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How to Set Up Linux and Linux Apps on a Windows PC

If you’re a tech enthusiast like us, you must have used some form of Linux on your PC before. And why not; it’s open source, it offers a lot of customization options, and these days it also lets you run just about any Windows application on it. But do you know that the reverse is also true?

With a few modifications, you can now install and use all your Linux applications on Windows with ease. If you want to install and run Linux applications on Windows, then you have come to the right place. So let’s learn all the methods one by one.

1. Virtual machines

Virtual machines have been around for a long time—since 1999, to be exact, when VMware first introduced the concept of virtualization. They’ve evolved a few times over the years, but the core purpose remains the same: to help you run a specific operating system on top of a “host computer” that’s running another OS.

Windows has several options for choosing a virtual machine. VirtualBox, VMware, and Bootcamp are some of the free options you can try. And then there are Parallels, Bluestacks, etc., also on the private side.

If this is your first time experimenting with virtual machines, we suggest you use a free and open source option like VirtualBox. After installing VirtualBox, you need to mount the Linux ISO; from there you can run your Linux (and your Linux applications) on VirtualBox.

Step 1: Install VirtualBox

The first step is to install VirtualBox on Windows. Go to the official VirtualBox website and download the official Windows app from there. Run the installation and complete the installation of VirtualBox.

Step 2: Download and Install the Linux ISO

Now download the Linux ISO image, which will come in handy when installing the Linux operating system on top of VirtualBox. Go to the official Linux website and download the ISO file from there. In this case, we will choose the Ubuntu distribution.

Step 3: Install Linux on VirtualBox

Now it’s time to install Linux on VirtualBox. Here’s how:

  1. Launch VirtualBox and select New.
  2. Choose a suitable name for your OS and select the Ubuntu ISO you just downloaded from above. Then click “Next”.
  3. Set a username and password and click Next.
  4. Assign an appropriate name to the virtual operating system.
  5. In the next dialog box, select “Create a virtual hard disk now” and click “Next”. Finally, click Finish.

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From here, VirtualBox will power on the Ubuntu virtual machine on its own, and after a few seconds, you will also see the Ubuntu interface. After a couple of minutes, it will also complete the Ubuntu installation on its own.

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Note. If VirtualBox doesn’t automatically boot the Linux ISO, try the manual method; click on the folder, select the file manually and click start. Finally, the Linux installation will start. From here, select your language and click “Install Ubuntu” to begin the first part of the installation.

Again, follow the on-screen instructions from here; it’s pretty simple. When prompted, set up an account and click Continue to complete the installation. Ubuntu will be installed on your VirtualBox in a few seconds.

Now that Ubuntu is installed, you can run all Linux applications on Windows directly through VirtualBox.

2. Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2)

Using a virtual machine to run Linux is great, but it’s not that easy and it takes a lot of effort to get started. This is where the Windows Subsystem for Linux or WSL can help. WSL is a Windows feature that helps you run a Linux environment on Windows without the help of a virtual machine like VirtualBox.

We have a detailed guide that shows you how to download and set up WSL2 on your computer. Follow the instructions in the guide and you’ll be using WSL (and Linux applications with it) in no time.

3. Cygwin

Cygwin is an open source tool that offers a UNIX/Linux-like shell for running Linux tools in a Windows environment. To get started, you first need to download the Cygwin application. To get started, follow these steps:

  • Download the Cygwin installer from the official website.
  • When launching the Cygwin application, select the “Install from the Internet” option and click “Next”.
  • Specify the installation location and click Next.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions from here, and when you get to select a download mirror, select any mirror and click Next.
  • The mirror will now download some packages. Select the default option and click Next to continue.

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Once the installation is complete, you can launch the Cygwin terminal from your desktop. The default folder for the terminal is C:Cygwinhome. So first, we suggest that you move it to the /cygdrive/c directory so that you can run various Linux commands.

Before we continue, in order for Cygwin to work on Windows, you need to add it to your Windows environment variable so that you can run Cygwin directly from the Windows command line. Start by opening the system properties. Then press Win+Pause/Break or right-click the computer and select properties.

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From there, click “Advanced system settings” to open the system properties window. Now click the “Environment Variables” button at the bottom. Find the path and click Edit.

At the end of the variable value, add Cygwin to your trash location. Here’s how:


Copy the address above and paste it at the end of the Path variable, then click OK when you’re done.

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That’s all. You can now run Linux applications directly from the Cygwin application. Start Cygwin and start typing Ubuntu commands from now on. For example, below we used the pwd command, which basically prints the path to the working directory from the root.

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From here, you can do just about anything; only creativity is the limit. Here is a list of basic Linux tools or commands to help you get started.

Running Linux Applications on Your Windows Computer

You don’t have to switch to Linux every time you want to use a handy tool from its large repository. With the methods we have outlined above, you can run almost any Linux tool right from your Windows computer.

While running Linux applications on your Windows will no doubt require a lot of complicated steps, using them will become second nature after a while. In fact, this is also true for the reverse case; by this we mean when you want to run Windows applications on your Linux.

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