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NEXTSTEP In Focus, Summer/Fall 1994 (Volume 4, Issues 3 and 4).
1994 by NeXT Computer, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

One PC, More Than One OS?

Joe Keenan

Now that the NEXTSTEP computer on your desk is an ``industry-standard'' Intel-based PC, why can't you use it to run other operating systems when you need them? Well, you can--it just takes a little planning.

A One-Computer Solution

Configuring one computer to work with multiple operating systems can be very easy. You can install NEXTSTEP in an unused portion of a disk that already has DOS on it. Or you can set aside part of the disk (a partition) for DOS when you install NEXTSTEP, and install DOS afterwards. However, things get more complicated if you want to work with more than two operating systems, or if you require a more complex partitioning scheme.

This article explores schemes for partitioning a disk and installing multiple operating systems, including DOS, NEXTSTEP, OS/2, and Linux. It also mentions some important points for working with other operating systems.

Partitioning your disk

To work with multiple operating systems on a disk, you need to do a couple of things to it.

First, you need to format the disk. Normally, formatting is done by the manufacturer before the disk leaves the factory. IDE disks, in particular, are always preformatted. In addition, you can use most SCSI adapters to format a disk. (See the owner's guide for your hard disk, IDE disk controller, or SCSI adapter for more information.)

Second, you need to partition the disk. As the name implies, a partition is part of a disk. You can logically subdivide a disk into multiple partitions, for different uses. In this article, we're mostly concerned with using the different partitions for multiple operating systems.

Just to keep things interesting, there are two distinct partitioning schemes that NEXTSTEP can use: UNIX(TM)-style and DOS-style. However, only one of them allows you to work with multiple operating systems.

You can divide a disk into multiple UNIX-style partitions. UNIX-style partitions are useful for dividing up a very large disk into more manageable portions. They're also useful for providing fine-grained access control over different parts of the disk. However, only NEXTSTEP can work with disks divided up into UNIX-style partitions (though you can use the disk with NEXTSTEP running on NeXT, PA-RISC, and other kinds of computers).

You create UNIX-style partitions with the disk command. (If you have a large disk, or if you want to create more than two partitions, you also need to create a custom disktab file. See the Spring 1994 issue of NEXTSTEP In Focus for more on disktab files.) The disk program also writes one or more boot programs on the disk (more about that later).

You can also divide a disk into DOS-style partitions. This is the partitioning scheme that DOS (and other PC operating systems) understand, and it's the one to use if you want to work with more than one operating system on a disk. The DOS partitioning scheme defines a maximum of four physical partitions on a disk. A physical partition can be designated as either a primary partition or an extended partition. An extended partition can be further subdivided into one or more logical partitions.

When you partition a disk you write a partition table on it. In the DOS-style partitioning scheme, the partition table has four entries--one for each of the four possible partitions--and each entry includes the information shown in Figure 1.

Partition Partition Partition Size
number status type (in MB)
1 0x00 0x06 80
2 0x80 0xA7 480
3 0x00 0x00 0
4 0x00 0x00 0

Figure 1:
Information from a typical DOS-style partition table

The Partition Status field can be either 0x00 (inactive) or 0x80 (bootable, active).
(The prefix 0x indicates that a number is a hexadecimal number.) This field tells the booter which partition to use by default (as described later in this article). The Partition Type field contains a code that identifies what the partition contains--it's zero if the partition isn't in use. Each operating system vendor defines the partition types that they use (see Figure 2). Knowing these codes can be very useful when trying to use any of the more advanced disk-partitioning tools.

type code Vendor
0x00 Unused partition
0x01 DOS, 12-bit FAT
0x02 XENIX root
0x03 XENIX usr
0x04 DOS, 16-bit FAT < 32MB
0x05 Extended DOS
0x06 DOS, 16-bit FAT > 32MB
0x07 OS/2 HPFS, QNX
0x08 AIX file system
0x09 AIX, Coherent
0x0A OS/2 Boot Manager
0x10 OPUS
0x40 Venix 80286
0x52 CP/M, Microport SysV/AT
0x64 Novell 2.xx
0x65 Novell 3.xx
0x75 PCIX
0x80 Old Minix
0x81 Linux/Minix
0x82 Linux swap
0x83 Linux native
0x93 Amoeba
0x94 Amoeba bad block table
0xA5 386BSD
0xB8 BSDI swap
0xC7 Syrinx
0xE1 DOS access
0xE3 DOS R/O
0xFF Bad block table

