How to install and run Microsoft Windows for free on Linux

There are many circumstances where you wish to run Windows applications on Linux. Microsoft Windows has been a dominant operating system (OS) for more than a decade, and there are quite a lot of applications developed in the Windows ecosystem. It's not surprising that some Windows applications that you wish to run, but are missing on Linux platforms.

There are several open-source or commercial software tools, such as Wine, PlayOnLinux or CrossOver, which allow you to run Windows applications on Linux platforms. However, these tools are not very reliable solutions as they are based on "reverse-engineering" Windows APIs. Users can still encounter various application-specific compatibility issues with them.

A more reliable approach to running native Windows applications on Linux platform is to use a Windows virtual machine (VM). One problem of this approach is that we need to purchase a Windows license to install Windows OS on a VM.

The good news is that Microsoft recently made a set of Windows VMs publicly available for free! Microsoft decided to offer free Windows VMs to support development and testing for different versions of Internet Explorer.

In this tutorial, I will describe how to install and run Microsoft Windows on Linux, by using free Windows VMs.

The first step is to install Oracle VirtualBox on your Linux system. If you already installed VirtualBox, make sure to upgrade VirtualBox to the latest version (4.2.16 or higher).

Next, go to http://www.modern.ie/en-us/virtualization-tools#downloads to download a Windows VM. Choose "Linux" as testing OS, and "VirtualBox" as virtualization platform. Then, select one of available Windows VMs to download. Currently Microsoft offers the following Windows VMs for downloads.

  • Windows XP Professional SP3 + IE 6 or 8
  • Windows Vista + IE 7
  • Windows 7 + IE 8, 9, 10 or 11
  • Windows 8 + IE 11
  • Windows 8.1 Preview + IE 11

In this tutorial, I download a VM with "Windows XP + IE 8".

The downloaded Windows VM is packed inside a self-extracting RAR archive. To unpack Windows VM from the archive, run this:

$ chmod 755 IE8.WinXP.For.LinuxVirtualBox.sfx
$ ./IE8.WinXP.For.LinuxVirtualBox.sfx

It will generate an OVA file for Windows VM.

Now launch VirtualBox, and choose "Import Appliance" from its GUI menu. Go ahead and import the OVA file in VirtualBox.

By default, the imported Windows VM has its network adapter not attached to any network. So, open up network settings of the WinXP VM, and make the network adapter attached to bridged network.

Finally, power on the Windows VM. You will see the familiar-looking Windows booting procedure.

The Windows VM has a set of basic Windows utilities installed, as well as VirtualBox Guest Additions for Windows.

Here are several important pieces of information about free Windows VMs. As you can see, the free Windows VMs are for evaluation purposes, and are not supposed to be used for any production system.

  • You may use the free Windows VM for testing purposes only, but not for commercial purposes.
  • You can use the free Windows VM only for 90 days after it is installed. After 90 days, the Windows VM will stop running, and you will not be able to access data used in the VM.
  • Windows 8.1 Preview version expires on 1/15/2014.
  • Login information for Windows Vista, 7 and 8 VMs: IEUser, Passw0rd!

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Dan Nanni is the founder and also a regular contributor of Xmodulo.com. He is a Linux/FOSS enthusiast who loves to get his hands dirty with his Linux box. He likes to procrastinate when he is supposed to be busy and productive. When he is otherwise free, he likes to watch movies and shop for the coolest gadgets.
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9 thoughts on “How to install and run Microsoft Windows for free on Linux

  1. Great article and just in time! Why did you decide on Win XP since it is end of life and no new apps are being produced for it? I'm sure there is a reason, but I would like to know in case it affects me as well.

    Thanks,
    Dave

    • All I wanted was to run some Windows app on Linux. So for me, WinXP is more than enough, and there is no reason to download much bigger Vista/7/8 images. :p

  2. If you read the terms of use, the VMs will stop working after 90 days, and it says you may lose access to any data in the VMs. It does not say how that might happen.

    Just so you know.

  3. I think the articles title is misleading when it transpires that you can only use these VMs for 90 days.

    • Once you have installed all the additional apps you want on your vm, make sure the work you do with your vm is saved to your host by installing a shared folder in the vm's settings. Now clone it using virtualbox's export appliance facility. When your vm expires; clone your original, exported clone to a new vm and your 90 days will start over. Make sure you preserve your original exported clone by cloning it and installing the secondary one, not the original, so it can be recloned whenever necessary.

  4. Can you install other software in these VMs? I am interested about other browsers in particular. Firefox, Chrome, etc.

  5. Thanks for this article. There are some things that still have to be done with Win, such as check out library books in my area. This is a good way to do that without having to pay for the privilege.

    I have good news for those who might want to extend the use of their Win VM beyond 90 days. An article in PCLinuxOS Magazine tells how to do that as recommended in a linked MS pdf.
    PCLinuxOS Magazine - Page 15
    http://pclosmag.com/html/Issues/201309/page15.html

    I haven't made use of this information yet but am planning to.

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