Thursday, June 22, 2006

Installing Ubuntu on my primary home machine - partition planning

I've been running Debian Linux on an older machine for more than a year and a half. I like using Linux for many reasons (it's free, stable, fast, open-source, and has thousands of programs freely available for it that don't feature ads and tend towards user-friendly feature sets), but have found that the machine gets less use than it otherwise would because all of my primary data files are still stored on my Windows box.

That will hopefully change soon, as I plan to turn my primary home box into a dual-boot that can switch between Windows XP and Ubuntu 6.06. This switch is largely motivated by my desire to try using Linux full-time, though it also has a practical basis as well: I just got a new hard drive that will replace my current primary drive, so I'll have to reinstall my entire operating system anyway (and thus might as well build it as a dual-boot).

I've been reading up on creating dual-boot machines, and have found some useful resources:
One of the problems of a dual-boot setup is that it can be difficult to share user files between the different operating systems. Linux typically formats hard drives to use either the ext2/ext3 or ReiserFS file systems, while Windows XP prefers to use the NTFS file system. Linux can read from, but not reliably write to, NTFS file systems, and Windows has no native support at all for reading from or writing to ext2/3 file systems. In other words, Linux and Windows don't get along too well (shock there, I know).

However, there are two ways to get Windows and Linux to access the same files:
  • Create a partition for both Windows and Linux (NTFS and ext3, respectively), and then create a third partition using FAT32, an older file system that both Linux and Windows (and Macs) have native support for (i.e., both can read and write to partitions formatted with FAT32 without problem). This extra partition can then be used to store data that both operating systems can access without issue.
  • Install third-party drivers for Windows that allow Windows to access ext2/3 partitions (e.g., or Thus, by installing these drivers I could simply store files in a Linux formatted partition, and access them from both operating systems. However, the drivers don't appear to be extremely widely used, and while reports about them are generally positive (most forum posts report no problems), it appears that they may not be perfect quite yet (as has been reported in these three threads, which report crashes or problems by individual users).
Unfortunately, FAT32 filesystems lack some useful features (e.g., no file ownership, files cannot be larger than 4GB). However, considering that I want this machine to be as error-free as possible, I'll be sticking with FAT32 for the shared space until either Windows supports ext2/3 natively or Linux supports NTFS natively (or I can confirm that the ext2 drivers work well on my machine).

So, hopefully I'll be writing this blog from a brand-new Ubuntu install sometime soon.

As a side note, since I'm going to have to reinstall Windows, I need a Windows XP CD. Windows came installed on my Dell by default, but this wiki post indicates that Dell sometimes doesn't send out full Windows XP CDs with their new computers (they store a copy of Windows XP in a partition on the drive and ship software that simply retrieves it). So, as suggested by the wiki, I contacted Dell's support and requested that they send out a CD. They did; by next day air. Impressive.

1 comment:

Radagast said...

Importing comments:


Thanks for this great paper on the subject. I am currently looking for a good way to setup my brand new machine and you just wrote what I needed to know about dual boot, partition sharing, etc.

I'm currently looking to give a try to Vmware hosts (Windows and linux) that will share virtual machines.

Great blog by the way
November 1, 2006, 8:02:04 PM PST