I think this will be a great advance for the Linux community, especially at a time when people are considering Vista, and maybe have heard about Ubuntu but think it’s an either/or choice. Many people are not familiar with things like burning and booting from Linux CDs and partitioning hard drives, and also more and more people are using laptops without much free hard drive space for a normal dual-boot system (like myself).
This post over on the Ubuntu forums describes a project for an Ubuntu installer that runs in Windows. How does it work? You download an exe, run the installer, wait while it uses bittorrent to download the files for installing Ubuntu (this obviously will take a good bit of time). When that is done, it will install the Ubuntu files to your Windows ntfs drive (without overwriting or reformatting what is already there), and install the grub boot loader. The next time you restart, you can choose between Ubuntu or Windows.
Grub will load the Ubuntu image files off your main hard drive. So you will have a full-fledged, full-speed Ubuntu machine. No need to re-partition your hard drive. No need to run Ubuntu from Windows in emulation (using vmware) or run Windows in emulation from Ubuntu (using qemu), which are slower and have other hardware limitations.
The catch is that they only have a prototype of the installer at this point. It has limitations such as installing only to the C:\ drive, no international language support, etc. But I will be trying this out myself when they are further along, because it means I won’t have to guess how many gigabytes to partition for Ubuntu on my laptop, which is already limited in free space as it is. One other catch though, Ubuntu just isn’t compatible with certain machines (like an emachines desktop we also have). If one were to run this installer and find out Ubuntu isn’t booting, hopefully they will make it easy to uninstall.