How To Try Out Linux Distributions Using VirtualBox

If you have been considering installing Linux on your laptop but are a little nervous, there are ways to go about it, without tamping with your Windows installation. If you have been following our series on Linux, and want to know why you should installit and how to pick a good Linux distribution, you’re at the right place. Installing Linux has never been simpler, and you can now try out the entire installation process, using a free software called VirtualBox. It can be used to try out any operating system, even Windows or FreeBSD and others. VirtualBox is available for free, for Windows, Linux and Mac OS.

VirtualBox lets you create virtual machines, that behave like any other physical computer. You can assign storage, memory, networking resources, even graphics performance to it. The idea is that you boot off an installation disc for any operating system, then install it and run a complete operating system within the virtual machine. It’s hard to go wrong. Let’s get started.

Download and install VirtualBox

First, download and install VirtualBox from the official web site. If your processor supports virtualization, you can turn it on from your laptop or PC’s BIOS. The BIOS can be access when the laptop first boots, by pressing the F1, F2 or Del key, in most cases. The Virtualization Technology option should be available under the System settings. It may differ from one machine to another, and you might need to search a little bit. This can help a bit with the performance, but it may not necessary.

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Download the Linux distribution of your choice

The idea behind this exercise is to try out Linux distributions before we dedicate a part of our laptop or PC resources to it. At this point, you can download a bunch of Linux distributions from their web sites. Some you could try would be Ubuntu, Fedora, Manjaro, among others. Most of them have a Live CD feature that lets you use the operating system even before installing it. In our case, we can use VirtualBox to go through the entire installation process, without making any changes to the actual drive.

Creating the virtual machine

Creating the virtual machine is simple. Simply click the New button on the VirtualBox toolbar. You will be asked to name your virtual machine and choose the kind of operating system you are installing. We’ll select Linux.

You will be asked to assign some memory to your virtual machine. If you are only trying out Linux, it’s recommended to choose at least 2GB (2048) of RAM. The next step will ask you to assign disk space to the virtual machine. Similarly, choose a decent size. You can click the ‘Create a virtual hard disk now’ option, then choose the ‘VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) option in the next step. You can choose ‘Fixed image’ if you want to allot some space for the virtual machine, or you can choose ‘Dynamically allocated’ if you want the disk size to increase as you install more software on your Linux distribution running in the virtual machine.

Most modern Linux distributions use anywhere between 8 to 15 GB of space. You can choose where the virtual hard disk is stored. When you have completed these steps, the virtual machine will be created.

Starting the virtual machine

Virtual machines can be started by clicking them, then on the Start button at the top menu. VirtualBox lets you create many more virtual machines in the same manner. You may be able to run a few of them simultaneously depending on how fast your machine is. Choose the virtual machine you just created and click Start.

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Choosing the installation disc image

VirtualBox lets you install operating systems using disc images, and you can even install OS’ from a DVD or USB if needed. In our case, we will choose to install the Linux distribution of our choice from the disc image.
This step will appear when we start our newly created virtual machine. You will be prompted to choose a start-up disk. Click the button to the right, then the Add button to choose the Linux installation image we downloaded earlier. Choose the image and click Start. Your virtual machine should first boot.

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The virtual machine window will take focus after this point and all key and mouse clicks will occur within the virtual machine. At any point want to step out of it, to your regular desktop, tap the right Ctrl button on the keyboard.
Hereon, you can use the Live CD feature of some of the distributions we suggested earlier, but you can also go ahead with the installation without worry about affecting your Windows installation.

You can now use VirtualBox to spawn several virtual machines, each running the different distributions you want to use. It is also a good way to learn how to install Linux. However, performance in VirtualBox isn’t great and isn’t representative of how Linux may run if install directly on your laptop. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of how Linux runs and you can be more confident in installing in on the bare metal laptop soon.

We will also talk about some interesting Linux distributions in our future articles and how to install them. In the meantime, you will be able to try out some of the Linux distributions that you are curious. If you want to learn more about Linux and other cool technologies, keep visiting us here on

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