December 17, 2003

Dual-booting W2K and SuSE 9.0 Professional

Author: Joe Barr

I got a "new" used PC recently to use as a test machine. I call it "The Beast" because it's very large and very heavy. The tower case is huge. The Beast has a SCSI controller, which is new ground for me. When you power it on, it searches for strangely named devices that cause flashbacks to the ide-scsi debates. It has a smallish 10GB IDE disk drive, an ATAPI CD-ROM, a floppy drive, a 700MHz Pentium III CPU, and 256MB of RAM. It also has a problem. It came with an operating system that has a viral nature. No, I'm not talking about GPL licensing. I mean it came pre-loaded with Windows, which is the official ground zero for Internet infections.

Is it LiveCD or is it SuSE?

As luck would have it, neither my evaluation copy of Mepis Linux nor the beta copy of Mandrake Move that I had recently downloaded and burned on my primary desktop would boot on The Beast. My Knoppix CD is a little dated (release 3.3), but at least it booted. So did Phlak, the only other LiveCD alternative I have available at the moment. But I wasn't in the mood for a LiveCD; I wanted a permanent Linux installation. I decided to see how SuSE 9.0 Professional would fare in a dual-boot environment on The Beast, using the five-CD set I recently downloaded and burned.

What? Me worry?

I was a little apprehensive about how I would slice and dice the partition, which contained only Windows 2000, especially since I thought that using a SCSI controller might put some extra spin on the ball. I shouldn't have worried. I didn't have to lift a finger. SuSE 9.0 did it all.

I put in the first CD and sat back to watch. SuSE mulled the situation briefly, then decided on a course of action for the installation. SuSE said it would cut the existing partition nearly in half, leaving the larger slice for the installed OS and work with what was left to install itself. Roughly, that gave W2K 5.5GB and SuSE 4.5, with 526MB of that going to a swap partition. All I had to do was click on "Next."

After I stopped worrying about the partitioning, I began to worry about running out of space during the install. Would SuSE overstuff itself? Would it ever ask me what I wanted installed? Would it really want me to feed it all five CDs? There is never a shortage of items to worry about when installing an operating system.

The answers, by the way, were no, no, and no. The SuSE install eventually asked for the second CD, but not until it had finished the basic installation and had booted for the first time. It needed CD 2 in order to load and a few other items. CDs 3 through 5 might as well not have existed.

The only thing that did not work right out after installation was DHCP Internet access. SuSE found and configured the Intel 10/100 NIC just fine. It determined that DHCP was what was needed. But the DHCP test during the installation failed, saying that DHCP was already running. I powered the Belkin Wi-Fi hub down then rebooted The Beast. It worked this time.

At the end of the day

The SuSE 9.0 installation looked great and worked great. Without being told, it figured out how to partition the tight quarters for dual booting, and it didn't overfill the available space by installing everything. Using df, I checked to see the status of partitions after the SuSE install. The Linux partition was 35% used, the Windows 56% filled. Excellent judgment, IMO.

I had one more thing to do before pronouncing the install a complete success -- I had to make sure I could still boot Windows. I could, but I got something of a scare when I did. Soon after Windows started booting, I got a screenful of warning messages from Windows about NTFS having been changed, and asking if it was OK to do something or other with chkdisk. Before I had time to read and digest the information, it started doing whatever it had been asking permission to do.

I was afraid that it was scrubbing my new Linux partitions. I booted again in Windows and was told that something had changed so I had to boot again. I booted again in Windows (it gets just as tedious typing that as doing it) and finally I got the all clear. Now to see if SuSE had survived. It had. All was well.


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