The dual-boot option

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Contents

Introduction

While only one operating system can be run on a computer at once, it is possible to have more than one operating system installed on the same computer and to choose which one to start when the computer is started up or booted. This is called dual-booting. It is accomplished by using a boot loader that can boot more than one operating system.

New MEPIS users migrating from the Microsoft Windows platform will often install a dual-boot system, allowing them to try the new OS without losing the functionality, preferences and comfort level that the existing setup offers them. This short guide is intended to help you decide whether you want to install MEPIS alongside Windows with the ability to select which one to start when your computer boots.

Advantages of dual-booting:

  • You can evaluate MEPIS while still having access to Windows
  • You can boot into Windows to use a Windows-specific application
  • You can gradually switch to MEPIS, one step at a time

Disadvantages of dual-booting:

  • Two operating systems take up more hard disk space
  • Upgrading Windows can break the dual-boot configuration
  • Start-up time is slightly increased

Basic concepts

It will be easier to grasp dual-booting when you understand certain basic concepts.

  • Hard disks can be split up into partitions similar to how a large room can be partitioned by dividing walls. Each partition is treated as if it were a separate hard disk drive, while still being on the same physical device. In Windows, each partition has its own drive letter. You might have a C, D and E drive which, while being treated as separate devices, are in fact all stored on the same hard disk. More on this concept here.
  • For operating systems to be able to co-exist on the same computer, they must be installed onto separate partitions. This means that, to dual-boot between MEPIS and Windows, you must partition your hard disk in a suitable manner, splitting the storage capacity of your hard disk into separate units. The MEPIS installer will guide you through that process.
  • Partitions must be formatted with a filesystem that is understood by an operating system, enabling the writing, reading and copying of files. There are many different filesystems, each with its own advantages and limitations. Common filesystems used in a dual-boot system include the Windows systems (typically NTFS and FAT32) and the Linux ones (typically ext3 and ReiserFS). Again, the MEPIS installer will give you a choice and explain the advantages of each.
  • When your computer initially starts up, it quickly checks itself for problems and then passes control over to a program called a boot loader. The boot loader stores a list of operating systems and their partitions on the computer, and specifies which will be the default. MEPIS will install and configure a boot loader for you called GRUB that will allow you to choose which OS to boot into.

Planning your configuration

When setting up a dual-boot system, you must make some important changes to the way your computer operates. While these changes are routine, there is the possibility that they could go wrong. By planning your dual-boot setup you can reduce the risk of error.

Current layout. In order to decide how to partition your hard disk ready for dual-booting, you will need to know the total storage capacity of your hard disk drive and the layout of the current partitions. This can be done inside Windows XP by using the Disk Management Snap-In in the following way:

  • Click Start --> Run.
  • Type diskmgmt.msc into the box provided and press Run to enter the Disk Management Snap-In. Here you can see the status of all of the storage devices connected to your computer.
  • Find the device with the C: drive on it. This is usually your primary hard disk (unless you have more than one installed).
  • Note down the total capacity of the hard disk and also the order and size of all of the partitions on the disk (if there is more than one).

Space assignment. Windows will probably use one or two partitions only, though these are likely to take up the entire hard disk. You must decide how much disk space you will need for Windows, and how much you would like to be able to use in MEPIS. You can split the disk into two equal parts, or assign more space to one of them where you need more storage or have more large programs. The MEPIS installer allows you to change the sizes of partitions.

Note: Many computer manufacturers install recovery partitions onto their computers to allow you to restore Windows in case of problems. These tend to be small partitions which are inaccessible from Windows. Because these partitions may be the sole method of recovering Windows in case of a problem, it is recommended that you do not attempt to change or remove such recovery partitions.

The actual installation

Details on doing a dual-boot installation can be found in Dual-Boot System.

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