Dual boot Win XP and Ubuntu - setting the boot menu?

  br1anstorm 22:50 02 Jan 2014

I am aiming to install latest version of Ubuntu (v13?) alongside the original Win XP Home OS on the C drive of my ageing desktop computer - mainly to see how Ubuntu/Linux works as I have no experience of this OS.

I want to make sure I know EXACTLY what to do, and have looked at various step by step guides and how-to videos. But I would welcome advice on a specific point - with apologies to those who think the answer is too obvious to need explaining!

The main steps are clear: 1) download Ubuntu and burn .iso to a disk or USB stick 2) back up, defrag, and chkdisk your existing C drive 3) partition the C drive to create a separate space for Ubuntu - either by using third party software like EaseUS or GParted, or when prompted during Ubuntu installation 4) amend boot menu to boot from CDROM or USB stick (whatever the Ubuntu .iso is on) rather than the hard drive. 5) put Ubuntu .iso disk into CDROM drive (or USB into slot) and restart 6) follow steps for Ubuntu install

..... and if it all works, Ubuntu installs on to the "new" partition, then when you restart every time thereafter, a "dual boot" menu (is this the so-called GRUB menu from Ubuntu?) comes up showing the two OSs and giving the option to choose which to boot from. 7) remove .iso disk from CDROM drive (or unplug USB) and away you go.

All seems fine in theory. But being logical, one thing bothers me. At step (4), before loading and installing Ubuntu, I will have changed the boot order in the boot menu to tell the computer to boot first from the CD drive (or USB).

So..... don't I have to go into the boot menu again (how do I do so?) and re-set the boot sequence back again so that it starts from the hard drive? Or has the installation of Ubuntu in a dual-boot setup somehow overridden the boot menu settings so that the "GRUB" menu (giving a choice of OSs... which are now of course both on the hard drive) comes up every time? And if that is so, how in a future emergency could I re-access the boot menu in order, say, to boot from a rescue disk?

  LastChip 00:29 03 Jan 2014

OK, there's a few misconceptions here to clarify.

Starting with the boot order.

You set the boot order in your computer BIOS, telling it to first boot from your CD/DVD drive (or USB). Once this is done, the BIOS will look for whatever you've selected first, but if it doesn't find a CD/DVD in the drive, it will look at whatever you have set next - say your hard drive for example. It wouldn't matter in that scenario if you never changed the boot order back, as it will check for each device in turn according to whatever you've set. Normally there are a minimum of three options for the boot order, so you could set as follows: CD/DVD, hard drive, USB. Note, not all BIOS's will have the option to boot from a USB stick. Older ones probably won't.

Having said all that, it doesn't matter which operating system you have installed, the BIOS is ALWAYS available at boot-up PRIOR to the operating system loading. You need to look at your first boot screen to find which key to access it, but it's often Delete.

When you install Ubuntu (or any other mainstream Linux distribution), it will set up a dual boot option for you. GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader), is the piece of software that takes care of that for you. It will overwrite your hard drives MBR. That's not a problem in itself, but just be aware, if you later remove Ubuntu, you won't get back into XP, without using your XP disc to write a new MBR. This is because the GRUB files reside in Ubuntu.

Two further things I should mention.

You don't actually have to install Ubuntu to try it. It comes on what is known as a live CD (DVD actually). This means you can run the system straight from the DVD. It will be slow, but at least you could see whether you think you'd like it, before actually committing to an install.

The second point is, Ubuntu is pretty radical in it's appearance and takes quite a bit of getting used to. I personally think that puts a lot of people off. Take a look at Linux Mint, (the Mate or Cinnamon versions), which are much more XP like in operation and you may find yourself more at home with. Again, you can try it as a live CD, so all it's going to cost you is a bit of time and a couple of blank DVD's. Just make sure if it's a 32 bit machine, you get the correct ISO. If you choose to do that, I also recommend you get the version with the codecs. Also, make sure you're very clear on how to burn an ISO. I've lost count of the amount of people that have fallen at the first hurdle!

If you need any more information, please post back.

  Jollyjohn 13:05 03 Jan 2014

Can thoroughly recommend Linux, personally I use PCLinuxOS as my main PC. Kubuntu is a nice distro to try, uses the K Desktop Environment which I prefer to the standard Ubuntu which uses Gnome desktop.

Shortcut - when your PC boots up there may be an option to go to a boot menu. On mine it is F11. This means you can leave your BIOS set up to boot from the hard drive first, just pick CD or USb when you need it.

  br1anstorm 00:34 04 Jan 2014

Thanks, JollyJohn and especially LastChip for some really helpful advice. I knew I was getting close to the limits of my own knowledge, so misconceptions are perhaps unavoidable!

On the boot order in the BIOS, your comments rather confirm what I thought: that it could, and probably would, be sensible to return to the "normal" sequence (hard drive first) after doing an OS installation from a CD/DVD.

But this bit about the MBR is a slight worry: It will overwrite your hard drive's MBR. That's not a problem in itself, but just be aware, if you later remove Ubuntu, you won't get back into XP, without using your XP disc to write a new MBR. This is because the GRUB files reside in Ubuntu. As I don't have an XP disc (the computer is secondhand, with an OEM version of XP) I really don't want to do stuff which irreversibly alters XP. I thought dual booting and separate partitions kept each OS totally separate, but what do I know? If installing Ubuntu messes up the MBR, that may be a deal-breaker for me.

