Notes on building my multiboot Linux (/FreeBSD) PC in 2007 and comments on the distros passing through it since then. Their main purpose is to simplify the task of rebuilding the setup should a disk fail, but they also provide an account of the highly variable quality of modern distros.

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What is wanted:

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Items needed before starting:

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Hardware used:

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Building the initial setup

  1. Delete all partitions from the last to the first with Ranish, or...
  2. Zap the whole HDD with Ranish or Tom's Root Boot and build the partitions again.
  3. Start with Red Hat 9.
    • Use the CD images on the old IBM drive via the RH installation boot floppy. Cool! No other distro can manage this. Uses loopback mount and recognises the image files without names being specified. Input...
      • media: hard drive
      • partition: hdd12
      • directory: RH9
    • Generic wheel mouse PS/2
    • New installation (ignore the version on hdd2)
    • Use Disk Druid. Want /, /boot and swap, plus any common ones. Must go to "Set Properties" for each partition and specify "format" before can enter mounting directory. /boot is going to hold the effective GRUB menu for the whole system; RH grumbles if less than 75MB in it!
    • Clock "Pacific Auckland" and HW set to UTC.
    • Select whatever packages wanted. Easy to get up to about 2200 MB.
    • Graphics "ATI Radeon Generic" with 128 MB seems to work OK.
    • Take floppy out before reboot to second part of installation.
    • Once RH is up, remove the hdd swap partition from /etc/fstab and disconnect the /dev/hdd drive.
  4. Replace RH's grub, which is their own version of version 0.93 and doesn't handle definitions of BSD partitions like (hd0,2,a). Taking the source tarball and compiling it works fine. Then add in the grub.conf entries for all other distros if possible, to save reboots into RH during their installation procedures.
  5. Use Ranish to hide RH's "/" and "/boot" partitions by setting their type to X'FF'.
  6. Next do Ubuntu 6.10 AMD64 from the Dick Smith DVD.
    • FIRST FIX A STUPID BUG IN THE SETUP! As soon as the "live DVD" desktop appears, pop up a terminal window and do the following:
          cd /usr/lib/ubiquity/ubiquity
          sudo /usr/bin/vim.tiny validation.py
      
          ...and near end, change
          if not root:
              result.add(MOUNTPOINT_NOROOT)
          to (keep spaces!)
          if not root:
              pass
      
    • This distro assumes the H/W clock is UTC. Don't click on the world map, as it sometimes freezes the system. Select Pacific Auckland in the menu instead.
    • "US English" keyboard, NOT "US International"!
    • Ignore (bad) suggestion and manually edit the partition table. As the partitions have been done by Ranish, nothing to do in "Prepare Partitions". Click "next".
    • Define Ubuntu's own partition(s) and any common ones. Specify format on own and swap, but NOT on other common ones, else access via LABEL= or UUID in fstab will fail for other distros! Use dropdown menus to blank out any residual suggested lines. GREAT CARE HERE!
    • Didn't see how to change "/" to ext2 from the default ext3. ext3 is fine.
    • Don't miss changing GRUB (hd0) to (fd0) in the screen before rebooting.
    • ANOTHER BUG on exit from installation. Ubuntu splash screen freezes. Seems to be harmless. This is a known bug on the 64-bit version (hardOCP).
  7. Put the Ranish floppy in and force reboot. Restore the hidden partitions.
  8. Reboot into Red Hat and update grub.conf to be able to access Ubuntu if not already done.
  9. Next do FreeBSD 5.3 from CD. No need to hide any partitions first.
    • Use Ranish to set the type of the slice to "00", else FreeBSD thinks it is already in use!
    • BUGGY INSTALLATION! If you have to backtrack or correct anything already entered, safest just to abort the process, use Ranish to zero the slice and start again.
    • Start with the default option 1.
    • Do a "standard" installation.
    • It proposes the "00" slice. Type "C" to use it. Shows the number of 512-byte blocks (16065 times number of cylinders). "Q" means go ahead, not discard input!
    • Boot Manager should be "None".
    • With a 500-cylinder slice and 1GB of RAM, the swap partition size of almost 2GB is too big. It asks for partition sizes in blocks, so delete the offered partitions and enter them from scratch and reinput as follows (calculator handy to work out multiples of 16065): / 514080 blocks (32 cyls) swap 2104515 (131) /var 514080 (32) /tmp 257040 (16) /usr remainder, offered as default... 4642785 (289) Note that Newfs="Y" means "format it".
    • Install ports collection? - Y
    • Skip Ethernet device configuration.
          Gateway? - N
          inetd? - N
          SSH login? - Y
          Anonymous FTP access - N
      
