How to Install and Use Two Operating Systems at the Same Time

Generally, we all tend to have a favorite operating system. This is the one that starts by default when we turn on the computer, and it is usually the one that has all our data, our files and the one that we have configured more to our liking. But sometimes it may happen that we need to depend on a second operating system , or on a specific program for this OS. And this is where things start to get complicated.

No computer, not even Macs, prevents us from installing and using other operating systems, although the process to do so can be more or less complicated. Therefore, if we need to use a second operating system at some point, we will be able to do it in several different ways. We are going to see what these forms are, and which one we should choose based on our needs.

Dual Boot, the best way to install two operating systems

The first of the techniques that we can use to install two (or more) operating systems is Dual Boot . Dual boot is achieved by installing the two operating systems on the same computer, on different partitions or hard drives, and choosing which of the two we want to boot from a boot manager.

Advantages and disadvantages

The main window of resorting to this technique is that the operating system that we choose will have full access to the hardware of our PC. This means that we will get the best possible performance, and we will be able to take full advantage of components such as the GPU. In addition, we can perform this technique regardless of the hardware that our PC has, since the only requirement to be able to do it is to have enough space on the hard disk.

As a drawback to dual boot we must emphasize that we will not be able to have more than one system running at the same time . Also keep in mind that we need to create partitions, or have different hard drives, to install operating systems. In addition, the process can be somewhat complicated and long , since we will have to install the systems one by one, taking care that they do so in their corresponding partitions. The bootloader must recognize the other operating systems installed on the PC, and if it does not, we will have to configure it by hand. In addition, it is also important to note that we can have problems accessing our data, since some systems (such as Windows) cannot read the partitions of others (such as Linux).

And if what we want is to install macOS alongside Windows, we can prepare ourselves to have real headaches.

When to choose it

The most common is to resort to this technique when we need to use two or more operating systems regularly, not simultaneously, and we need all of them to have full access to the PC hardware. If we have a lot of free space on the hard disk, and we do not mind spending time on its configuration and administration, it is undoubtedly the best option.

In other words, dual-booting is the best option when:

  • We are only going to need to use one operating system at a time, we do not want to have two or more booted at the same time.
  • The CPU does not have virtualization functions, we have little RAM or modest hardware.
  • We have several hard drives in the computer and we don’t know what to use them on.
  • We are going to make intensive use of the CPU or the GPU, and we need it to perform at full performance.

Virtual machine, the simple and safe way to install a second OS

A virtual machine is a kind of computer that runs on top of our operating system. To do this, the hypervisor (virtualization software, in other words) simulates virtual hardware and ensures that it functions as an independent computer. We can install whatever we want on it, just as if it were a real operating system.

Windows has its own software, Hyper-V, and we can find specific virtualization programs such as VMware (commercial) and VirtualBox (OpenSource) on which we can install the systems we want.

Pros and cons

The main advantage of using a virtual machine is that its security . We can create all the virtual computers we need, and do whatever we want with them. If something goes wrong, only the virtual machine will be unusable, and our main system or our hard drives are never in danger. Everything that is loaded into a virtual machine is isolated.

We can install and run all kinds of operating systems on virtual machines. It doesn’t matter if it’s the latest Insider version of Windows 10, an experimental Linux distro, macOS, or a 25-year-old version of Windows. Any operating system will work in a virtual machine without problems, since it will be the hypervisor itself that adjusts the hardware to your needs.

The main problem with virtual machines is performance . These systems are loaded on top of our main system, so the first thing we will need is to have powerful hardware, and a lot of RAM, so that both systems work at the same time. And we can forget about performing tasks that require 3D acceleration or heavy CPU usage, since everything is limited. An SSD is also recommended to avoid serious bottlenecks.

When to use them

Virtual machines are an excellent option for those users who do not want complications. We can create, use and delete virtual machines as if they were files stored on the PC, so we do not need additional hard drives or partitions.

If we need to have two or more systems running at the same time, establish communication between them and be able to copy files from the host to the guest, then this is the easiest way to achieve it. In addition, if we are going to try to execute files downloaded from the Internet, which may be dangerous or contain malware, this technique gives us an extra layer of protection.

In other words:

  • We have powerful hardware.
  • We need two or more operating systems to work at the same time.
  • We seek a safe environment.
  • We don’t mind losing performance.

Operating system emulators

There is a middle ground between the two previous techniques: emulators. An emulator is a technique by which we can load an operating system without having to install it on a partition or resort to advanced virtualization techniques.

We could also include in the WSL section, the Windows subsystem for Linux which, although it is based on Hyper-V, does not use a hypervisor such as VMware or VirtualBox.

Advantages and weaknesses

The main advantage of emulators for other operating systems is that they are very easy to use . Either installing a program, or simply visiting a web page, we will be able to load and use a complete operating system without depending on virtualization and without having to install another complete OS on our PC.

However, the limitations of this type of virtualized systems are very great. Generally we usually find emulators for terminal systems (such as MS-DOS), or for very old versions of Windows or Linux. It’s great for testing, but not much else.

When to emulate an OS

The truth is that, given the limitations of this technique, it is not recommended to use it very often. We can resort to emulation, either with a program (such as DosBOX) or from the browser when we want to do quick tests of a system, but little else. It is not the best technique if we are going to use a second system very often.

These types of emulators are widely used, for example, when we want to play retro games with DosBox. Or if we need to recover a document created with a very old program. But little else.

Namely:

  • When we want to use an old operating system.
  • To run retro games and programs.
  • We don’t want the complications of virtualizing or a Dual Boot.

“Live” operating system

Another way to use two operating systems on the same PC is to use a “Live” operating system . This technique is very similar to that of the Dual Boot, since it only allows us to load only one system at the same time, but it is not necessary to install it on a hard disk, since it will be executed from RAM.

Advantages and disadvantages of a Live-OS

A Live operating system is loaded into the computer’s RAM memory from a USB stick. Its main window is that, once loaded, it behaves the same as any other operating system, that is, it is fully functional and has access to all the computer hardware; it will work the same as if it were installed on the PC. The hardware requirements are the same as if we were to install the system on the PC, and we will not need to have space on the hard disk. In addition, when you turn off the computer, this system disappears without a trace, although this can also be considered a drawback, depending on the situation.

The main problem with this technique is that not all systems are compatible with it . It will generally be available for Linux systems, leaving Windows and, above all, macOS, without the possibility of loading from RAM.

When to use it

These types of operating systems are ideal when we need to use a second OS, but we are only going to use it once or twice, a very sporadic use. When loaded into RAM, it has full access to the hardware of our computer, so it will work the same as if it were installed. But when we turn off the computer, everything will be erased, and the next time we start the Live system we will have to configure it from scratch.

If we need to use a program or a tool from an operating system, it may be a good option. In addition, we can also resort to Live operating systems when we want to test an operating system without having to install it.

That is, this is the best option when:

  • We want to test how an operating system works without installing it.
  • We don’t want to partition.
  • We want to always carry a system on a USB.

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