The Linux desktop: Dual booting, drivers and printers

Discover how to set up a dual boot with different flavors of Linux or Linux and Windows on a laptop, as well as where to go for your wireless and printer drivers.

If you want to set up a Windows/Linux dual-boot on a laptop, Peter van der Linden, author of Peter van der Linden's Guide to Linux , suggests installing Windows first. Windows will overwrite any pre-existing boot loaders, then you will be free to install Linux.

In this interview, van der Linden, SearchOpensource.com's Linux desktop expert, describes how to set up a dual-boot for adding different flavors of Linux to the same laptop and how to make Windows and Linux play well on the same laptop. He also suggests an Internet resource for setting up Linux drivers on a laptop.

Can you offer some advice for users interested in creating a dual-boot with Windows on a pre-loaded Linux laptop?

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Peter van der Linden: In contrast to Linux, Windows does not play nicely with other operating systems present on the same partition. Windows will blithely install its own boot loader on top of any pre-existing one you are using. For this reason, Windows needs to be installed first, followed by the less destructive Linux installs.

In the case of a Lenovo Thinkpad, back up your data, locate the Lenovo system restore CD, repartition the disk, install Windows and then re-install Linux.

Can users install two Linux distros, like Red Hat and SUSE, side-by-side with no problems?

Van der Linden: Yes, this is straightforward to accomplish. Boot from a live CD, and set up your disk partitions the way you want them. I would suggest a 5 GB partition for each of the two operating systems, a 2 GB swap partition and all the rest of the disk in one partition for your data.

You can install the operating systems in either order; most versions of Linux "play nicely" with all other operating systems. I have one test system at home that contains 15 different distros of Linux, plus three releases of Windows and it can boot into any of them.

How can you get Linux and drivers working on a laptop?

Van der Linden: Laptops can be challenging for Linux non-experts. Because of the restricted space in a laptop, manufacturers often use small non-standard peripherals that don't have Linux support. It is usually possible to install and boot Linux, but you will often find that, for example, wireless networking or the modem does not work. The website http://www.linux-laptop.net is a clearing house of information about installing Linux on laptops.

But configuring and installing device drivers is really only for professional programmers. If you want to run Linux on a laptop, the best approach is to buy the laptop with Linux pre-installed on it. If you don't want to do that, choose a mainstream solid laptop that the linux-laptop.net site shows is compatible with Linux. For example, most of the Lenovo "Thinkpad" range. When I installed Linux on my Thinkpad T40, all the peripherals, including wired and wireless networking, "just worked."

Where's the best place to look for printers for Linux?

Van der Linden: If you want a good printing experience on Linux, buy Epson or Canon printers. Check for compatibility with the exact model by doing a Web search before you buy. Remember to send feedback to the vendors: tell the sales assistant (and email the manufacturer support line) to say you are using Linux.

Even so, you probably won't find a single device driver that supports the all-in-one printers (printer/scanner/copier/fax machine). You will probably have to do some driver installation to get it all working.

This was first published in December 2006

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