          NFS server? - Y and get a forced edit of a
                        configuration file. To get out, command ... exit
              client? - Y
      
          Custom console settings? - N
      
    • Time zone input for NZST works fine.
    • Linux binary compatibility? - Select this.
    • Mouse - PS/2 style "auto" protocol
    • Finally install a randomish selection of packages. Huge list, most of which is probably not useful. Never seems to ask for any of the extra CDs.
    • Can always invoke the installation routines from the running system via /usr/sbin/sysinstall.
    • The CD/DVD drive is /dev/acd0.
  10. Do SuSE 10.2 AMD64 version off Neil's DVD.
    • The first splash screen offers "boot from HD" as an option... presumably this is helpful if you forget to take out the DVD at the installation reboot point?
    • Defaults to 1280 x 1024.
    • Choose "New installation" at "Select install mode"
    • The clock setup is fine.
    • Select KDE, not GNOME.
    • Go straight to the "expert" tab on the setup menu.
    • Don't forget to set the KBD to "US English"!
    • Let SuSE's "/" partition be ext3.
    • Go to "Custom Partition Setup" and go straight on to "Custom Partitioning (for experts)". Doesn't hurt to click "show details". Display of partitions in settings is very clear. N.B. If you don't see a mount point against it, the partition is going to be left out of fstab. MAKE SURE that the "F" flag does not appear against common partitions like /tmp and /user! CAN HANDLE A MAXIMUM OF 15 PARTITIONS!
    • Packages... add things like file server, basis development, Opera, Acroread, XML and LaTex editing tools. The indicated size is much too low. Even after dependencies are added in later, still too low.
    • Bootloader... ignore "Section Management". This is a means of adding to a pre-existing grub.conf from another multiboot O.S. It seems to find Ubuntu but not Red Hat. All a bit confusing. If no own version of grub.conf already with SuSE lines in, NOTE WHAT SuSE WOULD HAVE ADDED, before clicking "No bootloader". There doesn't seem to be a floppy option any more.
    • Gives a good clear warning before it starts to format the new partitions.
    • Package installation off DVD takes of the order of half an hour.
    • Auto reboot straight back into the rest of the installation if the grub.conf table has previously been updated.
    • N/W configuration: leave firewall in, but set ssh to allowed. Name server can be 192.168.0.1.
    • User authentication LOCAL.
    • Define user "ed" WITHOUT (default) auto logon!
    • Shows release notes. Note the real effort to accommodate multiboot systems.
    • H/W config: Sees
              ATI Radeon X300 (RV370) 5B60 (PCIE)
              with monitor
              VESA 1280 x 1024 @ 60Hz, 24-bit, 17 inch.
              3D acceleration disabled.
      
              Sound card K8N4-E mainboard, configured
              as snd-card-0.
      
    • END. Click clone system to create a file in /root/autoinst.xml
    • Long wait (ca. 35 seconds) before first KDE screen after login.

Failed Distros:

    Mandrake 10. Alt0 Kernel didn't recognise the
                 CDROM. Alt1 (2.4.25-2mdk) got further
                 but had a kernel panic when starting.
                 Didn't seem to be able to recognise
                 hda5.

    SuSE 7.3.    Didn't seem to be able to do a graphic
                 installation. Text-based worked, but
                 not useful.