Figure 2:
Type codes revealed

You create DOS-style partitions and edit the partition table with the fdisk (fixed disk) program. Versions of this program are supplied with NEXTSTEP, DOS, OS/2, Linux, and other operating systems that can use the DOS-style partitioning scheme. Using fdisk is a matter of deciding how many partitions you want, what kinds, and how big each should be. You can use any of the fdisk programs tested for this article to create primary and extended partitions. You can use the DOS, OS/2, and Linux versions to create logical partitions, as well. The boot partition for both NEXTSTEP and DOS must be a primary partition, while the boot partition for OS/2 and Linux can be a logical partition.

NEXTSTEP (and many other operating systems) can boot only from partitions that are contained entirely in
the first 1024 cylinders of a disk. This can be a problem for large disks, unless the SCSI adapter or hard disk controller does sector translation. See the owner's guide for your adapter or controller for more information.

Understanding the boot process

Booting is the incremental process of loading successively larger and more complex programs from a disk until, finally, your operating system is up and running. You need a basic understanding of the boot process to determine the appropriate partitioning scheme for your computer. First we'll describe the simplest boot sequence and then describe more advanced situations and the programs (called boot managers) you can use to control the process.

Booting DOS

If you have an unmodified copy of DOS on your hard disk, it starts up (or boots) in the
following sequence:

1 When you turn on the computer, its ROM BIOS (the basic startup programs in chips in the computer) executes a power-on self-test sequence. If there are no errors, the BIOS loads cylinder 0, head 0, sector 1 of the primary disk into memory. Sector 1 must contain the partition table and partition booter, also known as the master boot record (MBR). If the sector has a valid MBR, then the BIOS executes the partition booter.

2 The partition booter examines the partition table and determines which partition is `` active.'' If there's no active partition, the boot process stops. Otherwise, the first sector of the active partition--the boot record--is loaded into memory and executed.

3 The DOS boot record reads the DOS hidden files (IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS) into memory. IO.SYS reads the CONFIG.SYS file and loads device drivers, sets up low-level data structures, and so on. MSDOS.SYS loads in COMMAND.COM (or another command processor), according to the CONFIG.SYS information loaded by IO.SYS.

4 COMMAND.COM executes the commands in AUTOEXEC.BAT and then displays the DOS prompt. If you use Windows, AUTOEXEC.BAT usually starts up Windows. That completes the DOS boot sequence.

When there's only one operating system on a disk, there isn't much need for a boot manager program. The MBR just looks at the partition table for the active partition and boots that one. No muss, no fuss. However, with more than one bootable partition on a disk, this doesn't work very well. That's where boot manager programs come in.


The NEXTSTEP boot manager functions almost the same as the DOS partition booter. The only difference is that the NEXTSTEP booter displays the prompt:

Type n for NEXTSTEP, d for DOS, 1-4 for partition #:

Then it waits for you to type a single character. If you don't type anything, it times out and does exactly the same thing that DOS does: It looks for the active partition (step 2 above) and continues the boot sequence.

If you type n at the prompt (or the number of a NEXTSTEP partition), the NEXTSTEP boot manager examines the partition table for a partition with the NEXTSTEP partition type (0xA7 from Figure 2) and selects that as the active partition. If you type d at the prompt, the boot manager does the same for the DOS partition types, and you're back at step 2 above.

If you select a NEXTSTEP partition, the boot sequence is considerably more complicated than for DOS. The NEXTSTEP boot sequence goes something like this:

1 The computer's ROM BIOS executes a power-on self-test sequence and loads cylinder 0,
head 0, sector 1 of the primary disk into memory. Sector 1 contains the partition booter.

Sector 1 is actually the first sector in a track. The PC BIOS (and DOS) start counting at 0 for cylinders and heads, but at 1 for sectors. Ours is not to wonder why....

2 The partition booter (also known as boot0) determines the active partition, as described above. The first sector of the partition (the ``boot record,'' also known as boot1) is loaded into memory and executed.

If you have a NEXTSTEP-only disk, boot0 isn't used. Instead, the boot1 program is stored in the partition table sector on the hard disk. That means that there's no DOS-style partition info on the disk. That's OK, because NEXTSTEP doesn't need it.

