Triple booting Vista, XP and Linux

Hello fellow dopers! I have an ambitious project and I need advice. I want to triple boot between Linux, Windows XP and Windows Vista. I could mangle it together on my own but I’d rather seek the advice of experts.

Before we begin, why am I doing this?
Well, Vista is great for day to day stuff like surfing the internet and Word and so on. But it isn’t as good for games. Vista and Nvidia don’t seem to like each other very much so I get some very weird things happening when I try to play a few of my favorites- for example Need for Speed Underground will give me sound and a black screen if I try to play it with any anti-aliasing on whatsoever. Also, Vista doesn’t like video very much. Most Divx videos stutter and absolutely will not fast forward. Divx doesn’t seem too interested in jumping on the Vista bandwagon so XP looks like the best choice for smooth game and video playback.

XP is my old standby. I know it has some issues but I’m familiar with what they are and am mostly prepared to deal with them. XP seems like my best choice for getting all my games installed and running the way they actually should run.

Linux is for education. I don’t know much about Linux and I think the easiest way to learn is the hard way: jump in with both feet. I have run Ubuntu before and was not too impressed with it- it seemed like a really half-baked version of Windows. The layout was familiar enough but there was so little functionality that it was frustrating. But I’m determined to learn, so I will see what I can figure out. Recommendations for a good distro would be appreciated.

The 114gb drive this will be taking place on will be partitioned roughly like so:
Vista: 50gb
XP : 50gb
Linux: 14gb

This is because the MS OS’s are notorious space hogs and I want them to have lots of breathing room.

So the main question is, what order do I install them in? XP first, then Vista, then Linux? I want to end up with a boot loader (bonus points if it is somewhat customizable and not just a DOS screen) that lets me choose between the three but can be set to default to any of them after a certain amount of time. IIRC, the Linux bootloader will do this.

So, does this sound like a plan? Thanks for any input!

If the Vista installer doesn’t simply demand the whole hard drive and will install a dual-boot system with XP, then I’d say XP, Vista, Linux. Most linux installers will let you downsize existing NTFS partitions (defrag them first, as a fragmented NTFS partition apparently makes this problematic) to make room for the Linux partitions.
Many Linux distributions come with a choice of boot loaders, - GRUB is a common one, and it’s pretty good - and the installer will usually set up a GRUB menu that points to the existing Windows partitions.

You’ll probably want to edit the GRUB menu to make it default to your favourite OS - you can also change the menu delay and colours, and you can edit the names and order of the entries to make them look simpler on screen (by default, they’ll probably be a bit verbose and you might want to make them just say “Windows XP”, “Windows Vista”, etc.)
To alter the menu, you’d have to boot into Linux and edit the file /boot/grub/menu.lst - it’s a well-commented and easy-to-read configuration file and contains examples in the comments.

IMO, Ubuntu is the best distribution for users coming from Windows. I think your initial impression must have been just because you weren’t familiar enough with it to be able to find what you wanted.

I spent a couple days trying to do this (google “triple boot Vista Ubuntu XP” for some pages talking about how to do it), and finally gave up. Vista’s the big problem – it changed the boot loader from XP, so the Linux installations (which used to just handle this for you if you installed them last) don’t recognize it. I presume this will change soon.

I was trying to do it with an existing XP install, which I eventually lost, since Vista kept re-lettering them every time I tried to install it (to make it’s boot drive “C”) – destroying the XP install (which had my user account on a separate drive from the WINDOWS directory, and when that drive got relettered behind XP’s back, it couldn’t boot. No tool I was able to find could put the drive letters back the way they were supposed to be (although several claimed they could, like Acronis).

Ignoring issues of why Microsoft continues to require dynamic DRIVE LETTERS rather than static drive names in 2007 (the Mac solved this problem in 1984), my final solution was install clean XP (leaving the user directories in their default place), install Vista (which handles dual-boot for you), and use a virtual machine for Ubuntu. I’m sticking with this until the Linux installers solve the problem for me; I can’t afford more time, and at this point I don’t want to clean install again.

One option is to get another hard drive and a sled and run Vista from that, while dual-booting XP and Linux from the existing drive. You can also have separate hard drives for each app, but it’s not necessary.

Okay, looks like I might have to leave Linux out for now, unless I do Linux boots from CD or something… Thanks to all for the input so far.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen third-party boot managers that claim to be able to handle all kinds of multiple boot scenarios, including this one as quite trivial - I can’t recall any names though… let me see what I can find…

Here’s one ($50 though)

here’s a free one, but it’s unclear whether it’s designed for/dependent upon Apple hardware.

If anybody’s in a position to try the following, I’d be interested to know if it would work (sticking with XP, me):

  1. Install XP
  2. Install Vista, allowing it to hijack the boot loader
  3. Run the XP recovery console and run ‘fixmbr’, so you end up with XP loading as before
  4. Install Ubuntu

I’m wondering if Ubuntu will pick up on the existence of the Vista partition in this situation?

That was one of the things I tried, actually – it doesn’t. Basically the Linux installs don’t see Vista at all.

The folks who seem to be having the best success are the ones who installed XP and Linux, then got Linux to install using the XP bootloader, then installed Vista – I guess it picks up the changes that have already been made to the XP bootloader.