    OpenBSD 3.5. Floppy fails with "unable to fix up
                 PCI interrupt routing". Can try to do
                 boot -c (User Kernel Config) as done
                 with the ancient Gateway PC, but it
                 hangs at the UKC> prompt.

Later Installations:

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KUBUNTU 7.10

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UBUNTU 8.10 over UBUNTU 6.10 01 Nov 2008

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KUBUNTU 8.10 over UBUNTU 8.10 03 Nov 2008

New 750GB Samsung SATA HDD

Whole procedure repeated OK, with differences:

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KUBUNTU 9.04 on 14 May 09

Wiped 30 Mar 2011.

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OpenSUSE 11.1 on 09 Jun 09

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KUBUNTU 9.10 on 04 Nov 2009

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OpenSUSE 11.2 64-bit FROM KDE LIVE CD 07 Dec 09

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Ubuntu 10.04 from downloaded and burned live DVD 14 May 10

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Mandriva 2010 Spring Free 15 Nov 10

Now begins the "summary" stage, where a lot of the important stuff happens.

While integrating this distro into the disk environment, noticed that user numbers start from 500, not 1000, so access problems to existing files. Created a second user numbered 1001 and NOT having his own group (the default), but "users" as elsewhere. Used this to delete "ed" and redefine it with the required number (1000). However, the promise to delete /home/ed was not honoured, so a permissions mess resulted. Deleted "ed" once more and removed all the files by hand, then defined it. Worked.

Bugs:

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OpenSUSE 11.4 FROM 32-bit KDE LIVE CD 30 Mar 11

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OpenSUSE 11.4 FROM 32-bit GNOME LIVE CD 07 Apr 11

This distro has display issues... there are missing horizontal and vertical lines in displayed browser pages, and also with at least some other apps. Not worth trying further.

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Ubuntu 11.04 64-bit from downloaded and burned live DVD 10 May 11

Use partition sda17 after zeroing Kubuntu 9.10.

When this stage has been done, the "Install Now" button has to be clicked. BAD! No final presentation of actions for review before taking the jump. In any case, the identity and keyboard specifications haven't been done yet. Copying to the new partition is in progress as these steps are being done.

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OpenSUSE 11.4 FROM 64-bit KDE LIVE CD 26 May 11

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Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit from downloaded and burned live DVD 09 May 12

Use partition sda11 after zeroing Kubuntu 7.10.

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OpenSUSE 12.2 FROM 64-bit KDE LIVE CD 17 Oct 12

Use partition sda9 after zeroing Ubuntu 1004.

Wiped 06 Jun 2014.

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OpenSUSE 12.3 FROM 64-bit KDE LIVE DVD 04 Apr 13

Even these stripped down "live" versions now no longer fit on a CD.

Use partition sda13 after zeroing OpenSUSE 11.4.

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OpenSUSE 13.1 FROM 64-bit KDE LIVE DVD 05 Dec 13

Use partition sdb2 on the new SanDisk SSD.

Something has been damaged since 12.3... this release freezes sporadically. The numerous updates and fixes downloaded have made no difference.

Wiped 28 Dec 2014. Never much used, as no compelling advantage over 12.3.

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Ubuntu 14.04 64-bit from downloaded and burned live DVD 09 May 14

Use partition sdb3 on the SanDisk SSD.

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Mint 17 Cinnamon 64-bit from downloaded and burned live DVD 09 Jun 14

Use partition sda9 on the regular HDD.

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OpenSUSE 13.2 FROM 64-bit FULL DVD 28 Dec 14

Use partition sdb2 on the SanDisk SSD.

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Mint 17.3 Cinnamon 64-bit from downloaded and burned live DVD 15 Feb 16

The main reason for installing this version was to get newer versions of LibreOffice and Firefox. On the older Mint, the latter was beginning to have problems displaying the newest versions of major websites, and its version of Adobe Flash had been deprecated.

Use partition sda16 on the regular HDD, overwriting the Mandriva 2010 Spring distro, which had sat there, essentially unused, for five years.