the issues with a locked partition discussed in #3, above.

The solution is to research support for the wireless card before installing your operating systems. You should also ensure the drivers are up to date on both operating systems.

7. Dual Booting Can Impact Disk Swap Space

In most cases there shouldn’t be too much impact on your hardware from dual booting. One issue you should be aware of, however, is the impact on swap space. Both Linux and Windows use chunks of the hard disk drive to improve performance while the computer is running. However, by installing a second (or third) operating system on the drive, you reduce the amount of space available for this.

The solution here is obvious: don’t install additional operating systems if there is not enough space to do so. If you’re desperate to dual boot on your PC, then you can simply buy a new HDD or SSD. Once installed, you’ll have the space to more operating systems.

As for laptops, you could try what I did: remove the optical drive and replace it with a 3.5-inch HDD or SSD.

Do You Have Dual Booting Issues?

It’s extremely unlikely that you would be impacted by ALL of these risks. However, at least one, perhaps two, are likely to occur at some point. But nothing here should put you off dual booting. Ensuring your system is set up correctly is important, and can help to mitigate or even avoid these issues.