I've been trying out several different distros, and now I want to set up a multi-boot system with several distros at a time, and Windows XP, as other people who use the comp prefer it. I've read several different sources on how to set up multiple distros, and how to set up a dual-boot Windows/Linux box, but haven't really seen too much about both at once, so I wanted to clear some things up...
I think that you have most of the concepts right. I have a system very similar to what you want to achieve. I've reformatted and moved partitions around to meet my needs and now I feel comfortable with what I got. Here is My partition setup.
/dev/hda1 -> 50 GB -> NTFS -> Windows XP
/dev/hda2 -> 20 GB -> extended partition
/dev/hda5 -> 1 GB -> Linux swap
/dev/hda6 -> 20 GB -> FAT32 -> Fat partition to share data between XP and Linux
/dev/hda7 -> 20 GB -> ext3 -> Fedora Core 3
/dev/hda8 -> 20 GB -> ext3 -> Fedora Core 4
/dev/hda9 -> 3 GB -> ext3 -> Vector Linux
/dev/hda10 -> 3 GB -> ext3 -> SuSE
Free -> 20 GB (for future distros)
My only 'permanent' partitions are XP, the extended, swap and FC3, the rest come and go with my distro evaluations.
So, here is what I've learned in relation with your questions.
- Be sure to have a Live CD distro at hand to solve problems. My favorite, Knoppix.
- For this setup is better to have XP in a primary partition and have all your other partitions in an extended partition. (A PC HDD can only have 4 primary partitions)
- For a home computer it's better to just have one partition for each distro ( / ) or you will end up with too many partitions to manage and too much wasted space.
- Personal preferences and personal configuration files are normally stored in /home, different distros would come with different versions of the same applications. If you have a single /home partition to share, you may have conflicts in the future.
- I prefer to have all my 'data' files in a shared partition (in this case FAT32) and mount it by default in all my distros.
- Most distros will recognize your XP partition and they will add it to the boot manager but they may not add the other linux partitions, so you have two options: Only install the boot manager while installing the first distro. When you add distros you could just add them manually to the boot loader menu. You could always install the boot manager when you install a distro, and add all the rest of the distros to the boot loader menu. Beware though that sometimes installing and reinstalling different versions of the boot manager may corrupt the MBR.
I think that I went overboard with my FC3 and FC4 partition sizes, I am planing to scale them down to 10 GB (or less) and double the size of my shared partition.
- I've played with many distros including all the ones you mention (except MEPIS) and they all played nice with this setup, except Debian that did not like my HDD geometry.
- Sometimes I've had to prepare my partitions with Knoppix before installing a distro.