-   Linux - Distributions (
-   -   Changing Distros... (

DaveThePuzzled 06-10-2004 08:48 PM

Changing Distros...
I was just wondering. I have Mandrake 10 CE installed right now but it takes up the whole HD that I have and was wondering that if I wipe it out and try a different distro, is it going to hurt my dual boot system??

I have a couple of books I got from the library on Debian and Red Hat 9 and was thinking about having both of those put on the hard drive, seperate from my WinXP system. Is that going to be possible?? Is that going to ruin going into WinXP??

My wife would kill me if I lost WinXP, that is the reason behind my question. :D


spurious 06-10-2004 09:59 PM

If you're anxious about harming your WinXP partition, you should consider purchasing a second hard drive to experiment with Linux. You can boot into the second hard drive with a boot floppy.

DaveThePuzzled 06-10-2004 10:29 PM


I already have it on a second hard drive but it is the MBR that I am worried about.

J.W. 06-11-2004 02:15 AM

Dave, since you've already set up machine to dual (or triple) boot, then the only thing you would need to do if you wanted to change distros would be to simply reinstall the new distro into the same partitions that you are already using for Mandrake. My advice would be to NOT "wipe everything out" but instead to simply choose to reformat the appropriate target partitions during the installation process. Example: suppose that /dev/hda1 contains Windows, /dev/hda2 is swap, and /dev/hda3 is where Mandrake lives. If you wanted to replace Mandrake with something else, start the installation process but be certain that the only partition that is involved is /dev/hda3, and make sure that you reformat /dev/hda3. That should preserve your dual boot with Windows.

Obviously, if you wanted to triple boot with Windows, Debian, and Redhat, then you'd want to drop the /dev/hda3 partition, then recreate 2 new ones (one for Debian and one for Redhat). Depending on how large the existing partition is, that may lead to having both Linux installations living in cramped quarters. My main point here is simply to not mess around with the partition that contains Windows. Good luck with the project. -- J.W.

By the way, if you ever need to restore your MBR to a "Windows-friendly" state, you can simply boot your Windows machine to the C:\ prompt, then run: fdisk /mbr

That will blow away the Linux entry from the MBR. Note however that it is an undocumented and unsupported feature, so it should be considered a "use at your own risk" type of deal. Having said that, I've run it any number of times without issue

DaveThePuzzled 06-11-2004 12:51 PM

Even if it is NTFS, J.W.?? But Mandrake lives on a seperate drive right now and believe me when I say that the swap has like almost 4GB to play with and Mandrake has 10GB to play with....but my plan was just to eliminate the 10GB partition and split it into 5GB each for Debian and Red Hat....would that be suitable or is it still going to be cramped quarters. Please let me know.....although, I may aliminate Windows too just to do a fresh install and may free up some space on the main hdd.

J.W. 06-11-2004 03:25 PM

Dave, hmm, you may be right that fdisk /mbr will not work on NTFS partitions. I'll admit I don't know for sure.

Your plan to drop and recreate the Linux partitions is perfectly fine. The point I was trying to make was just that you probably should just leave the existing Windows partition as is -- you naturally would have the option of completely reinstalling both Windows and Linux, but that would be more work than is really necessary if your goal is to just replace Mandrake with some other distro. Of course, it's your call either way, just make sure you backup anything important before you start dropping partitions.

That being said, if your swap partition is 4G, yipes, that's way, way too big and you're only wasting disk space. Based on what you've described, and if you retain Windows as is, I'd suggest dropping both the Mandrake partition and the swap partition, then recreate a reasonably sized swap (256Mg max) and then split the remaining space between Redhat and Debian. That would leave you with approx 7G for each distro, which is somewhat small, but definitely would be workable. If you later decided that you liked Redhat more than Debian or vice versa, you could also drop that partition and add it to the winner.

Lastly, I'll assume you already know this but Redhat officially ended support for Redhat 9 in April (or maybe it was May). Either way, it has reached its end of life, which means that Redhat will not be notifying you of security alerts and patches. That's not a deal killer, and the distro will work just fine as is, however, you would need to keep tabs on the appropriate security alerts and patch them yourself. -- J.W.

