My Switch to Vista

I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 3.1. I’ve been pretty happy with every upgrade they’ve done to the Operating System, except for Windows ME which should have never seen the light of day. I still have nightmares of the Blue Screen of Death. When Vista was released earlier this year, I was intrigued. I wanted to check it out, but I didn’t want to drop $260 for the upgrade. I had pretty much convinced myself that I was going to switch to Ubuntu Linux or a Mac when I needed to upgrade my laptop some day. That all changed when the school I’m doing my masters work at added Vista to its volume license purchasing. That mean I was able to upgrade to Vista Ultimate for only $18, so I decided to take the plunge.

The computer I use is a Sony Vaio VGN-FE660G, which was certified as Vista ready when I bought it last year, so I didn’t need to run Vista Upgrade Advisor. What I’ve ended up with is a dual-boot system of Vista Ultimate and Ubuntu 7.04. There were some twists and turns along the way, but I must say that now that I’ve been running Vista for over two weeks, I’m very glad I made the switch. I’ll talk about what I like about Vista in another post, but I want to write a walk through of the process I took to make the switch.

Before I began installing Vista, I decided I wanted to have a triple-boot system with Vista Ultimate, XP Pro, and Ubuntu. I also wanted to start with a clean hard drive. The first thing I did was backed up all of my personal files to my external hard drive. I also ran Belarc Advisor, which lists every program you have installed. I did this so I could have a printout of everything that was on my computer just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. Once I was sure that I had everything backed up and knew where my installation cds for the programs I needed to reinstall I started the process.

This website was where I got the info on how to set everything up, so I followed the process outlined there. I partitioned my hard drive using GPartEd on the Ubuntu Live CD. I set up my 93.16GB hard drive with three primary partitions and one extended partition as follows: 30GB as NTFS for Vista, 20GB NTFS for XP, 10GB extended partition for Ubuntu (9GB as ext3 for files, 1GB as linux-swap), and the remaining 33.16GB as FAT32 to keep my personal files in a place that I could read and write in either Windows or Ubuntu.

Once the partitions were setup, the Ubuntu installation process was a breeze. All of my hardware, including my wireless card, worked right off the bat. It found the FAT32 partition and mounted it automatically, which was nice. The one area that is not very clear on the website listed above had to do with backing up the MBR. This section is a little confusing: “After installation is complete, reboot and login. Open the terminal and backup your MBR. You can use sudo fdisk -l to see a list of available partitions and df to see your mount points.” This part works as described, but the next part needs some clarifying. The website instructs you to “Type sudo dd if=/dev/hda of=/media/share/ubuntu.bin bs=512 count=1 to backup GRUB.” The problem with this is that it assumes that you’re using the same type of hardware as they were. My laptop has a SATA hard drive, so the above command would not work for me (I knew that ahead of time, thankfully). In my case, I had to replace “sudo dd if=/dev/hda” with “sudo dd if=/dev/sda” for the command to work. If you’re not sure what kind of drive you have, just run a few searches about your pc on Google before you begin. It’s possible that the instructions written will work as written for you. All in all, I had no complaints or problems installing Ubuntu. Things working great so far! On to installing XP.

XP installs fairly easy as well. You should not attempt this process if you only have a recovery cd from your computer’s manufacturer. These discs will wipe out your entire drive and restore it to exactly what it had on it when it was shipped from the factory. Just be sure that you have an installation CD from Microsoft. If it’s an upgrade CD you will also need a disc of an old version of Windows, so I wouldn’t recommend proceeding without a full installation CD. The website I mentioned above worked exactly as described, so follow the steps listed there as well.

When I got to installing Vista, I had to adapt the instructions just a little bit. Those instructions were written when Vista was still in beta, so they’re not completely accurate anymore. The version of Vista I got was Vista Ultimate Upgrade, which I had thought would mean I would be able to do a “clean install” just like I could do with XP–meaning that I would just have to stick in my XP cd to prove I owned a previous version of Windows. This is not the case. This website spells out the dillemma I faced and gave me the workaround I needed in order to have three fully functional operating systems. The annoying thing that Vista Upgrade does is invalidates your old XP so that you won’t be able to activate it if you ever need to reinstall it. This was not acceptable to me. I didn’t know if I was going to keep Vista or if all of my programs would even work, so I didn’t want to lose the ability to re-install XP if I needed to. Also, I own four versions of XP: XP Home on our desktop, XP Pro on my laptop, XP Media Center (from before I switched to Pro), and an extra copy of XP Pro 64 bit that came with XP Pro when I ordered it from my school. Because of this, I had no problems using this workaround knowing that I have a version of XP that I won’t use, so I’m not violating the license that requires to upgrade from another version of Windows. The annoying part of this process was that I had to install Vista twice, but it worked! I was able to activate Vista Upgrade by “upgrading” from an unactivated version of Vista. Why did Microsoft leave this option open? I have no idea.

Once I had Vista installed, I tried following the instructions listed on the other website, but they didn’t work for me. The solution I found, which ended up being much easier, was EasyBCD. I just downloaded the program and followed the instructions for using it listed on this site. Just make sure you add whatever other operating systems you have on your system using EasyBCD. If you need more specific instructions check out the different guides here.

So my triple-boot setup was complete! I had Vista, XP Pro, and Ubuntu 7.04 all running and accessible from one boot screen. Aside from the things noted above, everything worked fine. In my next post I’ll post my thoughts on Vista and the problem I ran into when I decided to remove XP.

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