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I'm interested to know if QGIS 3 can be installed and run side-by-side with a QGIS 2.x installation on windows?

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Short answer

Yes

Slightly longer answer

The two applications save all their settings in different places and when they use different versions of the same library, these library versions can safely be installed side-by-side.

It is encouraged and recommended to test QGIS 3.x (either current LTR or current release) (2.99 while there is no official release) while having a production installations of 2.14 or 2.18 besides to resort to when there are troubles (missing plugins, regressions, ...).

Caveat: project files

The only possible pitfall is, that QGIS projects saved with 3.0 often do not open properly in 2.18. Meanwhile, projects saved with 2.18 can be opened safely with 3.0. To avoid troubles, always work on copies of your 2.x projects when opening them in 3.0. You should do this anyway when you want to open projects with older QGIS versions later on, also for minor releases.

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    Followup q: How? – user30184 Dec 5 '17 at 21:40
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    You should use the osgeo4w installer and install qgis-dev and qgis-dev-pdb – Nathan W Dec 6 '17 at 0:03
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    For now, you may miss a lot of plugins when running QGIS 2.99 . – AndreJ Dec 6 '17 at 9:30
  • Sorry, I had to make it a little longer to give some context. – Matthias Kuhn Dec 6 '17 at 10:18
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    And how to do it on Linux? – arjan Dec 7 '17 at 15:30

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