“Linux rocks!” “No, it’s lame–stick with Windows!” Visit any Web site or online forum where impassioned computer users debate the relative merits of operating systems, and you’ll find endless disagreement. The only way to determine which operating system fits your needs is to run both on the same PC, configured for dual-booting. You also need to be able to access your data files from either OS, which is the trickiest part of the process.
Creating a dual-boot setup on a Windows machine is as easy as selecting that option when you install Ubuntu. As you switch between the two operating systems in your day-to-day work, you’ll be able to assess for yourself the killer features, incompatibilities, and showstopping flaws that make one a better choice than the other.
On a dual-boot system, Linux and Windows reside on separate disk partitions, each of which is formatted differently. Even though the file systems are incompatible, most recent versions of Linux can at least read files on Windows XP’s NTFS partitions, though this may not be enabled by default. Few Linux distributions can write files to an NTFS partition right out of the box, and the reliability of this function hasn’t yet been proven, so trust it at your data’s peril. In addition, the software required to write files from Linux to NTFS drives is difficult to download and install.
Windows, conversely, lacks the native ability to read and write files on any of the several Linux file systems. The nifty and free Ext2 Installable File System for Windows permits Windows XP to read and write in the Ext2 and Ext3 file systems many Linux distributions use (it doesn’t work with the ReiserFS file system, however). While this is handy, especially if you spend most of your time using Linux and you keep your files there, I recommend another option: creating a separate partition for your data that uses the older FAT32 file system, which both Linux and Windows XP can read from and write to. In fact, FAT32 has been included with every version of Windows since 95’s Service Release 2.
FAT32 lacks the user-access security features of Linux’s Ext2/3 and Windows’ NTFS, but creating a separate FAT32 partition for your data allows you to install or upgrade your operating systems without having to back up or restore your data files. It also lets you read and write that data with minimal add-on downloading and configuration. If you need some assistance in resizing your existing partitions to create a new FAT32 partition, look no further than the free Partition Logic utility.