Booting Multiple Operating Systems

The main reason for this is to allow comparing various operating systems as they run on a particular computer. While you might be able to get some information from running different systems on different computers, you get a much better idea of their capability when they are run on the same hardware for a more direct comparison.

Why compare? Why not? How else are you going to discover how much better a different system is unless you try it? You can take the words of others but you really need to see and know what the newer stuff will do on your preferred hardware. Not only will it disclose hardware which might be uncompatible but it will also evaluate the features of the software itself. (Actually, I do not believe that there is anything like incompatible hardware, just bad software.)

Another reason for multiple booting is that you may have software that requires a particular operating system to work and you don’t want to dedicate a complete hardware/software system to that task.

Finally, it is very convenient not to have to search for that old DOS boot disk that may now have bad sectors. Or swap out the windows hard drive for the Linux hard drive. Once again we can subsidize our laziness by using some clever solutions.

Some problems that are avoidable and preventable have to do with the use of most Microsoft operating systems. When Microsoft invented their own special brand of memory storage they ignored several very important possibilities. The possibility that there would ever be desk top computers running word lengths of more than 16 bits and that there could be a time when a desktop computer might have more than one physical hard drive.

That last little bit of ignorance is why all of the Microsoft systems expect to be installed on the first partition of the first hard drive and that that particular part of the first hard drive is the only one made bootable. But wait, there is more good news, Microsoft will not allow you to have more than one primary partition on the hard drive. At least not more than one primary partition that the Microsoft systems can identify.

I have been using Grub as a boot loader. Not that I particular prefer it for usefulness or capability, but mainly because it works for what I want to do and I know how to use it.

Grub will do a virtual swap between drives. So, if we have a Microsoft system on the third hard drive, Grub can fool the system into believing that the drive is actually the first hard drive. Grub can also hide and unhide partitions. So if you have a Linux system on the first hard drives’ first partition and a Microsoft system on the second partition, you can hide the first partition and still boot the Microsoft system on the second partition. Although that can be done, it is not recommended.

In fact, it is not recommended to have anything but a Microsoft system in the first partition of any hard drive. Sharing a MS drive with a Linux or other system is a very dangerous thing to do.

For instance, I had XP followed by Debian, followed by PC-BSD all on the same 300 gig hard drive, the first hard drive in the system. XP developed a problem after numerous so called ‘updates’. It soon became apparent that chasing down the problem might take several decades so I decided to just avoid it by re-installing XP. To make sure I did not pick up any nasties from the exisitng installation I nuked the partition. When I tried to make a new partiton in that space I was informed that the drive already had a primary partition.

I ended up deleting all of the partitions on the drive and starting over. This time I made sure that XP had its own hard drive just like I had arranged for DOS6.2 earlier. This makes it less likely that I will have to trash my unix-like systems when XP decides to quit working. It also allows me to clone the XP drive once it is working and hold that clone for backup if there should ever be a problem. Note, this is not a data backup. I do those seperately and hold the data on different hard drives. No, this backup is for the operating system itself. A complete installation of XP along with all the application software takes the better part of a full day. It is much easier to just pull out the cloned drive and re-clone it onto the offending drive for a future problem.

There maybe better ways of doing this. Doing backups and using multiple disks and multiple operating systems. At one time I had a tray system where I could change out hard drives merely by pulling a try out of a socket and inserting a new tray with a different hard drive. This worked well until the connectors began to fail. (This was over a period of about 15 years.)

I still use the remaining good connectors on a tray system on an old slow Pentium II but I rarely use that computer anyway. Having too much fun with my faster multiple boot system.

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