Using Wubi To Transition From Windows XP To Lubuntu Linux
My church and I have been satisfied Windows XP users for more than a decade. But now that Microsoft has dropped all support for that venerable operating system, we’ve made the decision to migrate from WinXP to Lubuntu. (See “Why Lubuntu?” below).
However, because an immediate changeover would cause operational confusion to our not very tech savvy volunteer staff, we need the migration to be gradual. So, for the time being, we want to be able to dual-boot both WinXP and Lubuntu, so that when starting up the computer, a user can choose which operating system to use.
The quickest and easiest way I've found to allow WinXP and Lubuntu to coexist while the transition is under way is by using Wubi to install Lubuntu alongside Windows. A major added advantage is that with Wubi you can uninstall and start over (or just go back to using Windows) very easily.
What is Wubi?
“Wubi” is an acronym that stands for Windows Ubuntu Installer. It’s a Windows application designed to make it as easy as possible to install any of the members of the Ubuntu family on computers running Windows.
NOTE: The discussion below applies equally to Ubuntu and all its derivatives, such as Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. For the sake of brevity, from this point I’ll speak only of Lubuntu.
How Wubi Works
Wubi installs Lubuntu into a Windows folder. That folder can be on any drive in the computer, but for this discussion we'll assume the c: drive is used.
The folder into which Lubuntu is installed is c:\Ubuntu\. One of the files in that folder, c:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk, is seen by Lubuntu as its hard disk.
When the computer is booted to Lubuntu, it actually runs in native Linux mode, and not in some kind of virtual environment under Windows. The only difference between a Wubi installation of Lubuntu and a direct installation is that under Wubi, what Lubuntu thinks is a hard disk is really just a Windows file.
Other than setting up the c:\Ubuntu\ folder, the only change Wubi makes to Windows is to modify the machine’s boot loader so that the user is given a choice of whether to boot to Windows or Lubuntu.
The Wubi Advantage
The great advantage of Wubi is that the install process is just a normal Windows app, and is much simpler and more user-friendly than what a native installation of a Linux operating system (OS) requires.
For example, the normal installation process for Ubuntu and its derivatives involves downloading an ISO file of the installation disk and burning a disk image to DVD. The computer must then be booted from this DVD. Alternatively, you can install the ISO on a USB memory stick using a USB installer app, and then boot the computer from USB. Once the machine is booted to Lubuntu from the DVD or USB stick, a process to actually install the OS on the disk can be initiated. The installation process involves several user-interactive steps, including partitioning the disk (for a dual boot installation), and requires hours to complete.
This rather lengthy and (for Windows refugees like myself) complicated process is the one officially favored by the Ubuntu community.
One major complication for those transitioning from Windows is that the entire installation process takes place under Linux rather than Windows, adding a significant “strangeness” factor.
On the other hand, with Wubi, installation consists of running a single Windows program and making a couple of menu selections, as we’ll see below. The installation app does the rest.
Wubi Makes Installing Lubuntu Quick and Easy
I’ve done native installations (both from DVD and from USB) and Wubi installations of Lubuntu 12.04. Doing the native install required a lot of time spent in online research to understand the steps I needed to take, and then much more time re-doing it a couple of times because of mistakes I made. Even when you know what you’re doing (which at first, I didn’t), the process literally takes hours.
How I rate WUBI as a Windows installer for Lubuntu
In contrast, the Wubi installation was simple and straightforward, and was completed in less than an hour.
So minimizing the time and complexity involved in doing a Lubuntu install is a major advantage of Wubi.
Wubi Is Quick and Easy to Uninstall!
For me the most important advantage of using Wubi is that it can be undone literally at the click of a mouse. With a native dual boot installation, the hard disk must be partitioned between Windows and Lubuntu. If you should later decide to remove the Lubuntu installation, recovering the partition allocated to it so that Windows can again use that space is not at all straightforward.
But Wubi can be uninstalled like any other Windows program, and the disk space it used is automatically released back to Windows.
Does a Wubi Install Work as Well as a Native Install?
Wubi is not an emulator or virtual machine. Once installed by Wubi, Lubuntu runs in its native mode. The only potential for slowing down the process is the fact that Lubuntu, a Linux OS, must interact with the NTFS file system used by Windows. As long as your disk is not excessively fragmented, there should be little impact. So, it would make sense to defragment the disk on which Lubuntu will be installed prior to installing it.
To test whether a Wubi installation would be operate more slowly than a native one, I compared machines on which Lubuntu had been installed using both methods. I had two identical Dell Latitude D600 laptops, and used Lubuntu’s built-in Hardinfo benchmarking tool to compare the two. Here are the results:
Interestingly, Wubi/Lubuntu actually out-performed the native installation on all but the FPU Raytracing test.
