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Linux is an operating system that’s open-source built on the Linux kernel. It is free to download and can work on Mac or Windows.

Linux applications may be desirable for Windows users as well. Whether searching for strong command-line tools or an improved development platform, you can use Linux within Windows OS. There are several methods of achieving this, including virtual machines, WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux), and Cygwin.

Below is a detailed guide on running Linux on Windows without acquiring a new computer or laptop.

Method 1: Virtual Machine

The simplest and most effective way to run Linux applications on Windows is through a virtual machine. Here are the steps for installing and setting up a virtual machine with Linux OS.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
The simplest and most effective way to run Linux applications on Windows is through a virtual machine.

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Step 1: Download Virtual Machine

Virtual machines enable you to use any operating system. Open your computer’s web browser, then search and download the Virtual machine you prefer using (VMware or Oracle). In this example, we will use VMware.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Virtual machines enable you to use any operating system.

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Step 2: Download Linux Distribution

Download the ISO file for a Linux distribution. Ubuntu is a popular choice that works well. Search Ubuntu on your browser and download the latest version.

Install the Linux distribution in the virtual machine like a regular computer.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Install the Linux distribution in the virtual machine like a regular computer.

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Step 3: Install the Operating System

Launch the VMware workstation, then click “Create new Virtual Machine.” Select Installer disc image file” Image Option, then select the ISO file for the downloaded Linux operating system. 

Step 4: Specify Disk Capacity

Specify how large you would like the disk capacity of your virtual machine to be. 

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Specify how large you would like the disk capacity of your virtual machine to be. 

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Step 5: Boot the Operating System

Name the virtual machine, start the virtual computer to boot the operating system, and then proceed to the final steps of installation. After installation, you can use the virtual machine to run any Linux GUI applications.

Now you can use any Linux application on the virtual computer environment.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Name the virtual machine, start the virtual computer to boot the operating system, and then proceed to the final steps of installation.

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Method 2: WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux)

WSL is a Windows feature that allows you to operate the Linux File System directly on Windows. It’s fully compatible with Windows tools. WSL is primarily intended for command-line tools, making it unsuitable for graphic-intensive programs.

Below are the steps to run Linux using WSL.

Step 1: Enable Windows Subsystem for Linux from Features

Search for Windows Features on the taskbar and tick Windows Subsystem for Linux.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Enable Windows Subsystem for Linux from Features

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Step 2: Restart your Computer

Once your modifications have taken effect, restart your computer by clicking the Restart now option.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Restart your Computer

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Step 3: Open Microsoft Store 

Click the Windows button on your taskbar, then click Microsoft store and select your preferred Linux distribution.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Open Microsoft Store

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Step 4: Search for Linux Distribution

Type Linux in the search bar to see available options.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Search for Linux Distribution

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Step 5: Install Linux Distribution

Click the Linux distribution you would like to install. In this example, we will use Ubuntu.

Click Get to install Ubuntu on your computer

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Click the Linux distribution you would like to install. In this example, we will use Ubuntu.

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Step 6: Complete the Installation

Wait for Windows to finish downloading and installing Ubuntu.

After installation is complete, click Launch.

Create a new Linux username and password. That’s it! You are currently on the Linux command line.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
After installation is complete, click Launch.

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Method 3: Cygwin

PowerShell has greatly improved the Windows command-line tools, but Linux has had a more practical terminal for a long time. Here’s how to use Cygwin, a ‘nix-style terminal for Windows PCs, to get the best of both worlds.

The setup tool doesn’t install all the packages when installing Cygwin for the first time. By default, just the 100 MB-plus minimal basic packages from Cygwin distribution get installed.

Step 1: Install Cygwin

Download the normal setup.exe from here then proceed with installation.

Click Next to continue with Setup

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Install Cygwin

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Step 2: Choose the Installation Type

Choose if you want to download Cygwin from the internet or install it from your computer.

Click your preferred choice and click Next

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Choose the Installation Type

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Step 3: Choose Installation Directory

By default, the system will install Cygwin in C. If you’d prefer not to have programs installed on your C drive, you can change the install path or create a symbolic link from C: Cygwin to your program files.

Choose where you’d like to install Cygwin 

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Choose Installation Directory

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Step 4: Choose the Local Directory

Select the package directory where you will download the installation files.

Browse to select Local Package Directory and click Next

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Choose the Local Directory

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Step 5: Choose Download Site

Continue to the Download mirror selection. Unfortunately, the installer doesn’t specify where the mirrors are, so you’re usually better off assuming which mirror will work.

Pick any of the available Download Sites

After choosing a mirror, the installer downloads a list of the available packages for you to install. You can also search for a certain package to filter the results. Click Next and wait for a few minutes to complete the installation. 

A Cygwin icon will appear on your desktop after the installation, which you can click to access the Cygwin terminal. 

To function in your standard Windows command prompt, you must include Cygwin in your Windows Environment Variables. 

Follow these steps to add Cygwin to your Windows Environment Variables.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Choose Download Site

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Step 1: Go to Advanced Settings

On your computer’s taskbar, search for Advanced Settings.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Go to Advanced Settings

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Step 2: Click Environment variables

Clicking Environment variables will take you to edit the variables.

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Click Environment variables

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Step 3: Edit the Variables

Locate the Environment Variable and click Edit

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Locate the Environment Variable and click Edit

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Add the Cygwin bin location as shown below at the end of the variable value option.

;C:\Cygwin\bin

Remember to separate it from other values with a semicolon. Click OK to close the window. 

Now you can open the command prompt and enter Linux commands. 

How Can You Run Linux on Windows
Add the Cygwin bin location as shown below at the end of the variable value option.

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Ported Programs

Popular Linux apps have been ported to Windows, and their compiled versions are accessible online. There’s a strong possibility you’ll find a version of the application that has been transferred to Windows if you Google the name of the program and “Windows” to run it on Windows.

Final Thoughts

The options above are all good, depending on your needs. Users of a few essential shell utilities might choose Cygwin, while those who want the complete Linux experience might opt for a virtual machine. Others who only wish to run a specific program could decide to use a Windows-compatible version of that program.

Up Next

How Can You Run Linux on Windows? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is it possible to run Ubuntu on Windows 11?

Yes, Windows 11 works well with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS through WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux). The Windows Subsystem for Linux enables programmers to run a GNU/Linux environment directly on Windows 11 without the complexity of a conventional virtual machine or dual boot configuration.

Does Linux affect the performance of your computer?

In most circumstances, dual-booting Linux and Windows shouldn’t significantly influence your computer. However, you should be cautious of the effect on swap space. Windows and Linux use portions of the hard drive to boost the computer’s performance while running.

Can I set my computer to dual-boot Linux and Windows?

You can dual-boot Windows and Linux, but you must partition your primary hard drive to create space for it.

What’s the difference between WSL 1 and WSL 2?

WSL 2 is more advanced as it uses the actual Linux kernel and not the translation layers used by WSL 1. This makes the performance better.

Why do many developers prefer Linux to Windows?

Because it enables them to work more productively and rapidly, developers and programmers get the room to be creative when they use Linux. The fact that Linux is open-source and free to use is a huge benefit.

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