Stupid Computer Tricks: Multi-booting NT, 9x and Linux

Again in the endeavor to make this site useful to Web developers, I present the following experiences in making an Intel/AMD multi-boot different OSes and file systems.

I plan to revise this article extensively as time goes on and I learn more.

Anyway to explain what my goal is: I want to have machine that can boot either Windows 9x (95, 98 or ME) in FAT32, NT (NT 4, 2000, XP) in NTFS or Linux in ext3. This is so I can run things in one enviroment or another without compromising anything, so I can develop web stuff on Apache, sendmail, IIS, SQL Server 2000 and so on, so I test browsers and services in a variety of environments and mean it.

So through some Web research and trial and error, I’ve arrived at a laborious way to make my machines multi-boot with different file systems:

  1. Before doing anything, back up all your data!
  2. Then wipe the file table of your hard drive clean. If you don’t know how to do this, you shouldn’t waste your time with this article.
  3. Next, follow Adam’s dual booting instructions very closely and very carefully. I don’t yet fully understand all the ins and outs of this method but it works so I ain’t messing with it. Perhaps when I figure out the whys and wherefores I will propose shortcuts.
  4. After reaching the end of the previous step, you should have a machine that dual boots 9x in FAT32 and NT in NTFS. Ideally your drive should should several partitions left over for storage and for the linux installation that’s to come.
  5. Upgrade the 9x system to the most recent version you have probably 98 or ME. Do this now because it might be difficult to do later other systems are crystallized.
  6. Upgrade the NT system to the latest version you have for the same reasons. It will probably a pain to fix your boot loader after upgrading your Win2k system partition to XP. Do it now before installing Linux.
  7. Once you’ve got everything upgraded and stable on your 9x and NT partitions, then install the latest version of Linux (Preferably with ext3 as a file system and GRUB as a bootloader.). I used Red Hat 7.2, but I am a green horn. Maybe I’ll graduate to Slackware or compile my own later.
  8. I still haven’t figured out how to assign a swap partition for Linux using this process. I am still experimenting. I’ll send postcards when I get there.
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