So I'm tempted by the idea of trying Ubuntu (or Linux Mint or whatever) without installing. I don't mind learning an unfamiliar-looking (non-XP) system. But I'm now a bit confused by the choice between running it from a live CD/DVD, and running it from "inside Windows" by installing it as a program using "wubi". Evidently both result in slow-running: it was because the CPU and RAM on this oldish desktop are not very powerful that I thought that partitioning and installing was a better way to go.

How exactly does one set up a live CD of the Ubuntu or Linux Mint OS? Is it just burning the .iso and then opting for a try-out rather than an install when the CD boots up? Does it still require changing the boot order in the BIOS, even if only for a try-out?

I haven;t yet tried burning an .iso. The process seems straightforward using ImgBurn or similar, but i guess i'll have to cross that bridge when i come to it. I noticed that the Ubuntu download offered 32 or 64 bit options - didn't spot the codec choice though....

Decisions, decisions. No hurry - I'd rather do it right than do it quick!

  LastChip 02:01 04 Jan 2014

As far as running a live CD/DVD goes, just set your BIOS to use your CD/DVD drive as the first boot device, then pop in your selected distro and let it boot. If you get a menu, chose (something like) "start without making any changes to my computer". The DVD will then load into memory and you'll be able to try it out, albeit very slowly.

The main things with burning a distro are: 1, use the slowest burning speed you can and 2, burn the ISO as is; in other words, don't attempt to unzip it, or extract files. You just take the whole ISO file and burn it as it is.

Your MBR is overwritten because Ubuntu or Mint or whatever, need a compatible boot loader that can fire them up. Although Linux is perfectly capable of seeing Windows, the reverse is not true. Microsoft's intention is to lock you in and they have no interest in providing a boot manager that offers alternatives, unless it's one of their own.

The MBR issue can be overcome provided you take action before installing any distro. Use a CD like the Ultimate Boot CD and make a copy of your MBR with the MBRtool. You could save it to a USB stick for example. If then at a later date you wanted to remove the distro, you'd simple use the same utility to replace the MBR you've already saved.

Alternatively you could use a boot manager such as BootMagic, or one of the managers provided on the Ultimate Boot CD. Each would get you back into XP. So it's not a major issue provided you are aware of it and understand the action to be taken.

Wubi has been discontinued as of Ubuntu 12.04 (it's now 13.10). You could install it inside a virtual machine such as VirtualBox, but the overhead would probably be almost as great as running the live CD.

  br1anstorm 00:53 05 Jan 2014

Thanks, LastChip - great wisdom there. First it underlines the sense in checking the depth of the water before diving in (fewer headaches and breakages that way!). So the tip on how to save and restore MBR is useful, as is the wider guidance on boot managers. I need to do some more homework on all that.

Likewise, useful advice on burning (not everyone would naturally opt for slowest speed...).

I had thought of going for Ubuntu 12 rather than the very latest version - because of the Long Term Support. But I'm now looking at Ubuntu v Mint pros and cons.

Can't face the added challenges of setting up a virtual arrangement. I'm trying hard to keep things simple!

Can't yet say I have all the answers I need, but this has helped me get quite a way along the road. Thanks again...

  br1anstorm 17:46 26 Mar 2014

I've revived this thread just to note a bit more information on dual booting WinXP (or 7 or 8) with a Linux OS.

The earlier exchange with LastChip highlighted the issue of "losing" the MBR when installing a Linux OS alongside WinXP - because the Linux boot loader (GRUB) overwrites or replaces the Windows MBR.

That's fine - so long as you keep the Linux OS and the GRUB boot loader works well. But if you want to go back to WinXP only, or if for some reason (eg updates) GRUB malfunctions, you are in trouble unless you keep a copy somewhere of the original MBR.

I have been delving further on this, and came across a clip on a well-known video site which sets out How to Dual Boot Windows and Linux the "non-traditional way".

Others with greater expertise can perhaps explain it better. But in simple terms this way involves keeping the MBR, and custom-installing the Linux OS so that the GRUB boot loader is located in the same partition as the Linux OS (rather than replacing the MBR). Then with some careful steps involving use of a freeware program called EasyBCDedit to adjust the Boot Configuration Data to "point to" the location of the GRUB boot loader, it is possible to have the MBR continue to operate as normal: once edited, it either offers the Windows OS, or (because it has been told where the GRUB boot loader is) it offers the Linux OS.

The good news is that apparently it works very well, and is a neat way of avoiding the loss of the original Windows MBR.

The bad news...... is that while it is fine for setting up a dual boot with Linux on systems running on Windows 7 or 8, it doesn't work for Windows XP, because XP doesn't have the BCD file(s) and its boot files are a bit different so EasyBCDedit can't adjust them.

So this little bit of research hasn't helped me. But it may be useful to others who want to dual boot a Linux OS with Win 7 or 8.

This thread is now locked and can not be replied to.

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