This post is a first for me of this type. A friend of mine is interested in trying out an Operating System (OS) that I have a habit of promoting quite a bit. You guessed it, it is Linux we are talking about. But he is unsure how to go about it and is not really ready to get rid of Windows. Yet. And I understand him. Moving to a new OS can be unnerving and would be easier if it is done in phases. I promised I would help him, but he is in another country and so I decided to make a post out of it. Instead of just telling him what to do, it is always better to know at least a bit of what you are doing. In this spirit I am going to explain as simply as possible how we are going to go about this. Hence the considerable length of this post. So here we are. Welcome to my first Linux guide - 'A Beginner's Guide to Dual Booting Linux Mint and Windows XP'
What is Linux Mint? This is a rather new distribution that is based on the very famous Ubuntu Linux distribution. Linux Mint, in my opinion, is supposed to be easier for newcomers to Linux as most of the bells and whistles including proprietary software is supposed to work out-of-the-box. And in its latest incarnation, Linux Mint 2.2 Bianca, things just got a lot better!
Enough chit-chat, lets get you using Linux Mint. First, you will have to download the install CD image (LinuxMint-2.2.iso) from here. It is 685MB, so it will take some time. You can verify the integrity of the file you have downloaded by downloading the small LinuxMint-2.2.md5sum file as well and following these instructions. This is not an obligatory step though. Then, you will have to burn this image file to CD. This does not mean just adding the LinuxMint-2.2.iso file and burning a data CD. Here and here are two websites that explain how to do this in Windows. I recommend that you burn the CD at the slowest speed possible to avoid read errors during installation. After you are done burning there should be two folders on the CD named casper and isolinux, and a file md5sum.txt. If not, you have done something wrong and the CD will not work.
In all my messing around with installing various distributions, I have never faced a scenario where I lost all the data on my hard drive. And I have done enough messing around. However, you are always better safe than sorry. So, I would recommend you backup all the data on your computer that you cannot afford to lose. I am just avoiding law suit here. No really, backup.
Now you will have to make some space on your harddrive for Linux. Linux Mint needs an absolute minimum of 3GB but I would strongly recommend at least 5GB. With hard drives as huge as they are today you have no excuse. So make sure you have got at least 5GB free space on one of your Windows partitions. The more, the better. Then run Disk Defragmenter and defragment your entire hard disk. This step is so that all the free space is located in one big chunk and not spread out in little bits. This will also take some time. Now, I am not sure how it is in Windows since it has been a while since I used it, but I think you should not use your computer while defragmenting otherwise it starts defragmenting from the beginning each time Windows writes to the hard disk. Linux avoids this whole problem by not allowing the hard disk to get defragmented in the first place. Clever, huh. Once you are done with this, we can move to the fun stuff - installing Linux Mint!
Put the Linux Mint CD you have burnt in the CD/DVD drive and reboot. You may have to set your BIOS to boot from CD first before the hard disk. On booting from the CD, the first screen you will see is the boot options screen below.
Just hit enter, sit back and watch the pretty boot splash as Linux Mint starts up. When everything is loaded you will be greeted by a very attractive desktop that can only be appropriately described as mint! Have a look.
Linux Mint is a Live CD. This means that it boots into a functional OS that runs entirely from the CD. And while in this state you can use it without making any changes to you hard disk. The disadvantage is that you cannot make permanent changes. Each time you reboot all changes are lost. Also, depending on the amount of RAM you have the Live CD is slower than an OS installed on the hard disk. So you can play around with it as a Live CD if you are just trying to see what Linux Mint is all about. But we're not here to play around, we're here to dig into the real stuff! See the Linux Mint icon on the desktop labeled Install? Double click it and we'll be on our way with the installation.
The installation dialogue pops up. The first thing I noticed is on the bottom left it says 'Step 1 of 6'. 6 steps?! Is that how easy installing Linux has become? You bet it is! If we were not going for a dual boot setup, any sort of guide would be totally irrelevant. But don't worry, setting up the dual boot isn't hard either, you'll see. Back on track. The first screen is self-explanatory. Choose the language you want for your final system and click Forward.
The second step is just as self-explanatory as the first. Simply choose your time zone from the drop-down list. Or optionally you may click on your region in the world map, and the map will zoom in allowing you to select your city directly. Then click Forward.
Now it's time choose your keyboard layout. You can test your keys in the field below the lists (as I have kindly demonstrated). This is so easy... Why does this need a guide?
Who are you? No, we don't want your philosophical rant... just enter your full name and the name you want to use to log in. Enter your password twice, and a name for your machine. The account created here will be the administrator account with full control of the OS. I will talk about user accounts in more detail in a soon-to-come post... Forward...
Guess what! We've reached the 'hard' part - disk partitioning. We don't want to erase the entire disk, so we choose the second option. We're doing this manually! Forward.
This opens the partition editor application. It will scan all your hard disks and display the present partitions and details about them. If you have more that one physical hard drive then you can switch between them using the drop-down menu at the top right. Your master drive is usually first i.e. hda or sda. The slave will be hdb or sdb. And the partitions are numbered as hda1, hda2, hda3 and so on.
