Triple-boot Filesystem Layout «

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I’ve got a MacBook on the way that I plan to triple-boot and I’m trying to figure out how to lay out the filesystems. I plan on using Linux primarily as I’m a developer. XP has a lousy command line environment* and OS X has a lousy GUI, but I’d like to keep them around for browser testing.

* Yes, I’ve used Cygwin. It’s good, but awkward.

Linux OS X Windows XP
FAT 32 rw rw rw
EXT3 rw rw? rw?
HFS+ rw rw rw?
NTFS rw r rw

The ? indicates that support is added by a random freeware utility rather than built into the OS, so who knows how well it’ll work. Yeah, XP and OS X both suck for filesystem support.

The general plan looks like OS X and XP will have ~10G partitions with their native HFS+ and NTFS. Linux will get a ~10G ext3 root partition and the rest of the disk space will go to a large ext3 partition for /home. I’ll spend my time in Linux, booting to XP and OS X mostly just to test, so their ext3 support needs to not suck or I’ll have to create a FAT 32 scratch partition just to pass files around (and scratch any hope of using my svn repos).

Just to add another wrinkle, I plan on using TrueCrypt to encrypt all my private data so I’m not 100% screwed if I lose my laptop, just like 15% screwed. TrueCrypt runs on Linux and XP and can encrypt entire filesystem partitions or virtual disks (which exist as files on existing partitions). So while I’d like to have a big ext3-formatted TrueCrypt-protected /home partition, that’d leave out OS X.

Anyone have a better plan? Anyone else with a triple-boot setup care to share lessons learned?


  1. OSX GUI is lousy? That is a first one. Glad you are getting a MacBook nevertheless. Concerning “TrueCrypt” OSX can already do that–though limited in its options.

    Creating a Preotected blank disk image:

    You can use Disk Utility to create a blank disk image to store files. Usually, when you create a disk image, you gather the files you want to include into a single location before you create the disk image. With a blank disk image you can add files to the image at any time.

    Choose File > New > Blank Disk Image. Type a name for the disk image and select where you want to save it.
    Choose the size of the disk image from the Size pop-up menu. To require a password to open the disk image, choose “AES-128 (recommended)” from the Encryption pop-up. Choose “read/write disk image” from the Format pop-up menu. Click Create. To add files to the disk image, open the image in the Finder, which creates a volume on your desktop, then drag files to that volume.

    You can also create a sparse image as well.

    Concerning triple booting–good luck–check this out:

  2. If you will be using Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows XP only for testing browsers then you probably aren’t worried too much about native speed. You may want to look at VMWare, QEMU, etc. and have OS X and XP just run virtually under Linux. No reboots required. ;)

  3. You probably won’t get much out of my suggestion–but I shared your disappointment with XP’s command line environment as well as CygWin’s, and I owe you plenty for clueing me in on the resize- and move-window mouse shortcuts in Fluxbox.

    If you haven’t tried already, install an OpenSSH server on XP, only open to localhost, and connect to localhost via PuTTY or some such. The resulting command-line interface seems–to me at least–to be without terribly noticeable differences from a Linux console. Much nicer for dealing with text editors and the MySQL monitor.

    You would likely not need instruction for this, but this page gives a nice overview and lays everything out:

    Hope all is going well with you at your new place of work.

  4. I’m looking at a macbook or a macbook pro. I probably will use os x and all it’s glittery UI looks (for better or worse). How’s the performance on your macbook? Did you consider a macbook pro before buying this?

  5. Performance is excellent. Don’t pay for Apple to upgrade your RAM or hard drive, they’re both very easy to do yourself for half the price. But do get 2G of RAM if you want to run virtual machines or big apps, and do get a faster hard drive if you’re pushing lots of data around.

    I did consider the MacBookPro. It was just a little bigger than I wanted, and all the MBPs I touched at the Apple Store were very hot on the bottom. I’d say visit a store to play with them yourself; it’s always worthwhile to get a feel for the keyboard, size, and heft of a laptop.

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