After I got my new laptop, it didn’t take me all to long to determine that I wasn’t all too fond of Vista. Instead of hastily ditching Vista and running right back into XP’s familiar settings, I thought I’d try out Linux. Having heard myriad glowing reports of its user friendliness, Ubuntu seemed like the obvious choice. However, if I did dedicate my entire system to Ubuntu, there’d always be the problem of gaming; Linux isn’t exactly a hotbed for interactive entertainment. So, why not dual-boot?
There are several approaches to dual-booting a system with XP and Linux: you can either nuke the drive, partition it, and then reinstall both operating system; install Linux first, then partition and install XP; or you can install Windows first and then get Linux working afterwards. In this article, I’m going to choose the latter method, but no matter which way you choose to go, an essential tool to have in your arsenal is GParted.
GParted is a nondestructive UNIX-based partition editing application used to create, destroy, resize and move entire partitions and their file systems. The application is widely available on many Linux systems, but more importantly, it also comes as a live-cd. What that means is that you can download the application image, burn it to a disc and boot from it, without having to touch the rest of your system.
For the purposes of dual-booting, I’ll describe how to use GParted to shrink an existing Windows partition, so that the freed up space can then be reformatted as EXT3 and SWAP partitions to host a fresh installation of Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon:
- First thing’s first: since you’re going to be making critical changes to your hard drive, make sure that the data on that drive is properly backed up and secure. Even though GParted is designed to be nondestructive, you never know what might happen; the wrong button might get pressed, or the power might fail — so backup first!
- Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s start. In order to do anything you’ll need the program, so go get the GParted Live-CD image first and burn it to a disc. After the burning process finishes, pop the CD back in and reboot. Note: if GParted doesn’t load, then you’ll have to amend your machine’s boot order in the BIOS first.
- When booting from the Live-CD, you’ll be asked to input some system information, such as hardware configuration, language and keymap – don’t worry, it’s easy. A few seconds into the boot process, you’ll see a list of possible boot configurations. From my experience the first option, the one that reads “Gparted-liveCD 0.3.4-11 (auto-configuration),” seems to work just fine, so go ahead and select that. After a few more loading cycles, you’ll be asked to select the appropriate keymap and after that your language; the numbers you should be entering in are 41 and 33, respectively. This should take care of the setup, now just wait for the distro to finish booting.
- Now that everything is loaded and set you’ll want to get started by shrinking the existing Windows partition. To do this, select the partition, either from the list or from the graphical representation, and then hit the button labeled “Resize/Move.” This will bring up a smaller window from which you can choose by how much to shrink the existing partition. Notice that there are three input fields in this window; enter the desired new size of the partition in the second field, or just move the arrows at either end of the graphic. Since GParted aims to keep your existing data intact, the minimum size that an existing partition can be shrunk to is equal to the amount of data already on that partition. The other two fields in the window describe how much of the new free space will appear before the newly resized partition and how much of it will appear after it. How you organize the layout of the partitions isn’t crucial to getting both operating systems running, but it keeps everything organized. Once you feel comfortable with the changes, hit “Resize/Move” — don’t worry, the changes aren’t permanent yet.
- Once you’re back to the main interface, you’ll notice that the existing partition is smaller and that it is now surrounded on either one or both sides by unallocated dark gray space. To create any further partitions, which you’ll need to if you want to install Linux, simply select the dark matter and click “New.” Creating a new partition is just as simple as shrinking an existing one, the only difference being that you’ll also have to select the filesystem type; since the new partition will host a Linux install, select EXT3. When specifying the size of the new partition, make sure that you leave about 512MB to 2GB for a Linux swap partition. Think of the swap partition as an extension of your RAM, but on the hard drive.
- To create the swap partition repeat the previous step, but instead of choosing EXT3 as the filesystem type, select LINUX-SWAP. With the size set, hit “Resize/Move,” and return to the main interface.
- Up to this point, GParted hasn’t done anything to your hard drive; the only thing that you have done up to now has been planning out what to do. So, once you’re confident that you’ve set everything up correctly, press the “Apply” button to actually make the changes to the system. Hitting “Apply” should bring up a cautionary message, telling you that you’d better be sure about what you’re doing. Once you dismiss that message, GParted will get to work and the operations that you have specified will commence. Depending on the size of your hard drive, the amount of data on, and how many new partitions you are going to create, GParted may be at work for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours.
Once you’re done, GParted will kick you back to its main interface window, from where you can go on to the main menu and quit. If everything went to plan you should now have at least three partitions: one based on NTFS, another on EXT3, and then a third to serve as a SWAP partition. At this point you’re free to install whatever Linux distro you fancy.
However, if you’re new to Linux, then I would highly recommend you try out Ubuntu, which is highly user friendly, very stable, and extremely customizable. For help on installing Ubuntu, be sure to check back in a couple of days for the last installment of my dual-booting series to get detailed instructions on what to do and not to do…
Series: Dual-Booting: XP and Ubuntu