Installing Lubuntu with Wubi
Let’s take a quick look at how easy it is to install Lubutu with Wubi.
1. Download and run wubi.exe
The wubi.exe appropriate for Lubuntu 12.04, which is the version I was installing, can be downloaded here.
After downloading wubi.exe, run it as you would any other Windows app.
2. Choose your desired setup options
Video Example of a Wubi Install
- Select your desired installation drive and size. The program suggests an installation size based on the amount of free disk space you have, but you can change it to insure you have enough space for both your Windows and Lubuntu activities. You must have a minimum of 5 GB of free space for Lubuntu to be installed.
- Double check the Desktop Environment dropdown menu, and insure that Lubuntu (rather than another flavor of Ubuntu) is selected.
- Enter your username and password, then click Install.
- If you get a Windows Security Alert concerning pyrun, click the Unblock button.
From this point wubi.exe will download all needed files, and install an option to boot to Lubuntu or Windows. It will then automatically reboot the computer.
For me, this step took about 15 minutes.
3. When the computer reboots, select Lubuntu as the boot option.
Once rebooted, installation of the operating system files will commence. This happens automatically, and requires no interaction on your part. In my experience this took about 25 minutes.
When this step completes, the system will auto-boot one more time. When the reboot starts, again choose Lubuntu, enter your password, and you should be up and running!
4. Install any pending updates to the OS.
In my installation, soon after Lubuntu started running the Update Manager appeared. It’s good practice to immediately download all the updates it suggests so that your Lubuntu installation is fully up to date.
That’s it! You should now have a real, functioning Lubuntu implementation that you can play around with and get to know. And you don’t have to worry about making mistakes and messing anything up. During this “try it out” phase, if things go wrong, you can always just reinstall and start over.
One of the greatest things about a Wubi installation of Lubuntu (or any of the Ubuntu family) is the ease with which it can be uninstalled, and your computer returned to a state just as if Lubuntu had never been on it.
Under Wubi, you can uninstall Lubuntu in exactly the same way you would any other Windows program:
First, go to the Control Panel (Start button → Control Panel), then double-click on the “Add or Remove Programs” icon. Once the list of installed programs is populated, scroll down to the Lubuntu entry, and click Remove.
That’s it! On my laptop, uninstalling is extremely quick – no more than a second or two.
Backing up Your Wubi/Lubuntu Installation
Your entire Wubi/Lubuntu installation can be easily backed up. Simply copy the c:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk file to your backup media. To Lubuntu that file is your entire disk, so all your files are there.
Be careful to always shut down the computer properly!
If you do what’s called a “hard reboot” (where you just power down the computer instead of allowing Windows or Lubuntu to shut it down), you may damage the file system to the point that Lubuntu won’t be able to boot.
If this happens, it can usually be fixed simply by booting to Windows, and allowing it to use its own tools to repair the damage. Then you can reboot to Lubuntu.
Transitioning From Wubi to a Native Installation
Once you’ve gotten familiar with Lubuntu, and you’re sure you’re ready to install it permanently, it makes sense to transition to a native (non-Windows) installation. Instructions for doing so can be found in this Migrate Wubi guide.
A Note About Wubi's Future
Wubi is officially supported for Windows XP, Vista and 7. However, because of new security features Microsoft added in Windows 8, Wubi does not work with that operating system.
This fact has put something of a cloud over Wubi’s future. It remains supported with the newest Unbuntu release (14.04), but the developers have made the new version difficult to find and download. It's obvious that some in the Ubuntu community would like to phase Wubi out. But members of the Wubi development team are working hard to overcome the Windows 8 problem.
But for those wishing to transition from Windows XP to any member of the Ubuntu family, Wubi remains a viable, and even (in my opinion) ideal option. Even if it is never supported on the newest Windows versions, that won’t affect its viability as an excellent migration path from Windows XP.
Lubuntu is a particular flavor of Ubuntu, which is a descendant of Linux.
For users migrating from Windows, Lubuntu offers several advantages:
- Linux is inherently more secure than Windows. So, Lubuntu, as a Linux descendant, is less vulnerable to hackers than is WinXP.
- The entire Ubuntu family is open source and entirely free. Plus, it is widely used, stable, and well supported.
- Lubuntu is specifically designed to run on older computers with less memory and fewer hardware resources.
- Most critically, Lubuntu has much of the “look and feel” of WinXP. Users migrating from a Windows environment will probably be more comfortable with Lubuntu than with any other flavor of Linux.
For a more complete explanation, see Why Lubuntu Is A Good Alternative To Replace Windows XP.
You can see my church’s plan for continuing to use Windows XP while transitioning to Lubuntu with my article on How To Safely Use Windows XP After Microsoft Ends Support
© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin
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