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Multibooting for the Masses (Tutorial) – Part 2a

As mentioned in part 1 of this series of posts on running multiple operating systems on one PC, while there are three basic setups, these three branch out into hundreds of others. In order to ensure this tutorial covers every option possible, before diving in to an actual setup, I thought it would be a good idea to demonstrate the formula for multibooting on a single hard drive in order to a) prepare you for the upcoming tutorial, and b) assist you in setups of your own that I will not be covering here. In Part 3a, we’ll examine the formula for multibooting on multiple hard drives. Read the full post below for more.

1. Partitioning

Before you can install another operating system, you’ve got to make room for it on your hard drive! However, as this is no ordinary program you are preparing for, it isn’t enough to simply delete a few applications to make sure your C: drive has a few gigs of room. You’ll need to do a bit of homework to find out about how much space your OS of choice occupies by itself, and how much space you’ll want for putting other programs inside it. Once you’ve got this number down, you can get on to partitioning your hard drive. In effect what this will do is create a second ‘drive’ on your one hard drive (to put it in layman’s terms), but all you are really doing is allocating a certain amount of your hard drive’s memory as a separate group from the rest of the available memory. Think of as a pie graph, like the one seen on the right. Say this graph represents a 100GB hard drive. In that case, 48GB are allocated to drive C:, 32GB are allocated to drive F:, and 20GB are allocated to drive H:, allowing for three different operating systems that can exist basically independent of each other even though they are all on just one disk.

Numerous tools are available to help you with partitioning your hard drive. As long as you’ve got the free space, you should be safe using just about any of them, but while partitioning is not dangerous per se, it should be treated with care. A single mistake could have you reformatting completely, losing all your data instead of simply making a spot for more. In this tutorial we’ll examine using DISKPART and its GUI, both of which are built right into Windows, and gParted, a free and open-source partitioner for Linux distributions, but feel free to look around for other such programs and find one that suits you. Just be aware that most other software will cost you a pretty penny, though the ease of use and safety they provide may be worth it if you don’t feel comfortable messing around with your hard drive.

2. Installing

Once you’ve separated out some space into another partition (or more, depending on how many OS’s you want) you can get around to actually installing. If you are using a (legally-obtained, of course) ISO image, you’ll need to burn that file to a DVD using software like imgburn. Alternatively, if you are using a newer computer which supports booting from USB devices (or perhaps lacks an optical drive entirely), feel free to simply mount the ISO with software like DaemonTools and use xcopy to transfer all the data from the ISO image to your USB device (thumb drive, SD card, etc.) At any rate, when that is complete, or if you are using a premade DVD/USB device, just pop it into your computer and reboot. If your BIOS settings are correct (more on that in Part 2b) the installation media will kick in and you’ll be able to go through the setup, selecting your freshly-made partition as the location to install your next OS. Here you can pretty much just sit back and watch, as user involvement with the installation is typically minimal.

3. Bootloading

Depending on which OS you began with and which you are installing next, this step may or may not require you to go out of your way. Newer versions of Windows than your current installation and Linux distributions will all pick up on your current OS during the install and set up your bootloader for you so that when you power on your PC you can select which OS to enter. But if you began with a newer version of Windows or wrote over your Linux bootloader for some reason, you’ll need to install a bootloader yourself so that all of your OS’s can be selected at boot. Like partitioners, just about any of these will get the job done, though not all come free of charge (but you will get a much nicer experience if you do spend some cash). On the free side, you’ll probably end up using either EasyBCD or GRUB (or both, if you have multiple Windows OS’s and Linux OS’s), though others are available. On the paid side, your only real (read: reputable) option is the OS Selector program included in the Acronis Disk Director Suite. A nice benefit of going this route is that you’ll get a high-quality partitioner and bootloader in one package, which helps alleviate the rather steep cost of the suite overall.

Well, if you’re an adventurous type, now that you’ve got the formula you can go ahead and start setting up your multiboot situation. However for the rest of us, hold out for Part 2b, which will be a step-by-step tutorial helping you through every bit of the process and ensuring you come out safe on the other end. ‘Later!

Check out all the other parts of this series of important posts!

One response to “Multibooting for the Masses (Tutorial) – Part 2a

  1. Pingback: Multibooting for the Masses (Tutorial) – Part 2b « thinkboxly

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