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Start up with the OS you choose

By Mark W. Kaelin Editor ·
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http://techrepublic.com.com/5138-10877-5889995.html

How many operating systems are bootable on your PC? We've seen a PC that could boot 8 different OSs, can you top that?

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bootloaders

by apotheon In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

I don't have technical documentation in front of me, so my numbers might be slightly off, but as far as I recall this is all true and accurate:

The boot.ini boot menu configuration file for NTLDR only supports up to 10 entries. This means that with the Windows-native bootloader, you're stuck with ten or fewer OSes on one machine. Granted, I don't think I'll ever have need for even ten different OSes on one machine, let alone more, but since the question is whether eight OSes on one machine can be topped, it's relevant. If I was going to have that many OSes on one machine, I'd probably want to use some virtualization software so I could run a bunch of them simultaneously in a virtual machine environment anyway, such as by way of Xen or VMWare.

A limitation of NTLDR, of course, is the fact that it doesn't like non-Microsoft OSes. If you want to boot more than merely 10 different discrete installs of Windows, you'll want to use a different bootloader. It's also worth noting that NTLDR can reportedly only boot one DOS-based OS: everything else must be non-DOS Windows. In fact, even if you do only want to boot 10 different Windows versions, you'd still probably be better off with a different bootloader, just for purposes of stability, configurability, and speed.

A couple other bootloaders of which I'm aware are LILO (the so-called LInux LOader) and GRUB (the GRand Unified Bootloader). I'm not as familiar with LILO's limitations as I am with GRUB: I tend to use GRUB for everything. There are even Windows-based GRUB installers that you can use to replace NTLDR as the default bootloader on Windows-only systems, whether you're running multiple OSes on the same machine or not.

I think GRUB is only limited for the number of bootable OSes by the number of bootable partitions available in your computer. That, in turn, is limited by the number of hard drives and how many bootable partitions you can fit on a single hard drive.

From what I recall, Grub-based booting with Linux systems allows up to five bits of partition numbering on SATA drives (for up to 15 bootable partitions, counting 0-15 for a total of 16 options) and up to seven bits of partition numbering on IDE drives (for up to 63 bootable partitions, counting 0-63 for a total of 64 options). I have no idea what the limitations are on SCSI drives.

Thus, your number of bootable OSes with GRUB is essentially limited by the number of drives. If you have a fileserver-type motherboard with four IDE controllers, that alone allows up to eight drives, with up to 63 bootable partitions each, for a total of 504 potential bootable OSes on one machine. Of course, I have a hard time imagining why you'd want to do that, but it's technically possible.

I, personally, have never had more than three OSes on a single machine, though I've not had need for more. I'm considering installing more than that on one machine at some point in the near future. In particular, what I'm thinking of installing includes:

BeOS
FreeBSD
Gentoo Linux
OpenBSD
ReactOS
Slackware Linux
Windows 2000

Even so, I wouldn't be installing eight OSes on one machine. Really, what's the point?

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Vertual PC might be an alternative

by karlsink In reply to bootloaders

I have three OSes in boot.ini, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2000, and Windows XP. Using the Windows XP system as a host, there are three vertual PCs running Xandros, Knoppix, and Slax. All at the same time if you want, though only one can be active at a time, just jump from OS to the other. You never have to boot the OSes, because they're always running.

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Good download

by stress junkie In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

I didn't know that you could get NTLDR to boot Linux. The download provides a good description of the Windows boot.ini file and how it works with NTLDR.

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3 OS' are perfect for me.

by suvapapa In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

I am surprised about 8 OS' on one machine. It would rather get so confusing at the end of the day. Even for managing 8 OS becomes quite difficult. I remember when i had 5. But that was just part of testing. Now i am stuck to 2000, XP, and 2003. 2003 is my primary and i use XP for troubleshooting, diagnosing disks, etc. Planning to remove 2000 forever.

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Just for the geeky satisfaction

by Mark W. Kaelin Editor In reply to 3 OS' are perfect for me.

Actually the 8 OS PC was one of our test machines and it was mainly an exercise in what is possible. Other than testing, I'm not sure there is a practical reason for having that many operating systems on one PC.

But it can be fun in a computer geek sort of way. :)

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Why

by Donald-not-the-Duck In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

Uhmmmmmmm, who cares - multiboot was last century - how about virtualization.:)

Sincerely

Ralph

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uh-huh, sure

by apotheon In reply to Why

What about systems that get shut down a lot, like laptops?

There's still a need for multiboot systems.

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For up to 100 OS systems! Claimed by

by copeb In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

Acronis OS Selector claims enhance boot to enable up a selection among 'up to' 100 loaded OS's!! Anybody ever tried to load more than 2 or 3?

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No big deal

by rhomp2002 In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

I have a fairly low priced desktop with 250 GB and Linux. Right now I have 11 different different Linux distros on it that I can log into. When I still had a Windows partition and I was just starting Linux I set up my first Linux distribution from the LiveCD of Ubuntu to dual boot with Windows XP in about 10 minutes, start to finish, and without anything other than the Ubuntu install description and I really know almost nothing about PC's or did not at the time. Very easy to do and takes almost no time at all. Doing it using the Linux distro to run the boot/grub is simple. Doing it using the Windows boot mechanism probably is not since Windows does not play well with others while Linux does.

BTW I can load more if I define more partitions on my hard drive. In fact I still have an open partition as well as a swap partition if I want to use that.

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No big deal - sorry, dupe post - pls delete

by rhomp2002 In reply to Start up with the OS you ...

I have a fairly low priced desktop with 250 GB and Linux. Right now I have 11 different different Linux distros on it that I can log into. When I still had a Windows partition and I was just starting Linux I set up my first Linux distribution from the LiveCD of Ubuntu to dual boot with Windows XP in about 10 minutes, start to finish, and without anything other than the Ubuntu install description and I really know almost nothing about PC's or did not at the time. Very easy to do and takes almost no time at all. Doing it using the Linux distro to run the boot/grub is simple. Doing it using the Windows boot mechanism probably is not since Windows does not play well with others while Linux does.

BTW I can load more if I define more partitions on my hard drive. In fact I still have an open partition as well as a swap partition if I want to use that.

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