XP user, I am talking to you. In April 2014, your favorite operating system stopped being officially supported by Microsoft. Now, there's no reason for panic, but this is a good opportunity to start considering alternatives. Without going into too many details, the free and exciting option is to try Linux.
Indeed, today, we will demonstrate how to dual-boot an existing Windows XP installation with the latest edition of Linux Mint, a highly popular Linux distribution, while retaining all the important user data you have. Naturally, this is somewhat of an advanced topic, so you might need to invest a little time reading, but overall, the exercise should be worth the effort. In the end, you will have a fully functional dual-boot setup for all your needs, with XP on one end and a modern, stylish Linux Mint 17 Qiana on the other. Let's rock.
Installing a new operating system on hardware that already hosts other systems as well as your critical data is not a trivial thing, and should not be treated that way. True, you can just click around and pray for the best. But we want to do this with elegance and confidence. To wit, you should invest some time making sure you have all the tools to make the dual-boot transition painless and fool-proof.
Data backup & imaging
If your data is safe, then everything else becomes secondary. You should make sure that you have a copy of your files somewhere, preferably on a separate hard disk, or even a separate machine. Furthermore, you might want to image the Windows XP installation, so if something goes wrong, you can easily revert. I highly recommend you do not do anything unless you have a verifiable copy of your personal stuff backed up in another location.
Understanding of basic Linux concepts and tools
I am going to do a small amount of extra linking here, so I apologize in advance. But reading these articles will help you master the subject matter, and help you understand this tutorial. For starters, you might want to check my older dual-boot guides, including XP & Ubuntu tutorial, Windows 7 & Ubuntu tutorial and the latest Windows 8 & Ubuntu article. Then, to understand disk notation and partitioning, please take a look at my GParted guide. Last but not the least, the bootloader section.
Windows XP overview
Now that we know what we want and need, let's take a look at our Windows XP installation. So we have a a system with two hard disks. The C: drive is located on the 10GB first disk, and it spans the entire size of the disk, i.e. we have one partition. The E: drive contains data, and it is located on the 20GB second disk. Once again, it spans the entire disk, i.e. we also have one partition there. Our system is not really designed for any dual-booting.
This means we will have to adjust the layout to be able to install and use Linux Mint. Therefore, what we are going to do is the following: We will boot into the Mint live session. This can be done from the ISO image, a DVD drive or a USB drive. The exact steps will depend on your setup. Now, if you are not really sure where to obtain the Linux Mint image, how to download it or copy/burn it to external media, and how to make your system boot another operating system, then you should stop right now, go back up, do your necessary reading, and resume when you're ready and knowledgeable.
All right, but assuming that you are, then we will need to adjust the disk and partition layout. We will not mess with the C: drive. We will change the E: drive. In other words, we will shrink the one partition that corresponds to the E: drive in Windows, and in the freed space, we will create several new partitions that will be used as the target for the Linux Mint 17 Qiana installation. We will do all this from the live Mint session, using tools already available in the distribution. Now, let's boot into Linux.
Linux Mint overview
There are two sides to the Linux exploration coin. One is getting familiar with a completely new user interface, new phrases, new terminology, and a new mode of work. However, this is true for pretty much any operating system, and therefore, we won't spend too much time on this. Instead, we will focus on the more critical part of making the right disk and partition changes and installing Linux Mint. After that, the fun of discovering the beauty and flexibility of this new operating system will be your home work.
We will begin by changing the disk layout. To that end, launch the GParted partition editor. The software is available in the system menu, and you can search for it by name. Once launched, the program will display the existing layouts for all available disks. In our case, we have two disks. The first one is what we refer to as the C: drive in Windows, and it is labeled sda here. The second one corresponds to the E: drive, and it is labeled sdb. We will edit the latter.
Let's begin with the resizing. Right-click on the /dev/sdb1 partition, choose Resize/Move. Then, adjust the size to a smaller value. We will go down from 20GB to just 4GB, but any size goes. Do note that Linux Mint requires at least 8GB to install successfully.