If you are attentive you will notice that my hard disk is divided into three partitions - hda1 is my linux-swap partition, hda2 holds my main installation of Ubuntu Linux and hda3 is my test partition which I use to play around with other Linux distributions. But in this case it is an empty NTFS partition, the file system which Windows XP uses. I am not about to delete my Ubuntu partition just so I can show you how to resize an NTFS partition. So imagine that hda3 is the partition in which you freed 5GB (or however much) for Linux at the beginning of this guide. If you are thinking in terms of C:/, D:/, E:/, etc drives in Windows, there is no sure correlation between that and the Linux hda1, hda2, hda3, etc naming system. I suggest going by the size of the partitions and the free space available in each one to know exactly which partition you are going to resize. Right-click on the partition you wish to resize select Resize/Move. The following dialogue will pop up.
There are a number of ways you can define how you want to resize your partition. The easiest way is just to type the number of megabytes you wish to have for Linux Mint in the last input field where it says 'Free Space Following (MiB)'. As I said 5GB minimum. So you can enter 5000 there. I have less than 5000 in that field, but I am the teacher here - I am allowed to cheat! Actually, I am not. You will see soon enough. The partition editor will not make any changes until you tell it specifically to do so by clicking the Apply button. So for now click Resize.
As you can now see, the NTFS partition has been reduced and there is now some unallocated space after it. This is where Mint is going to stay.
Next is whether you create a primary or extended partition. This depends on how many partitions you already have on your hard disk and what kind they are. A hard disk can have a maximum of four primary partitions. If your partitions are named between hda1 and hda4, they are primary partitions. hda5 and above are extended partitions. So if you have one or two primary partitions you can create primary partitions as you can make two more for Linux. Otherwise, you will will have to create extended partitions which allows a much higher number of partitions.
Every Linux installation needs a swap partition. It is the equivalent of the Windows paging file. Think of it as an extension of your computer's RAM. The general rule is that the size of your swap partition should be the amount of RAM on your machine multiplied by 1.5. However, nowadays with the size of RAM getting very huge, the size of swap doesn't need to be as large. I would set 512MB as a maximum for desktops. Linux Mint recommends a minimum of 256MB. I would second that. Let us make some swap space for Mint. Click on the unallocated space and then click the New button at the top left to create a new partition.
Simply type the amount of swap space that you want in the 'New Size (MiB)' field. For an idea, I have 256MB RAM and my swap space partition is 384MB. This much has been more than adequate for my computing needs. I don't need another swap partition - Ubuntu and Mint can both use the one I already have. The space for the swap partition is what I took out of the 5GB earlier when I 'cheated'. Then choose if it is going to be a primary partition or an extended partition appropriately from the drop-down menu and then select linux-swap from the other drop-down menu. Click Add.
Now we will create the partition where we are going to install the actual OS. Click on the remaining unallocated space and then click on the New button at the top left.
Make sure this partition fills the entire unallocated space - the 'Free Space Preceding' and the 'Free Space Following' fields should both be 0 (zero). Again select primary or extended partition appropriately and then choose a file system in the lower drop-down menu. Linux Mint defaults to ext3 which is tried and tested. I prefer reiserfs which is newer and has some performance advantages over ext3. Take your pick. After all, that is what Linux is all about - freedom and choice! Go ahead... click Add.
Have a look at the pending operations in the partitioning application window. Check and see if your partitions are the way you want them to be. There's no turning back after this. Click Apply!
Oops wait... a warning pops up... click Apply again!
And success! Click Close.
Finally, we reach the end of our lengthy step 5 - Partition mount points. Verify that the partition you created for Linux Mint is mounted at /, the swap partition as swap. The rest go under the /media/hd* mount points according to their partition numbers. I am not sure if NTFS partitions are mounted here by default as I deleted my NTFS partition. I dont need or want it anyway. If not, there is a tool to do this later on. Also check that the / and swap partitions are marked for reformatting and the rest are not. That's it! Bravo, you are done with partitioning! Click Forward!
[EDIT] I have received some feedback that at least one person has faced a situation where the Windows NTFS partition was assigned to be mounted at /media/hda1 and the installer warned the user that proceeding would cause him to lose all the data on that partition. After a little searching the solution he found was to change the mount point of the Windows partition by replacing /media/hda1 with /windows in the above dialogue. This solved the problem and the installation and dual booting went on smoothly.
[EDIT] If you do not wish to allow Linux to access your Windows partitions, delete the mount points in the above step so that the fields under Mount Point are blank for the respective Windows partitions.
The final step! This is more of a summary of what the installer will do. The only option here is choosing the location of GRUB, the boot loader. GRUB is the first thing you will encounter when you boot your computer. It will provide you with the option of starting either Linux Mint or Windows. Don't change anything here. Most probably it will work just fine. Now bravely click Install!
The installation will take about 20-25 minutes. So, you can go and do whatever it is you do when you've got nothing to do. I fixed myself a midnight snack - eggs and baked beans... No, its not what Linux people eat... It's what lazy people eat. At least nobody is troubling me today!
Alas we have reached the end of our journey! On the other hand, your journey has just begun. A journey to trouble-free computing! I actually timed myself during this install. Of course, this is not the first time for me, but I did do it leisurely plus I took some of the screenshots you see here. From booting with the CD to rebooting took me a few seconds shy of 55 minutes! Not bad for the so-called complicated, only-for-geeks OS. And on top of that, everything worked fine - from playing mp3 files to websites loaded with flash. Even this post, including all the image editing was done on Linux Mint! But I'll leave that for another post. In the mean time if you need any help, go over to the Linux Mint forum and the friendly people there will surely be happy to help.
You go ahead and give that Restart Now button a good whack and enjoy!
[EDIT] My follow-up post on Linux Mint