Dual Booting Laptop: Win7, Slackware

Bam! School’s in. The inevitable has happened and the most hideously busy few months of my educational life have begun: the university applications term. And to support this packed timetable I reckoned I’d need some pretty decent technological backing. In other words Windows Vista had to go.

I’d been wanting to rid my laptop of this slick but extremely ungainly and messy monster for some time (ever since I bought the laptop actually) – it crashed at a very embarrassing moment at Young Rewired State (plugged into a projector in front of a big audience with lots of media cameras pointed at me…) which was probably the last straw for me, and it’s had reliably frequent networking issues (wifi and ethernet took it in turns to fail). After testing out Win7 on old machines and liking it, I decided to go for a dual boot with Win7 and Slackware – my opinion is that Linux shouldn’t be all about Ubuntu, Fedora and Debian and I reckoned this would be a good opportunity to give a less mainstream distro a try. There was of course a snag: the main reason I held off uninstalling Vista was that I had a setup of Firefly installed (for my freelance work) which had taken literally half a day to set up so I wasn’t too keen on losing that; clearly virtualisation is the key to the problem here. So I created a new VM in Virtualbox and installed Firefly and supporting software (SQL server, IIS etc.) onto that.

So I backed up my data and installed Win7 and Slackware side-by-side. The last thing Vista did for me was crash while trying to resize a partition so I took a chainsaw (= cfdisk) to my HDD and annihilated Vista. OK I’ll admit the reason I deleted Vista was because I screwed up and hit ctrl+c while cfdisk was running … oops. And I somehow managed to forget to install LILO (boot manager) at first so started off with no boot OS which was just a tad concerning … but in the end everything worked out! I’m using a ~100GB NTFS partition for Win7 + Windows programs. Slackware has ~20GB of ext3 and there’s a 100GB NTFS data drive.

Partition Table for my HDD. In hindsight I should really have used a separate partition for Windows programs and a swap partition. Oh well...

Partition Table for my HDD. In hindsight I should really have used a separate partition for Windows programs and a swap partition. Oh well... Click to embiggen

VirtualBox running in Slackware. Its so much more convenient using virtual machines - they can be transferred from Win7 to Slackware or my desktop or even to someone in China; the portability factor is seriously useful

VirtualBox running in Slackware. It's so much more convenient using virtual machines - they can be transferred from Win7 to Slackware or my desktop or even to someone in China; the portability factor is seriously useful

Linux on laptops, especially Slackware, is all about hackery and cool stuff so I’m hoping to implement sometime soon multitouch gestures (which Mac users have) and customise the OS beyond recognition.

Goods

I was also apprehensive that Windows 7 would fail to realise my laptop has a wifi card thus negating the entire point of the operation, but in the end everything works and wifi was set up as part of the installation process; even standby and hibernate which always crashed the computer in Vista work in Win7! Every time I use the OS I find some small but hugely awesome new little feature that makes me love it just that little bit more. MS have got it right this time in my opinion and I hope it sells well. And I couldn’t help but feel just a little smug when one of my friends came in with a new laptop with Vista on it complaining to me about a wifi failure…

Slackware’s also pretty great – it installed literally in about 15 minutes. I was slightly annoyed at first that it doesn’t have a package manager like apt-get or yum (or at least I can’t seem to find one) but actually now I find svn and make/make install more than adequate substitutes; although installing software is now a lengthier process I get up-to-date packages and have more control over installation. Even better (for me), Slackware starts with a command line and the GUI has to be started manually. So next time someone asks to borrow my laptop to check email be warned: you’ll be using lynx!!

Problems

There are still two things I can’t work out:

1. I’ve got all my Virtualbox information in the shared drive and I’ve managed to boot VMs in both OSes. However if I save the machine state in Win7 and then boot into Slackware it doesn’t seem possible to restore that saved state. If I run that state-saved VM in Slackware and save a new state then return to Win7, Win7 restores the state saved in Win7, not the one in Slackware. A perplexing problem – google time methinks.

2. Linux in general is allergic to Intel Wifi cards. Enough said; though I managed to connect through wifi in Backtrack 3 (not 4 beta though!) so maybe if I do a little driver shuffling it might work eventually.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with this. I didn’t intend to do much advertising in this post but I would certainly recommend Win7. At least give the RCs a try – it is *so* worth it. And having two very good OS’s should give me a huge amount of freedom: Win7 does what I *need* and Slackware does what I *want*. Perfect.

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