3 boot1 is a ``silent'' booter. It usually doesn't display anything to the user. Its sole purpose is to load the boot2 program from the NEXTSTEP partition.

4 The real NEXTSTEP boot program is boot2. This is the program that prompts you to type startup options at the boot: prompt. It knows how to put the display hardware into VGA graphics mode to display the fancy startup screens. boot2 loads the operating system kernel (mach_kernel in the root directory on the disk) and passes it any options you typed at the
boot: prompt.

5 boot2 also loads the device drivers the kernel needs for initial system startup. Up to this point, all system I/O--disk, keyboard, and display--has been done using BIOS routines. Before NEXTSTEP can go into virtual-memory, multitasking mode, boot2 has to load device drivers the kernel needs to get up and running. These drivers are specified in the ``Boot Drivers'' line in the Instance0.table file. in /private/Drivers/i386/System.config/. (If you haven't configured NEXTSTEP yet, it uses Default.table file, in the same directory.)

6 Once boot2 has loaded the drivers the kernel needs, the kernel can switch to virtual-memory, multitasking mode, and start up all other necessary processes. Additional device drivers--specified in the ``Active Drivers'' line in Instance0.table--are loaded at this time.

7 The remainder of the startup sequence is fairly standard for a UNIX operating system. (For more information, see Chapter 9 in the NEXTSTEP Network and System Administration manual).

Restoring or Replacing the NEXTSTEP Partition Booter
If the NEXTSTEP booter gets replaced with the DOS booter, you can't start NEXTSTEP. To fix this, start up DOS and use fdisk to make the NEXTSTEP partition active. Then restart the computer-- NEXTSTEP will start up automatically. Log in as root and reinstall the NEXTSTEP boot program by typing the following command in a Terminal window:

# /usr/etc/disk -b /dev/rsd0h

Substitute rhd0h for rsd0h with an IDE drive.

By the way--if you ever want to get rid of the NEXTSTEP booter and restore the DOS one, start up DOS and type the following command at the DOS prompt:

C> fdisk /mbr

Using Multiple Disks
Another option is to use multiple disks. NeXTanswer #1487 (see ``Tips & Techniques'' for how to use NeXTanswers) describes a method of installing NEXTSTEP on a secondary hard disk. You'll still need to figure out the partitioning issues, because you'll need a small partition on the primary disk for the NEXTSTEP kernel, unless you want to start up from a floppy disk.--JK

The OS/2 boot manager

The OS/2 boot manager is a little different than the DOS and NEXTSTEP booters in that it uses a primary partition of its own, which is always set as the active partition. This allows it to use a more complex program than can fit in a normal boot sector and to store additional information about the various partitions that it displays at boot time. For instance, the boot manager displays a description string for all of the available (bootable) partitions it knows about, and allows you to set the delay time before the default partition is activated.

The OS/2 boot manager has one more capability that's significant if you want to have more than two operating systems on your disk. You can install OS/2 into a DOS logical partition, instead of a physical partition as required by DOS and NEXTSTEP. Why is this important? Well, there's another quirk to DOS and OS/2 that comes into play.

For DOS and OS/2, only one primary partition can be ``visible'' at a time. This means that if you have a disk with three primary partitions (NEXTSTEP, DOS, and OS/2), then DOS will not be able to see the OS/2 partition, and OS/2 will not be able to see the DOS partition. Neither will see nor understand the NEXTSTEP partition, but that's not surprising. NEXTSTEP will see the DOS partition, because it doesn't follow DOS rules.

So if you want all three operating systems on a disk and you want to be able to access them from each other, you need to put OS/2 in a logical partition. You won't be able to access the OS/2 partition from NEXTSTEP, but DOS will, and OS/2 will see the DOS partition.

If you do decide to use the OS/2 boot manager, you'll probably want to delete the NEXTSTEP booter. If you don't, you'll be prompted twice to pick an operating system or partition. The first time is by the NEXTSTEP booter. If the active partition is the OS/2 boot manager, and you don't explicitly select NEXTSTEP or another partition, then the OS/2 boot manager presents you with a second list of bootable partitions.

LILO: The Linux loader

LILO is the boot loader from the Linux operating system suite. Although not as polished in appearance as, say, the OS/2 boot manager, it has many features and capabilities the others don't have. Like the OS/2 boot manager, LILO allows booting from either primary or logical partitions, and it allows you interactively to select the boot partition.

