Bootloaders and order of OS installation

There is a tremendous amount of information on bootloaders available on the web. And a lot of the information is good. But some of it isn't, and the assumptions (and limitations that are suggested) can make this a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

So some very quick observations.

GRUB (the Grand Unified Bootloader) is the easiest to use of all of the bootloaders. It provides all that we need to boot Windows, Linux, and both of my Solaris instances. GRUB will be the final bootloader in the master boot record (MBR) when we are finished, but it won't get there right away.

The Windows bootloader, which is in the MBR at the moment, is very well suited to boot Windows. Making it boot other operating systems is almost an unnatural act. I may blog about my experiments in this area in the future, but the short version is that we want to get rid of it as quickly as we can.

Now, the Solaris 10 bootloader is a good intermediate step (which suggests that Solaris might be the next operating system to install). It will boot both Windows and Solaris (well one instance of Solaris) but doesn't work well with Linux distributions in the extended partition. Before we call this a deficiency or bug, we should note that we are now operating well outside of the design center, so a bit of tolerance will help get us through this step.

OK, so we have Windows, we'll do Solaris 10 next, but what about the two Linux instances ? Hmmmm, that's worth a bit of thought.

The Java Desktop System is more of an end user type of system, so things like kernel updates will come out on a regular schedule, but it won't be too frequent. It is also based on SuSE, so new kernels will be symbolically linked to /boot/vmlinux so that the GRUB configuration doesn't change.

Fedora Core, on the other hand, is a rapidly evolving developer snapshot and kernels can be expected quite frequently. And since it was derived from the original Red Hat consumer distribution, the deployment method is to drop in a new kernel (or kernels) and then modify the GRUB (and Lilo) configuration as part of the installation.

Putting all of this together suggest that the most maintainable solution is to end up with the Fedora Core bootloader in the MBR and add the static bits required to boot JDS, Windows, and the two Solaris instances. This would suggest that JDS would be the best choice for installation after Solaris 10. Fedora Core after that - and with some edits to /boot/grub/menu.lst we will be a flexible multi-booting system.

Oh, what about OpenSolaris ? Good question. I have it on good authority (OK, I've already installed it on a couple of systems) that it will leave the MBR alone, so it will go in last. I also know that we will have to do some serious partition manipulation to keep the two Solaris instances out of each others way - and GRUB from Fedora Core will do exactly what we need.

Next time, the Solaris 10 installation.

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I installed Fedora last and installed it's version of grub. Unfortunately the grub on fedora doesn't support UFS so can't boot my solaris partition.

Posted by dave on September 25, 2005 at 07:12 PM CDT #

will go into this in more detail when covering the Fedora installation.

The short answer for Solaris 10 (today) is to take advantage of the fact that Solaris also installs its bootloader in the boot sector of its partition. You use GRUBs facility for bootloader chaining to start Solaris.

In my configuration (booting Solaris out of the second partition) the GRUB entry would look something like
title Solaris 10 (x86)
        rootnoverify (hd0,1)
        chainloader +1 

And it works just fine.

Posted by Bob Netherton on September 26, 2005 at 12:45 AM CDT #

A ntfs tools package, available with many Linux distributions (eg., SuSE 9.3) provides utilities to copy and backup the NTFS partition. I find it very useful, expecially for disaster recovery (better than a reinstall and a thousand CDs and reboots): mkntfs, ntfscat, ntfsclone, ntfscluster, ntfscp, ntfsfix, ntfsinfo, ntfslabel, ntfsls, ntfsresize, ntfsundelete, etc.

Posted by Dan Anderson on October 06, 2005 at 07:50 AM CDT #

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Bob Netherton is a Principal Sales Consultant for the North American Commercial Hardware group, specializing in Solaris, Virtualization and Engineered Systems. Bob is also a contributing author of Solaris 10 Virtualization Essentials.

This blog will contain information about all three, but primarily focused on topics for Solaris system administrators.

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