Posted by: Diabolic Preacher | November 11, 2007

linux installation revisited: rearranging windows partitions and free space

Rearranging the FAT(or NTFS) on the HDD to squeeze in a distro

This is another of my experiences that I recently had with a linux installation, which was as usual not a simple single boot install and this time with the free space broken into smaller sizes (partitions) on windows. Thanks to SystemRescueCD and GParted, all the partition rearranging required was some pointing, clicking and dragging and returned expected results reliably. Come to think of it, it wasn’t even my own comp. this experiment was done on. 🙂

So just like the previous post was about taking precautions to protect against post-installation disasters, this article is about pre-installation disk preparation. The existing setup of the 40 GB HDD was 3 partitions of roughly around 10GB (C: ), 15 GB (D: ) and 15GB (E: ) (all vlaues approximated). All the partitions were formatted as NTFS. All the space was used up under Windows. The reason I took time to get down to do this experiment to get a distro on this laptop was : –

  • I was still in a search for parents’ friendly distro
  • I wondered if i should or should not back up the huge amount of data already on the hard disk?

So I had heard of how GParted could be used to rearrange existing partitions and I had adjusted free space of a single windows NTFS partition years back using Mandrake 10.1 on a friend’s cyberage (goa govt. scheme to give windows pc within 6000 bucks to +2 and grad college students) PC. That PC was a fresh one and didn’t have any substantial amount of user data but this one had both user data and the implied threat of parents firing if things deviated 😛

SystemRescueCD has already helped me a lot of times in a matter of a lil more than a month. Yet I have not labelled the CD and the only way I remember it is by keeping it in the exact same location as always…on the same side of a twin CD packet. 😛 I gotta label it and burn a spare one. SystemRescueCD is indispensable. Knoppix is better suited for giving a Linux tour, but this is best for getting at your data when your existing OS throws up. So knowing that it has GParted and was a fairly new distro that I had, I booted the laptop with the CD and continued onto the GUI. This takes 2 (or 1) step(s) : –

  1. Press Enter at the initial prompt written as boot: on the last line of the screen or i think it auto-boots the default kernel after a certain amount of time. If you want to boot the 64-bit kernel, then type rescue64 at the boot: prompt and better not take an hour to do so. Usually booting with the default 32bit kernel should suffice.
  2. Once the bash prompt with root account logged in comes on screen, type startx, This will start the WindowMaker GUI, a minimalistic but fit for a real lightweight but useful distro like this.

To the right side are the few set of GUI apps that are needed by the user most of the time. Select the disk like icon on the right hand side or right click anywhere on the empty desktop screen and select GParted to start it.

Once GParted scans your disk for the existing partitions, it shows the partition layout in a linear fashion and enlists them in a table format with details like the partition number (in linux’s notation of hard disk partitions), filesystem type and some other details. If you had only windows partitions then you can make out the first partition from the left as C: drive, followed by D: and so on. What I did before booting with the CD was to transfer the contents of E: drive onto D: drive with D: drive having just enough space to avoid the low disk space warning. I had to remove a large amount of stuff from E: drive to fit it into D: drive. Sister’s gotta wait some more for the Supernatural episodes again. So now it was possible to format the E: drive and make space for linux distro but given the linux-unfriendly users that would be using the laptop, 15GB for a linux partition while cutting down the windows partitions to exactly half of what was available was going a bit too far. In GParted, you mark the operations like delete certain partitions, resize certain partitions, create new partition (with new filesystems as well) and these actions are executed as a batch of operations in the correct order, once you click on “Apply Changes” (its got a big tick mark sign and appears on the main toolbar of GParted). The operations I needed to do here was to delete the partition corresponding to E: drive. Expand the D: drive such that roughly around 7 to 8 GB was left as free unallocated space. Out of this free unallocated space, around 6 to 6.5 GB was formatted with ext3 filesystem and the remaining of the free space was formatted with the swap flag. Mind you, these operations…esp. the resizing operations take a substantial amount of time. I have not tested on multiple hardware configurations so no use giving numerical values here.

Once the operations got carried out, the first thing I had to check was if Windows started up normally. I mean I did major partition rearrangement of the HDD (although GParted makes it dangerously easy like child’s play of point, click n drag). What happened was that the Windows booting animation came up fine (mine is customized to show the apple logo instead 😀 ) but then the screen blanked out and the HDD led glowed on for like the better part of 10 minutes. Reminded me of how some kids close their eyes tightly and apparently race through their brain’s contents trying to remember the answer during oral exams. It was a scary sight coz it was not giving any visual response for a long time, but let me and my experience assure you that its just the way windows re-reads the partition table information and boots up eventually showing the welcome/login screen. I logged in and Windows claimed to find a new generic volume device! That’s the new resized extra large D: drive. Was I surprised or what! 😉 It demanded that I restart immediately, but I was bored of being off the net 😀

Later again after an hour or 2, I had to install a distro as well. I chose Linux Mint, which I had downloaded a few days back and shown a preview of it to my ma, which she felt as much better than any of the previous distros. Basically if I open up the command shell/Bash shell/konsole/xterm/rxvt/aterm (which I’m so fond of), that distro isn’t preferred by ma anymore. So given that she had approved of Linux Mint, I installed it, taking care to choose the partition to install on, manually and the whole installation took hardly an hour or maybe even less. No games on this distro, but really usable home office desktop distro, with a high level of ease of use. The distro didn’t specifically ask about GRUB configuration, but I feel Ubuntu based distros (including Linux Mint) have unnecessarily large menu.lst files and this strange numbers called UUID that they use instead of /dev/hdaX which I still dunno how to generate…or remember. However a first time user need not bother about these things as they are well taken care of by your distro and they aren’t as heavy to bring your system down to a crawl.

One more reboot to check if Windows still booted up, without any problems and then another reboot to get back in linux and configure GRUB’s menu.lst to set Windows to start by default and keep the option labels shorter and more meaningful. Dad purposely forgets how to drag and select text with mouse. I wouldn’t bother him with kernel versions at all. 🙂
All set and done, I showed dad the rearrangements done to his computer and gave him a tour of Linux Mint. I kept Human theme on both Windows and Linux setups, so the look and feel is consistent. Fortunately even Beryl runs smoothly 😀

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