DaveThePuzzled 06-11-2004 08:05 PM

Red Hat 9 is just a learner because Fedora is now taking over there, if I remember right. It is a community thing but Red Hat, Inc. is helping with the build of Fedora so I figure, since I have Red Hat 9 now, I will learn what I can and if Red Hat is the winner, then I will make my move to Fedora. If Debian in the winnner then I try a different distro so I will learn more and more about Linux....see, my goal is to leave MS well outta here....I depend WAY too much on Win for my daily life and I do not like that.

Ph0enix2003 06-11-2004 11:17 PM


Originally posted by DaveThePuzzled

I already have it on a second hard drive but it is the MBR that I am worried about.

So put the MBR on a floppy or CD.

DaveThePuzzled 06-12-2004 12:17 AM

How do you put an MBR on a floppy when the filesystem is NTFS?? Floppies are FAT only...only reads FAT and FAT32.

spurious 06-13-2004 11:14 AM

The filesystem of the boot floppy is irrelevant. The purpose of the boot media is to load the kernel and modules (with boot floppies, initial modules are loaded through the initrd ramdisk image). Filesystems are supported by modules either directly compiled into the kernel, or loaded separately.

The installers of most distros (not sure about the pure Debian installer) will create a boot floppy as part of the installation process. The installer will copy the kernel and modules to the floppy, and configure the floppy's MBR so that it mounts the correct hard-drive partition as root (as long as your kernel is compiled to support your hard-drive partition; stick to ext3 or reiserfs for your root partition if you want to use a boot floppy).

In your case, when you install your distro, make sure that you only install the bootloader to the root partition, NOT the MBR; you will then need to create a boot floppy in order to boot into Linux.

However, a boot floppy is a pretty inconvenient way to dual-boot. If you want to boot from a hard-drive, and you are really paranoid, you should physically disconnect your WinXP drive when you install linux. This means that (in addition to your boot floppy), you will have to manually edit your bootloader configuration afterward in order to dual-boot, but this is much safer than letting the installer do it automatically.

Since you presumably have a working dual-boot bootloader configuration with your current Mandrake install (either /etc/lilo.conf or /etc/grub.conf), all you need to do is back it up to removable media. Copy over the WinXP section from your old lilo.conf/grub.conf to your new lilo.conf/grub.conf, then re-connect your WinXP drive, boot into your new linux install, and run lilo/grub. Doublecheck your config file to make sure all 'hda' and 'hdb' etc. references are correct.

Disclaimer: I only have 100% Linux on my systems, so I can't help you with anything having to do with NTFS. However, I like to experiment with different distros, so I have some experience dual-booting, triple-booting, quadruple-booting etc.

DaveThePuzzled 06-14-2004 02:59 PM

Well....since WinXP is having difficulties, I am going to clean every bit of my hard drives and just reinstall.....I know it is going to be a BIG day on that because of how many OSes I am going to be installing. I am not going to do this until I can get a different sound card because even WinXP has difficulties with my Sound Blaster Live! card....Don't ask me why because even MS doesn't know why....

vectordrake 06-14-2004 03:53 PM


I'm curious as to how you filled your Mandrake patition with just software. The whole shbang takes about 8G, which means that you have 5 of every tool known. Is that what you did? Why don't you select what categories you want from the list and then click the little box on the bottom to select individual packages and you can look through the categories you chose from to weed out stuff you'd never use. And, why not install later if you want to try something else. I bet the only thing you had on Windows that was multiple was maybe browsers and media players. i don't mean to dissuade you from trying other distros. By all means do! But, my point is that EVERY DISTRO CAN BE BLOATED. The caps are for everyone reading this post. They're all mostly the same under the hood int he end. The only difference is the default choices. My example: my current toy, Gentoo. Its lean and mean, right? Not if you select a metapackage. Try "emerge --usepkg kde". You'll get every KDE package in the default release, which is a lot.

