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Duel Booting

As my PC seems to be fairly stable – only one crash in 24 hours! – I’m beginning to think about trying out Linux. I’ve bought a copy of RedHat and I’m beginning to clear out one of the hard drives in my machine. But I’m frankly frightened about dual-booting XP and Linux given the fragility of my machine. So I’d like some advice.

Here’s my situation. I have a fresh install of XP on my 120G boot drive. I will have lots of room for Linux on a 60G drive currently formatted as NFTS. I am ok with scraping everything off of that drive and repartitioning and reformatting.

I want to start slowly with Linux. I expect to spend most of my time in Windows for now. That may switch, depending on how things go with Linux. I will continue to have a hell of a lot of data in Windows formats. I also expect to need to boot into XP for some Windows-only apps, including games.

I am wary about monkeying with boot sectors. I will be really really pissed – at no one in particular – if in the course of installing Linux, I end up having to reinstall XP and all of its apps. But I also want a transition path; if (for example) I start off by booting Linux off a floppy, I’d like to be able to boot off a hard drive once I’m feeling more secure. But boot decisions seem to be forever.

So, does anyone have any links that explain it all to me? Or tales of woe and rejoicing?

As ever, thanks.

23 Responses to “Duel Booting”

  1. Perhaps you may want to try Knoppix ? It can also install to the hard drive, but it will run comfortably from the CD, and you can use your extra drive for storage of files for now. I use it quite a bit and its a great way to test drive linux. And if you get attached to it, you can install it on your drive.

  2. You might consider using a Romtec Trios device.

    The Trios allows to you boot off of different drives in your system without having to resort to partioning and using a boot loader. For those wary of problems, it’s a good solution.

    I’d also recommend Mandrake instead of Redhat for someone new to linux.

  3. A few that might help you: hosts the “Linux Newbie Help Files,” about which I’ve heard good things.

    Since you’ve got a copy of Red Hat, you’ll probably want to check out their online documentation at Scroll to the bottom, choose the version you’ve got, and hit “Go” to bring up all the online manuals.

    And at is a list of Linux User Groups (LUGs) around the world; generally the people in your local LUG will have a mailing list and occasional meetings, and will be more than willing to help you out as you wade into Linux.

    As for tales of woe or rejoicing, I’ll put in a plug for making the switch; I installed a copy of Red Hat a couple years ago, dual-booted for a while, and eventually ended up using the Windows partition for file storage. It’s not for everybody, but I like it.

  4. Don’t Do it !!!!

    Haven’t you endured enough torture ;-) ?

    I never experiment (on purpose) on my primary work computer. I use an old ratty experimental computer for that… Of course sometimes I am doing something that I thought was pretty inoccuous which turns out to be an experiment but I avoid doing it on purpose!

  5. Echoing Pita’s comments: my time is way too valuable to trash my business machine for R&D. I take enough of that risk each time I update a component. For something like Linux, I used a three-year-old laptop and then an old beater desktop machine. If you don’t have one, you can probably lift one from a friend, associate or ebay for a few hundred. If you have to install and fdisk and format and rinse and repeat three times, who cares? You just lost your time, not your mind, and gain a little experience in the process.

  6. Hi,
    I have done just that on my laptop..
    U may need to to the following
    Partition the drives that u want to install linux..
    I used partition magic..IF u can find somebody to loan it to u or buy an evaluation verson if available..I made the partioned portion fat32 file system..Linux wont recognise the ntfs systems u have on the windows xp..but u can download a driver for that and install it later if everything goes smoothly..:-))
    Next u can dowload redhat linux from one fo the ftp sites suggestedon redhat homepage..its in 3 disks extract all the files from the iso files and burn it into 3 cds..
    u are ready to go after this.. everything went smoothly for me..w/o any problems..U can contact me if u have any probs.
    good luck..

  7. Ok, I don’t know if this will work for you but so far I’ve had great luck with it. First I install Windows XP (or 2000) with the partition size I want (leaving enough space unpartitioned for Linux) and finish the install. Then I start the Linux install, partition the remaining space and have it install the LILO (or GRUB whatever it uses by default) boot manager over top of the Windows boot manager. Its worked eight times so far (Yes…I start over alot) and I’ve yet to have it fail. Its far easier to setup than the Windows boot manager! :)

  8. Get a Mac.

    I have been using them since 1986 and can count on the fingures of one hand the number of times I have needed to take one to the shop.

  9. I wouldn’t advise proceding with RedHat when you’re not a systems admin nor do you have one inhouse. RH is very good for the professional IT shop or the office environment who provides support, but for the lone user who’s just wanting a trouble-free O/S, my advice is to go download the new Mandrake 9.1 — I’ve installed this for many Windows refugees and none have hated me, and all still use Mandrake.

    Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong before?

  10. I’m with Pito. Don’t dual-boot on your primary machine. Got an old PC? (Most of us do). Use that. Experiment. See how it goes.

    There are good and bad things to say about every Linux distro. The new Red Hat you have is fine. Just try it on its own machine.

  11. Those Romtec Trio devices look like one way to go.

    A slightly cheaper method is to by IDE drive drawers. I think the unit that goes into the computer is somewhere around the neighborhoud of $15-20 and I would think a drawer for each disk you have would probably be around $5. Then all you do is slide the one you want to boot from and boot.

    The other method of course is to play around on a completely separate box. I’m sure you can easily find a P3-450 with enough RAM and harddrive for a couple hundred bucks or so.

  12. I’m having a serious “I Love the Web” moment. Sniff sniff. Thank you for all the advice.

    I’m going to get a separate box. I’m too traumatized by my recent troubles to risk it all, especially since the serious troubles began once I used GODDAMN PARTITION MAGIC 8. Don’t even get me started.

