GNU/Linux & your business

GNU/Linux & your business: preserving Windows XP using GNU/Linux

Did you know that GNU/Linux can save you both time and money?

GNU/Linux is a computer operating system that joins the most popular group of operating systems like Android, iOS and Windows.

Many businesses are resisting the move to Windows 8 and are continuing to rely on Windows XP or Windows 7 for a variety of reasons. For many, the newest user interface departs too widely from decades of established desktop design and behaviour.

If you stay with Windows XP, though, you are working with a vulnerable system as XP is no longer supported. But even if you have in-house, specialised or older software that only operates in Windows XP, you have some options.

Even if you have in-house, specialised or older software that only operates in Windows XP, you have some options.

Continuing with Windows XP

There are three core methodologies for achieving this.

Your key is Ubuntu – It’s the most popular free GNU/Linux distribution that can make sure your Windows XP is secure. Ubuntu provides a protective shell around Windows XP – it is entirely possible to continue to run business-critical software under Windows XP in complete safety.

Your three options are:

  • dual-boot your PC into either Windows XP or Ubuntu
  • run Windows applications directly in Ubuntu using the Wine compatibility layer
  • use virtualisation software to run an entire Windows XP virtual machine

The key to keeping Windows XP safe is to keep it isolated from the internet.


When you first install Ubuntu, you can choose to run Ubuntu alongside Windows in a dual booting arrangement. Your existing Windows XP installation is left intact and Ubuntu is installed into separate space on your hard disk. From then onwards, every time you start your PC you can choose whether to use Windows or Ubuntu.

To use your Windows applications, use Windows XP with the local area network (LAN) interface permanently disabled. For web browsing, email and LAN access use Ubuntu.

You can safely share files – including those on the Windows XP disk partition – over the LAN from within Ubuntu.

The only hassle with this arrangement is that you need to reboot your PC every time you want to swap between running your Windows applications and accessing the internet.

Using the Wine compatibility layer

Windows XP is not required at all in this case. You can install Windows software, such as Microsoft Office 2003, directly into Ubuntu using the Wine Windows compatibility layer. Wine allows applications for Windows to run on other operating systems.

It is usually very simple – insert the Microsoft Office installation CD/DVD, right-click on the setup.exe and open it using Wine.

After the installation your Windows applications will operate as if they were running under Windows.

Using virtualisation software

Ubuntu is the only operating system installed on the computer in this case. From within Ubuntu, you can operate virtual machines using VirtualBox. Virtual machines act like operating systems and VirtualBox allows them to run smoothly.

You must initially install Windows XP into a virtual machine and then launch that virtual machine to get a working copy of Windows XP. You can then install Microsoft Office into that virtual machine and run your Windows applications as usual.

This is possibly the best solution, as you have a complete genuine copy of Windows XP operating inside Ubuntu. You can – and must – disable the Windows XP network interface in Ubuntu, and yet you can still share data files from the virtual XP machine over the LAN. Again, web browsing and email are performed in Ubuntu.

The best thing about using virtualisation is that the entire Windows XP machine, with all its installed applications and data files, exists as a single file in Ubuntu. You only have to backup one – albeit large – file in order to have a back-up copy of your working Windows XP machine.

Ron Zenkis