Are you really excited about the prospect of experimenting with the new features in the Windows Vista operating system, but are not yet ready to give up your existing Windows XP installation? For instance, you may be on the fence, because you're not 100 percent sure that all your existing hardware and software will work in Vista and you still need them to get your work done.
If so, then you may be the perfect candidate for a dual-boot configuration. With this type of configuration, you can easily experiment with Windows Vista and still use Windows XP. In other words, you get to have your cake and eat it too.
In this article, I'll discuss some of the options you'll need to consider as you begin thinking about and planning for adding Windows Vista to your existing system in a dual-boot configuration. I’ll then walk you step by step through the entire procedure.
The location options
In order to install Windows Vista in a dual-boot configuration along with Windows XP, you need to have either a second partition on your existing hard disk or a second hard disk in your system. To give yourself enough room to experiment, you should have at least 20 GB and preferably 40 GB of space available on either the second partition or on the second hard disk.
If you don't have enough available space on your existing hard disk for a second partition, then you'll need to connect a second hard disk to your system. If you do have enough available space on your exiting hard disk for a second partition, then you'll need to obtain a partitioning software package. I recommend, Symantec’s Norton PartitionMagic only because I’ve used PartitionMagic for years. However, there are other partitioning software packages that I’ve heard are just as good, such as Acronis Disk Director or VCOM Partition Commander Professional.
Of course, detailed instructions on connecting a second hard disk or partitioning your existing hard disk are beyond the scope of this article. However, in either case, the second hard disk or the second partition must be formatted with NTFS before you begin the installation operation. If you add a second partition to your existing hard disk via a partitioning software package, you will be able to format it as NTFS at the same time as you create the partition. If you're installing a second hard disk, the easiest way to format it as NTFS is from within Windows XP’s Disk Manager, which you can quickly access by pressing [Windows]+R to access the Run dialog box and typing diskmgmt.msc in the Open text box.
The installation options
You can approach the dual-boot installation operation in one of two ways -- by cold booting from the Windows Vista DVD or by inserting the Windows Vista DVD while Windows XP is running. As you can imagine, you'll encounter slightly different introductory screens depending on which approach you use, but once you get stared the operation is essentially the same.
While both methods will produce the same result, I prefer the cold booting from the DVD method. The main reason is that you don't have to worry about any interference from antivirus/antispyware/firewall software on your existing Windows XP installation.
Performing the installation
Once you have your second partition or second hard disk operational, just insert your Windows Vista DVD, restart the system, and boot from the DVD. Once the system boots from the DVD, Windows Vista’s Setup will begin loading and will display the screen shown in Figure A.
|Windows Vista’s Setup will take a few moments to load files before the installation actually commences.|
In a few moments, you’ll see the screen that prompts you to choose the regional and language options, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, the default settings are for U.S. and English and if that’s you, you can just click Next to move on.
|The default settings on the regional and language screen are for the U.S. and English.|
On the next screen, you’ll be prompted to begin the installation procedure, as shown in Figure C. To begin, just click the Install Now button
|To get started, click the Install Now button.|
In the next screen, you’ll be prompted to type in your product key for activation, as shown in Figure D. By default, the Automatically Activate Windows When I’m online check box is selected; however, you’ll notice that I’ve cleared it. The main reason that I’ve done so here is that while writing this article, I’ve experimented over and over with this installation procedure and want to conserve on the number of times that I can legitimately activate this copy of Windows Vista before Microsoft locks it down and requires me to call in and manually request a new product key.
|At this point in the installation, you’re prompted to type in your product key for activation.|
Now, if you just want to temporarily install Vista in a dual-boot configuration while you experiment, but plan on installing it as your main operating system once you’re satisfied with the way that Vista behaves with your hardware and software, you too may want to disable the automatic activation routine. Even though you’ve disabled the automatic activation routine, you can still install Windows Vista and use it as you normally would for 30 days.
If you want to keep Vista in a dual-boot configuration, you can activate your license online anytime you want. If you decide to make Vista your main operating system, you can repartition your hard disk, reinstall Vista on the main partition and activate the new installation in the process.
If you decide to disable the automatic activation routine, you’ll see a confirmation dialog box, as shown in Figure E, which contains a harsh warning and prompts you to reconsider. You can just click No to continue.
|Even though this dialog box contains a harsh warning, Microsoft wouldn’t have made automatic activation a choice if opting out was really dangerous.|
Because, I didn’t enter in a product key, Setup doesn’t know what edition I’ve purchased and prompts me to select one of the seven editions on this disk, as shown in Figure F. Since, I'm working with the Ultimate edition, I selected that edition, checked the box, and clicked Next.
|When you don’t enter a product key, Setup doesn’t know what edition you have a license for and so prompts you to select one of the seven editions|
On the next page (Figure G), you’ll see the Microsoft Software License Terms and are prompted to read through them. However, unless you’re very curious you can just select the I Accept The License Terms check box and click Next.
|Unless you’re very curious, you can just click through the license terms screen.|
If you’re booting from the DVD, when you get to the Which Type Of Installation Do You Want page, the only option is Custom (advanced) as shown in Figure H. To move on, just click the Custom icon.
|When you boot from the Windows Vista DVD, the only installation type that is available is the Custom (advanced).|
When you arrive at the Where Do You Want To Install Windows? page, you’ll see your second partition or second drive. I created a second partition on which to install Windows Vista, so my page looked like the one in Figure I.
|I created a second partition on a 160 GB hard disk on which to install Windows Vista.|
Once the select a partition or disk and click Next, the rest of the installation will continue as it normally would. As such, I won’t follow the installation procedure any further in this article.
Windows Boot Manager
Once the installation is complete, you'll see the Windows Boot Manager screen, as shown in Figure K. As you can see, booting either Windows XP (listed as an Earlier Version of Windows) or Windows Vista is a simple menu choice. This menu will appear on the screen for 30 seconds before Windows Boot Manager launches the default operating system, which is Windows Vista.
|The Windows Boot Manager allows you to select which operating system you want to boot.|
The Activation countdown
Since I described installing Windows Vista without activating it for testing purposes, I wanted to point out that the Windows Vista will indeed keep track of your 30 day trial on the System screen, as shown in Figure K. In addition, it will regularly display
|If you decide not to activate during your dual-boot installation, you can keep track of how many days you have until you must activate on the System page.|
Configuring Windows Boot Manager
As I mentioned, the Windows Boot Manager menu will appear on the screen for 30 seconds before Windows Boot Manager launches the default operating system -- Windows Vista. However, if you wish to adjust the countdown or change the default operating system, you can do so from within Windows Vista.
Once you've booted into Windows Vista, press [Windows]+[Break] to access the System page. Next, click the Advance System Setting link in the Tasks pane and confirm though the UAC prompt. When you see the System Properties dialog box, click Settings in the Startup and Recovery panel. You’ll then see the Startup and Recovery dialog box, as shown in Figure L.
|You can use the controls in the Startup and Recovery dialog box change the default operating system and the number of seconds that the Windows Boot Manager menu will appear on the screen.|
In the System Startup pane, you can change the Default Operating System setting from the drop down list as well as use the spin buttons to adjust, up or down, the number of seconds to display the menu before launching the default operating system.
Installing Windows Vista in a dual-boot configuration along side Windows XP is a great way to experiment with the new operating system until you get comfortable with it. In this article, I’ve shown you how to how to create a Windows Vista dual-boot configuration.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.