    Also, if you’re keeping track, my linksys router went up in smoke today. Got a new one (my third in maybe 4 years) and I’m back in business. Also, my cell phone’s battery charger died.

    I am Magneto. Or possibly I’m having power line problems. (The computer and other goodies are on an APC UPS.)

  13. On the heels of John Beimler’s comment, I also recommend one of the “live Linux CDs” such as Knoppix or better yet Quantian. In regards to your second 60GB hard drive, I’d buy an external case for it so that you can access it via your USB or firewire port while running linux on the CD — for example, files that you’ve downloaded while running Knoppix can be saved to that drive for later use. You can even partition the drive as a FAT32 (vfat) partition, so that Windows and Linux can read and write to it if you so desire. Once you’ve gotten comfortable and more knowledgeable with the live Linux CD’s, then you could reconsider installing Linux on the 60GB using one of the more traditional distributions — in which case, I’d recommend either Debian or Mandrake because apt-get and urpmi are two utilities that no linux distribution should be without.

  14. For router I’d go Netgear I bought mine a 7 months ago and with no problems yet. The company that builds it makes also high end telecom gear (professional level). When I went for the initial purchase I asked my brother about the Linksys and he recommended Netgear instead.

  15. A separate box is a great way to ease into Linux. The requirements aren’t that high. In fact, I’ve built several Linux boxes from machines purchased at the University of Iowa Surplus store for less than $50, with monitor.

    Plan on lots of time for the install. Not necessarily because it will take a long time, but because it’s a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of your new system. The Red Hat help screens provide just enough detail during the install to give you a workable idea of what you’re doing. Find them and use them prodigiously. You’ll end up with an install that you can reasonably understand.

    Probably the most important firsthand advice to impart about switching to Linux has more to do with attitude than the physical change. Do not expect to be proficient with Linux in a few weeks or even a few months. You’ll only set yourself up for disappointment. You have to view it as something of a lifetime computing project. Make it a commitment, in fact. Leaving a backdoor via a machine with a familiar OS makes that commitment easier. Use the Linux machine as often and as much as possible, viewing every use as a learning experience. It will be, anyway – you’d just as well face up to it at the beginning. Mark every frustration (and there will be many) in the learning column. Becoming proficient with Linux is really about two things: problem solving and becoming a part of the community, both for help and to help. If you keep it in a lifetime scale, the rewards, though subtle, will arrive long before you expect them.

    The Penguins await, Dave. Welcome to the community and computing experience of a lifetime.

  16. Despite the nay sayers, I think what you want to do is fairly easy. I have done it a bunch of times with no problems, Just read carefully.
    If you want you can start from a floppy at first, then change LILO or Grub to do what you want. Is hard, but not rocket science..

  17. Good luck with the seperate box and Linux installs! Its a wonderful (and painful) world!

  18. Are you bored? Don’t do it! At least, don’t do it to your primary box. Your relationship will never be the same. All boxes fantasize about having two operating systems at once, but in reality it is clumsy and messy and much more work than it is worth.

  19. I’m with Alfredo here. It’s not as bad as people make it out to be. It was very bad back before RedHat 5.x and has been getting better for the non-engineer user each time. I’ve switched from LILO to Grub a while ago, and find it to be more flexible (you can edit the boot configuration from the bootloader, so you have a shot at fixing things if they are broken).

    Playing with a second machine until you are comfortable is a good idea. I haven’t done this with XP, but I don’t think this part would change. In the “grub.conf” files (in /boot/grub/ on my setup, YMMV), you need a section like this:

    title DOS
    rootnoverify (hd0,2)
    chainloader +1

    in addition to the one it will set up automagically for the Linux boot. The (hd0,2) part will vary according to where you put the Windows partition. The first number is the disk (primary is 0, …), and the second number is the partition (zero based, so this would be the third primary partition on the first disk). Don’t forget to setup a seperate swap partition of about 2-3 times your memory (less if you have lots of memory).

    Also, put Windows on first (after doing a basic partitioning of the primary disk), because it will write its own boot sector over whatever you may have already put there. Unfortunately RedHat doesn’t have an easy “just put in the Grub/Lilo boot sector” process until you actually get booted, so sometimes redoing the install is the easiest way to fix the boot sector.

  20. i’ve trashed a couple of windows installs in my time by setting up and then fiddling with dual boot linux set-ups. You can actually get it to work if you make sure you don’t do anything silly. I’ve used System Commander before to manage the dual boot side of things and once set up it’s solid. my advice, take back-ups or set up on a separate PC.

    then get scared as you discover the joys of compiling and hand installing your graphics card drivers etc. very much a hobbyist experience a la 1980’s computer geekery. i’d love to switch completely but i’ve either never been brave enough or I’ve brought the whole shebang crashing down by “I wonder what this option does..” tomfoolfery.

  21. You might want to try VMWare. It runs about $300 dollars but it allows you to run many different operating systems on your computer at the same time. Many developers use it for testing different configurations of software, (i.e. does my program work on the spanish version of Windows 98.)

    It will allow you to run Linux from inside of Windows (keeping all of your data, and you can cut and paste between the different operating systems, while they are both running.)

    In my experiance it is rock solid.


  22. I’ll second Rob’s comments about VMWare, although v4 does have some issues and detractors. I’ve got virtual machines that run Linux 7.2 and 9.0 Redhat, Win2K, Win98, Win95. I’m fighting a DOS machine right now to load up some data in a large Lotus Agenda database that’s been archived for ages.

    It’s a solid product.

  23. I have two computers. One has a 80 g hard drive and the other has a 20g. They both have xp pro and I want to run both hd’s in the same machine.

    The instructions state that I should got to sytem, advanced, start up and recovery and change default start up system. im only offered one option. What em I doing wrong?

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