However, I tried that, too, and never manged to get the XP bootloader to actually load Linux; I think because Linux wanted to number my drives (I have four SATAS and an IDE) differently than Windows would, so Linux couldn’t boot after being hooked into the XP loader.

I mention my drive setup because I believe it was a large part of my problem – I didn’t mean to discourage others with simpler setups from trying to make this work. (I also tried Acronis’s boot manager, with the operating systems on different drives: same problem – the drives appear to be numbered/lettered differently when the OSes are launched that way, and the previously-working installs all stop booting.)

Did simply editing Grub manually to include the Vista partition work? I’ve found numerous times that Ubuntu updates have wiped out my XP entry (from /etc/grub.conf? can’t remember), and I’ve had to copy it back in from a backup file. Or the first time it happened, had to google around and work out what to do. I’m wondering if a duplicate of the XP entry, referring to the Vista partition, is all that is needed?

Hey, there’s a newer version of Ubuntu out than I used: 7.04. Comments say that it can pick up the Vista boot loader automatically. Has anyone tried it with a system that already dual-boots XP and Vista?

The default is /boot/grub/grub.conf

No but I’m dumb enough to try, so I will.

Okay, so far it looks like I should:

make partitions (50gb/50gb/14gb)
install XP
install Vista
install Ubuntu

Assuming this is the correct order to proceed in, I’ll begin tonight.

Yeah, that looks like the right order to me. I’m not confident of success, but good luck!

It’s not clear to me why you need both Vista and XP; what is there Vista gives you that XP doesn’t? If you can ditch Vista then your job is simple, just install XP then, say, SuSE Linux and let it redo the partition boundary and install Grub.

Linux will want to make its own partitions, and 14 GB may not be enough.

I don’t know about Vista, but I would suggest buying a second HDD for Linux.

14GB should be plenty for an experimental system. If it was going to be the primary OS, I’d recommend more, but if and when DWMarch switches to Linux for everyday use, it’s easy to modify the partitions or add another drive and mount part or all of the system in the new space.

If it’s Ubuntu we’re talking about, the installer will provide several different options for the partitioning - including purely manual settings, or manual with guided values.

I’m iffy on Linux but I downloaded the ISO for the latest Ubuntu and successfully burnt it. The CD says it will function as a Live CD if I want it to, so I will probably audit Linux that way. I do remember my last attempt with Linux telling me to get stuffed because it didn’t think the partitions I wanted to give it were big enough.

XP will need the most room, as I’m going to attempt to install every single game I have. This summer is going to be a tight one financially so I want all my entertainment options available. I already have a second hard drive but it’s a backup of all my pr0… er, data.

As for Vista, I’m using it because I paid full retail for it (to avoid OEM re-activation hassles) and because eventually there will be no other option. XP is already old enough to be going to grade school and is riddled with well-known security holes. Vista is more secure but still manages to be more functional. It’s been my experience so far, running Vista as a daily OS since it went retail, that any problems I’ve encountered with it are the fault of third parties who couldn’t be bothered to update their software. I’ve also found that Vista has all kinds of little improvements across the board that set it apart from XP. I’m one of those rare few who are happy with Vista. But I’d rather dual boot than try to force backwards compatibility with video games that are never going to be updated.

One thing you can do, if you are just playing around with linux, is to use vmware for it. Do your XP/Vista dual boot thing, then install vmware server (free) into XP.

This way you don’t have to dedicate physical partitions to your linux installation, which, when you are first beginning, you tend to want to change around all the time and that can be a big pain in the neck. Then if you get angry at one linux distro, 2 clicks in vmware and the whole thing is blown away and you can start a new one. With a different size “disk.”

Of course one drawback is that you don’t really learn how to properly partition your machine :stuck_out_tongue:

Or just have a second (possibly external) drive that has all the Linux stuff, and boot from a minimal image from floppy/thumbdrive/CD. I don’t know how GRUB or other bootloaders cope with Vista (from which I have maintained distance as I would a hippopotamus) but using GRUB you should be able to configure it to let you boot up XP or any number of Linux kernels you may have on your system. Running Linux from a “LiveCD” sucks, honestly, and is really only useful when testing out a system or doing some clean up/recovery/subterfuge on a machine. I wouldn’t plan on running that way indefinitely, and there’s really no reason to do so; ditto for running from a thumbdrive.

VMWare server is an okay tool, but it has it’s limitations and is far from bug-free. I was using it to test some software to run on our large Linux workstations and ended up giving up and just using one of the stations as a test bed. I’m not sure it’s worth the frustration, but I guess it depends on what you’re trying to do with it. Note that Linux really isn’t a desktop system like Windows or MacOS (of any variety) and attempts to make it so have really been tacked onto the core functionality of X11. It’s made great strides in the past few years and is usable for a lot of desktop purposes (and is certainly more than fine for web browsing and e-mail) but I wouldn’t expect it to be on par with the commercial desktop OSs, so if this is what the o.p. wants to do with it, it’s kind of a default second-best for this. It’s an outstanding OS for getting into the guts or doing development work, though (although I personally prefer FreeBSD).

Honestly, I’d just lose Vista out of the equation entirely unless you have some compelling reason to run it. I’ll admit to being pessimistic about it before it came out, but it has exceeded every concern I had about it by a wide margin.