One thread that I have read and found most useful is a sticky in this very section: Here. Its all about what feels comfortable. Some like wool socks in the summer. Some like cotton tube socks. To each his/her own.

BTW, you shouldn't go through life without trying Debian. :D

So, what's the problem with the SB? (I mean besides the atrocious CPU-hogging it does with Windows drivers)

Ph0enix2003 06-14-2004 07:49 PM


Originally posted by DaveThePuzzled
How do you put an MBR on a floppy when the filesystem is NTFS?? Floppies are FAT only...only reads FAT and FAT32.
As someone has already said, the file system is irrelevant - otherwise how could you ever share files between UFS, HFS, NTFS, FAT, etc...

Boot XP, format a foppy within WinXP, copy boot.ini, NTDETECT.COM and NTLDR to it and VOILA!'ve just backed up your MBR. If something doesn't work, you can boot XP with that floppy as long as the order of the partitions doesn't change. In case it does, you can edit the boot.ini on the floppy to reflect the change.

DaveThePuzzled 06-15-2004 01:11 AM


It isn't that I filled up the hard drive, believe me, I haven't. It's just that Sound Blaster sound card has me sooooo frustrated that I want to try other distros and I also got two books for Red Hat 9 and Debian that I want to learn. Everybody says, "Learn, Learn, Learn..." and that is what I am trying to do, is learn. Believe me, I want soooo badly to get away from Windows that I wish I had another computer to play with to have Linux on that I would not care if I dumped the OS and went to another. Know what I mean?? It's not hard to dump and reload Linux when you know what you are doing. I also know that Red Hat is at the end of life but the key on that is, I want to learn. I can't get anywhere in life without learning something, right??

Anyway, I was just worried about the MBR because since Mandy's partition takes up 2/3 of the 2nd hard drive, not allowing me to install another distro, I need to clear out the partition and repartition it to where I can have 2 different distros to boot to, along with WinXP.

I am not trying to make this a complicated thread, believe me. I just didn't want to mess up my Windows partition, until now because WinXP is being buggy right now.....


J.W. 06-15-2004 02:57 AM

Dave - if your primary concern is to not mess up Windows, then do not make any changes at all to that partition, and instead just create the appropriate Linux partitions, then proceed with installing a single distro at a time. As an outside observer, I also think it might be worth putting things on pause for a moment to evaluate what you are trying to accomplish. Questions:

1. What are you really trying to do? Retain Windows but also have a working Linux system in a dual boot system? Ditch Windows entirely? Triple boot with Windows and 2 different Linux distros? The point is that each one of these goals would require a different set of tasks to accomplish.

2. If your sound card doesn't work under either Linux or Windows (maybe I'm not understanding your post #11 correctly) why hold on to it? Sure, sound is an important aspect of any system, but it really isn't a deal killer if you are simply trying to learn about the Linux OS. If your SB is giving you continual grief, I'd say to toss it and replace it with something else. Check out the LQ HCL for suggestions.

3. Could it be that you are being too ambitious too soon? Why not keep XP as is, then install a single Linux distro as a dual boot, give it a workout, then give another distro a try. (Repeat as necessary till you find one you like). Trying to go from XP to a triple boot with 2 Linux distros may be too much too soon.

I hope you don't think I'm being critical. My point is only that you need to learn to walk before you can run, and it may be best to take things slow. Based on what you've written, I'd suggest leaving the XP partition alone. Start a clean install of your first Linux candidate, using all the available space. If the soundcard doesn't work properly, forget about it for the time being and focus on becoming familiar with the new OS. You can always come back to the soundcard later. Give your first candidate distro an honest try-out, then dump it and replace it with your second Linux candidate. Give it a decent try-out, and repeat as necessary. Once you've identified the one you like best, stick with it.

As I said it just seems like you might be trying to do too much too soon, so if your real goal is to learn Linux, then start off slow. You can get fancy later but right now, it seems to me that a good milestone would be to replace Mandrake (since it isn't working for you) with some other distro. -- J.W.

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 09:50 PM.