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Well most people usually create different paritions so it then secures each one if a system crashes, it usually won't affect the other parititions. Say, you have /home on its own partition, and you need to reload all of linux but you have /home with users info and files there, you can leave that partition alone, reinstall linux and that /home stays intact.
You can though however.. have a swap and a / partition and that is it and everything will be under / or course.
I think most people or at least the recommended setup is this:
swap = 100 megs
/boot = 16 megs
/ = rest of hard drive
That would be the minimum that most distro's recommend using when installing. Other than that, you can set it up however you like.
Here is how I setup my dual boot system with win98 and Redhat in order of partitions.
1. Win98 = 1 gig basically for Windows OS
2. /boot = 16 megs
3. Win98 = 4 gigs for windows files and everything else.
4. / = rest of hard drive
5. swap = 100 megs
5. /root = 1 gig
6. /home = 2 gig
7. /usr = 1 gig
8. /tmp = 500 megs
Something like that... I am not at my machine.. but it is along the lines of like that... where my /boot is directly after my first windows partition. This gives me no problems with dual boot and I have not yet ever had any problems.
So basically what you are saying is that Linux sets up a virtual file ssytem, and when you define a partiion, Linux uses that to help allocate specific amount of space to a given virtual file, therby making it so that there is multiple redundancy in case of failure or file system memory overfill. Do I have it right?
So really, if a user wanted to, while it may not be the smartest thing from a security standpoint, could create simple /, and everything else will be created virtually inside. And profile and system file security would still be maintained?
There's nothing 'virtual' about it AFAIK, it's just to make your data more secure and moveable. If you reinstall a system, you'll generally want to format your root partition, ie make brand new /etc and so forth, but you'll probably want your user areas the same, so by haveing them on a different partition, you can leave them exactly intact, and then just tell the installer where this partition should go i.e. /home. And so forth... Really not as complicated and involved as you seem to suggest. I think.
Seems to me also like it's not the distro you use, or the version of lilo, but the actual BIOS limitation. My first computer is unable to deal with the 1024 cylinder limit, however my new one with Epox board and new BIOS flash works fine with the 1024 limit - i get a warning, but I can proceed, and it boots fine. As an example: