Have you ever wanted to run a program, but your OS does not support it? I have run into this problem many times. There is a solution. You can install multiple operating systems on your computer. This way, you can have the best of all worlds. You do not have to be limited to just one OS. Multi-OS systems are very useful in today's diverse world of software. For example, you may like the ease of use of 98 but also want to be familiar with UNIX software. One choice would be to buy a separate machine for each operating system, or a better choice would be to install both on the same system.
Many people think that setting up a multi-boot system is a lot of hassle. On the contrary, although it can be time consuming, most of the time the installation process goes smoothly. However, I recommend you have at least some familiarity with partitions and installing. For those who are new to all this, I will try to explain as much as I can. An operating system is booted up by your system bios. Usually this boot information is in the MBR or Master Boot Sector. This information tells the bios which partition is active and which are not. Boot information can also reside in a primary partition. To understand how multi-OSs boot up, you need to know a little about the different types of partitions. Below is a diagram of the difference between a primary, logical, and extended partition:
As you can see, each primary partition is by itself in the hard drive. However, the logical partition is encased by the extended partition.
Only primary partitions are bootable, so operating systems can only reside in these partitions. Some bios can not read past a certain point in the hard drive. So, be careful when making your boot partitions not to go past the cut off point. A good rule of thumb is to keep all bootable partitions in the first half of the hard drive. This guide will help you through successfully installing your very own multi-OS system.
Pros and Cons
One benefit of using multiple operating systems is you can use a variety of software programs. You are not just limited to one platform. Certain programs may run faster and better on NT rather than 98 for example. Or certain software is only available on NT or 98. For example, if you want to play D3D games, you will have to use Windows 98 unless the game supports OpenGL. This gives you a large amount of flexibility in the software you can run. It is also a good idea to learn how to use more than one OS, and can help you find more job opportunities. For example, if a position requires knowledge in UNIX and you only know Windows NT, you might not be hired. Multiple OSs are also useful for dual processor systems. For example, NT is not a very good gaming platform but it does support SMP. So for non SMP gaming, I would go with 98 and use NT for everything else.
On the negative side, it can be annoying switching between OSs frequently. Imagine you are in Windows 98 and then suddenly realize you need to use 3D Studio MAX, which is on your NT partition. You would have to stop what you are doing and reboot the computer into NT. This can be a time consuming process. Another problem is multiple copies of the same program. For example, you may have duplicate copies of your anti-virus program in different OSs. Also, setting up a multiple boot can be complicated.
Planning your partition scheme is essential before doing the actual work. This lessens the chances that you will make a mistake during partitioning, and also speeds things up a bit. I would start by deciding which operating systems you will install. A good rule to follow is to install Windows NT first, Unix based OSs second, and Windows 98 last.
Avoid installing more than 3 operating systems on a single hard drive unless you have massive amounts of room. Do not try installing more than one OS per partition. I know people that have installed Windows 2000 and Windows 98 on one partition, and have gotten conflicts in certain programs. It is always best to give each OS their own partition. It helps to know what kind of file system each OS needs. Factor this info into your planning. Also keep in mind that a bootable partition must be with in the first 1024 cylinders of the hard drive. Keep the boot partitions in the first half of the hard drive to avoid any problems.
For example, let's say you plan to install NT, 98, and Red Hat Linux. You can dedicate 20% of the hard drive to NT and Linux, 30% to 98, and 30% as a data partition. Basically, prioritize what you need and what you do not need. You may not use NT as often as 98, so you may opt to create a smaller partition for NT and a larger one for 98. It all depends on your needs.
When using multiple OSs, there is always a problem with sharing files between them. NT for example can not read FAT32, and 98 can not read NTFS. To make sharing files easier, I suggest creating a FAT16 partition. Most operating systems will recognize it, and it eliminates the hassle of trying to transfer files from one OS to another.
It is best to start from scratch when installing any OS. Back up all the files that you want to save and format your hard drive. This way your system starts out fresh, and runs smooth. I suggest testing out your multi-boot system for a few days before finalizing everything. You may find some unexpected problems with different OSs.