However, there are some additional consideration here. A proper Linux installation includes a minimum of three partitions. The root partition (/) contains system files. The swap partition is used for memory swapping, a-la virtual memory page file in Windows. You might want to make it the size of your physical RAM. This means something like 2-3GB for most systems running Windows XP 32-bit, because that used to be the physical limitation. But if you have more, that's fine too.
Lastly, there's the user data, known as home (/home) partition. This one does not have to exist, and you can just go with the root partition. But it is very convenient to have it, for the same reason you want those extra drives for your data in Windows. In case you need to reinstall or change things, you do not have to lose your user setup. And it's much easier to back stuff up and restore later.
Therefore, going down to 4GB sounds prudent. This means we can create a 10GB root, a 2GB swap, and the remainder will be used for the home partition. Furthermore, the NTFS partition corresponding to the E: drive will also be available in Linux Mint, since most distributions can natively mount, read and write Windows partitions. So you do not really lose anything, and there's a lot of place to grow and store data, if needed.
The changes will not be committed until you hit Apply, so you need not worry if you do not like your setup. You can always start from scratch. At the moment, we have a single resize operation pending. We will now add a few more tasks to the list. We need to create additional partitions.
Create new partitions
Remember the earlier three-partition suggestion? We can do that right away. The thing is, you should consider creating an Extended partition first, so you do not hit the limit of four primary partitions for the MS-DOS type partition table. No such limit exists with GPT, but Windows XP does not support that type, and the conversion procedure is destructive.
Therefore, MS-DOS partition table is our only option, so we will create the Extended partition to span the entire free space, the new 16GB we reclaimed just above, and in that space, we will create the root, swap and home partitions.
When creating the partitions, you will need to pay attention to a few small but important details. Size, of course. Partition type - the Extended partition is in fact a primary partition of a special kind, and it can only contain logical partitions inside it, therefore our three Linux partitions will all be logical. This is not a problem because Linux distributions do not have any problem being installed or booting from either primary or logical partitions. On a side note, Windows XP must be installed to a primary partition.
The last item of importance is the filesystem type. I recommend you use a native Linux format, one of the journaling filesystems. The best choice is to use EXT4, although you can try others. The specific benefits of each one are beyond the scope of this tutorial.
Now, you will have five operations pending. Make double sure you are confident with what you want to achieve. Once you're ready, click the right-most button in the toolbar. You will be warned, and then the changes will be applied.
And here's our new partition layout. Good. Now we can install.
Linux Mint installation
Start the installation wizard. Now, if you've done Linux installations before, this step will be familiar and quite easy. The installation is virtually identical to Ubuntu. Nevertheless, we will walk through all the steps, to make sure nothing is missing.
Select wizard language
This is the first step. Very simple.
The next step is to make sure you meet the necessary prerequisites for a successful installation. Namely, it comes down to having a network connection and 8GB free space.
This is the really interesting part. Here, you will choose the installation type. As you can read from the wizard window, Linux Mint Qiana does see that Windows XP Professional is already installed, and it even suggests replacing the old system for you. Nice, but we will do it manually. However, if you do not wish to preserve anything from the XP installation, you can choose this option. We will have a followup article that focuses on this scenario.
We will not encrypt the data or use LVM. These are advanced topics. We will go for a manual selection of the partitions, which we have created earlier. Therefore, please click on Something else, then Continue. The next window will show the list of all your disks and partitions. We are interested in sdb.
Please select sdb5 and then click Change. If you recall, sdb5 is the first logical partition inside the Extended partition, both of which we have created earlier with GParted. The partition is 10GB in size. Now, we will assign it a mount point and filesystem.
Mount point is the handle by which the partition will be visible in the installed system. This will be our system partition, known as root. Therefore, please select / in the Mount point window. We do not need to make any size changes or even format the partition, because we have done that only moments ago. But you can reformat if you feel like doing it.
We will repeat the same thing with the home partition - sdb7. There is no need to handle the swap, because the system will do that automatically. Basically, the only two changes you need at this stage, provided you've done all the partitioning and formatting using GParted, is to assign the / and /home mount points to the two partitions.
This is our layout.
