Prepare for the Multiboot

So, you’ve decided to turn your computer from an expensive paperweight and typewriter replacement to a Multibooting Machine. Now what do you do? Before you dive in and start throwing software around and generally messing up your hard drive, there are some things to consider:

1. You have a working computer, apart from the one you will multiboot on

This isn’t strictly essential, but it is strongly recommended. Multibooting on your main computer is certainly possible, but very risky. Remember that you will be reformating your hard disk and so you might lose all data. Also you won’t be able to use your computer while the operating systems are installing (see below) and if anything goes wrong during install, your computer could be unusable for long periods of time. That’s why you should have another computer at the ready (with all essential data on it) so that you won’t be stuck without a working computer if you need one in the middle of your multiboot mission It would be better if this other computer was connected to the Internet so that you could look up documentation and get help if you get stuck somewhere

2. All your hardware should be working perfectly.

This is top priority. If you have any hardware that has been acting up lately, get it fixed or replaced immediately. Installing operating systems is rather resource intensive and many things could go wrong if your hardware is malfunctioning. Especially important is your hard drive and your optical (CD/DVD) drive. One tell-tale sign of a bad optical drive is having problems reading and writing CD-RWs. If that’s your case, change it. While we’re talking about hardware I would also recommended having a DVD drive as many of the larger operating systems ship on DVD. Yes, it’s true that most also have multi-CD edition, but one DVD is much easier to handle then 6 or 7 CDs.

3. All your data should be backed up

Make sure that the hard disk you plan to use for multi-booting has been cleared of all important data. Ideally I would recommend having 3 backup locations: a CD or DVD, another hard disk and an online location. For the last one, a personal secure server would be ideal, but there are a number of web services offering online storage for free or at minimal cost.

4. You have some time to kill

Installing an operating system can take between 20 minutes to over an hour depending on numerous factors (most importantly, the size of the operating system and your hardware specs). Plus there is the additional factor of how long it will take to download the operating systems over the internet (if they’re available that way) or to buy them. And talking about buying…

5. You’ve got some cash to spare.

Now, don’t start worrying, making a multibooting machine isn’t going to burn a hole into your pocket. There are a plethora of operating systems available free of charge so you won’t have to pay a penny that way (unless there’s one or more that you’re dying to get and isn’t available freely). However, there will be some minor costs, like the price of buying a few blank CDs or DVDs. More importantly there’s the cost of bandwidth, which might be a problem if you don’t have a cheap broadband connection.

Now that the mundane considerations are taken care of, it’s time to move on to more interesting things. You can now proceed to search the internet for operating systems of your choice and download them (or buy them). Generally they will be distributed as CD or DVD images and you should be able to burn them to the appropriate media with any standard CD/DVD burning program (like Nero for Windows and K3B or Gnomebaker or xcdroast) for Unix. Just one word of advice: it’s better to burn to good quality CD-Rs rather than CD-RWs. Rewritables can be troublesome and I have personally experienced problems with them. I don’t have any experience with DVDs, so you’ll have to check that one yourself. Tomorrow I’ll take you through a more sophisticated checklist of things you’ll need to multi-boot as well as a few special tools to make your Multibooting experience a bit smoother.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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