Below the listed partitions, there's an option to choose a target device for the bootloader. First, please make sure you understand the concepts before dabbling, so there might be some GRUB2 homework for you. Second, we have a few options here. Namely, we have two hard disks, and we could choose to place the bootloader on either one of them. If you go for sdb, the disk containing Windows XP won't be touched, and Linux Mint will not show in the boot menu unless you change the boot order of disks in the BIOS.
If you select sda as the target, then Linux Mint will overwrite the Windows bootloader in the MBR with its own, but it will also add Windows XP to the list, so you will have a single, unified menu that allows you to boot either one of the two operating systems in your dual-boot setup. This is the recommended option.
Review & install
Please review all the options. Make sure nothing is missing. Once you're ready and confident with your choices, including the bootloader, hit Install now. The installation will begin in the background and last for about 15-20 minutes. At this time, the wizard will continue, allowing you to setup your timezone, user name and password, login options, and a few more details. Lastly, you will have a slideshow that introduces Linux Mint and can help you familiarize with some of its features.
Timezone & language
So, select your timezone and your language.
Next, create your own user. This user will also be the administrator of the box. Any time you need to elevate privileges to perform an administrative task, you will be prompted for your password via the sudo mechanism. This is slightly different from the classic root user concept in Linux, but more about that later. Choose your username, your hostname, provide a password, hopefully a strong one, and decide whether you want to login automatically or be prompted for a password. You can also encrypt your home data, but this is an advanced step. You'd better leave that for another opportunity.
You'll get a handful of nice, informative slides.
And soon enough, the installation should complete. After you reboot, you will have an option to boot into either one of the two operating systems, verify that everything works properly and that your data is intact, and then begin the magical tour of wonder and exploration of the world of Linux.
If everything went well, you will see a boot menu called GRUB, featuring both Linux Mint and Windows XP, as the last entry. Select either one to boot into the desired operating system.
First boot: Linux Mint
Let's start with Linux Mint. The first time you login, Mint will present you with a welcome screen, which provides a wealth of links to useful resources. This ought to help you find your way around. But assuming you've already made your baby steps, let's open a file manager and check the disk structure.
You can see the two partitions corresponding to C: and E: drives. The system files belonging to XP as well as your personal data are all there, safe and intact. Now, the E: drive has shrunk from 20GB to 4GB, but it's all there.
Windows XP boot
If you select the Windows XP entry in the GRUB menu, then you might also see a check disk operation running. Windows XP will detect a change in the size of the partition holding the E: drive and it will run a check disk, just to make sure everything is in order. Indeed, this should only take a few seconds.
And finally, our XP in a dual-boot configuration. Notice the new partitions in the disk management utility. Windows cannot use them because it cannot read the EXT4 filesystem, but it's all there, Windows XP works as expected, and your data is safe.
Congratulations, you've just mastered a dual-boot procedure with XP and Mint!
Now, it's a very good time to start learning more about Linux, how it works and what it does. The fine details of this exercise go beyond the scope of this article, but we won't leave you hanging. You might want to consult the recently published Ultimate guide to Linux for Windows users, as well as an older but still very much relevant tutorial of highly useful Linux commands & configurations. These two articles should help you make your first steps.
Finally, you might also be interesting in some customization and tweaking. Now, Linux Mint is a highly robust operating system and well suited for immediate use out of the box, so you will need little else beyond the defaults. Still, you might want to check how to enhance the Ubuntu experience.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Now, there's a whole world hiding behind the few links and ideas provided here. Your laptop might be that different from all other examples, your setup will of course be unique, and you might be struggling with other flavors of Windows. No matter, invest some time reading, circle back when you encounter something you're not quite confident, and soon enough, you will realize that Linux can be enjoyed with ease and elegance.
Specifically, Linux Mint 17 Qiana is a great choice for new and intermediate users, as well as fresh converts who want to explore Linux. For Windows XP veterans, this is an excellent opportunity to step away from their beloved operating system and try a new, free and safe alternative. Linux Mint offers a wealth of programs, multimedia codecs out of the box, security, and even a familiar mode of work, so you won't feel that much out of place with this new adventure. Finally, this tutorial provides all the necessary guidance and tips required for you to create your own smart and fun dual-boot setup.
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