Just as you must be running OS/2 to use the OS/2 boot manager, you must be running Linux to configure LILO. You can either use the interactive configuration program to set up the LILO configuration file, or you can edit the file by hand.

Installing Multiple Operating Systems

Now that you know lots of trivia about how multiple operating systems work on a disk, you need
to know how to put them there. Two, three, four, or even more operating systems? It can be done. Here's how.


The simplest case of multiple operating systems on one disk is NEXTSTEP and DOS. They're easy to install, since this is the default installation scenario for NEXTSTEP. The most important thing to remember is that DOS is already taking up the entire disk; you have to erase the DOS partition. If you don't, you're guaranteed to have serious problems later on--so be forewarned.

Boot DOS from a floppy and run fdisk to create just the DOS partition. Leave the rest of the disk unallocated. Then install DOS normally.

Once you've installed DOS, restart the computer with the NEXTSTEP installation disks and install NEXTSTEP (this is described in the Installing and Configuring NEXTSTEP book). After you select which disk to install NEXTSTEP on, you're asked how you want to partition the disk. Select the option to install NEXTSTEP in the unused space on the disk. Then finish installing NEXTSTEP.

You can also install DOS after you install NEXTSTEP. In this case, make sure you leave room for a DOS partition during the NEXTSTEP installation procedure. If you don't, you'll have to start all over again. Once NEXTSTEP is installed, follow the instructions that come with DOS for initial installation. Don't repartition the disk, and do make sure you select the partition that you reserved for DOS when you installed NEXTSTEP. You should be able to identify that partition by its size, or by the order in which you created the partitions.

If you do install DOS after NEXTSTEP, the DOS installation procedure usually replaces the NEXTSTEP partition booter with its own. This makes it impossible to start up NEXTSTEP.
To fix this, restore the NEXTSTEP partition, as described in ``Restoring or Replacing the NEXTSTEP Partition Booter.''


Here's where things start to get interesting. Let's assume that you have a 1-gigabyte disk and you want to install these three operating systems on it. You decide you need about 600 megabytes for NEXTSTEP, 200 megabytes for DOS, and 200 megabytes for OS/2. (Your mileage--and numbers--may vary.) How to partition the disk?

Well, you know that you can't put both OS/2 and DOS in primary partitions if you want to be able to access the DOS partition from OS/2, and vice versa. This means that you need to install OS/2 in a logical partition, and you need to install the OS/2 boot manager so you can boot the OS/2 partition--the NEXTSTEP booter can't do it. So now you need a boot manager partition as well. For this, use the partitioning scheme shown in Figure 3.

No. Type Operating system Size(MB) Label
1 Primary DOS 200 C:
2 Primary NEXTSTEP 600 --
3 Extended -- -- --
Logical OS/2 199 D:
4 Primary BootMgr 1 --

Figure 3:
A basic partitioning scheme for NEXTSTEP, DOS, and OS/2

You have a considerable amount of flexibility here. You're stealing a little bit of disk space for the OS/2 boot manager from the OS/2 partition, but you could just as easily have taken it from one of the others. Also, depending on the size of your disk, your minimum partition size may be larger than 1 megabyte.

If you want to split up your DOS or OS/2 partitions into smaller pieces, you can make partition 1 smaller and split partition 3 into multiple logical partitions, as shown in Figure 4. This allows you to set up dedicated data partitions for use in DOS and OS/2.

No. Type Operating system Size(MB) Label
1 Primary DOS 100 C:
2 Primary NEXTSTEP 600 --
3 Extended -- -- --
Logical OS/2 99 D:
Logical Data 1 100 E:
Logical Data 2 100 F:
4 Primary BootMgr 1 --

Figure 4:
An alternative partitioning scheme for NEXTSTEP, DOS, and OS/2

Don't forget that in either case, you can only access the first DOS primary partition from NEXTSTEP. You can't access subsequent primary partitions or any logical partitions.

To install all three operating systems, begin by following the instructions for the simple NEXTSTEP and DOS case, but remember to make the first two partitions the right sizes. Leave the rest of the disk unallocated. Install NEXTSTEP first, and then DOS. With three bootable partitions, you won't be able to use the NEXTSTEP booter, so don't bother with the gyrations required to put the NEXTSTEP booter back in place. (If you've already installed it, use the DOS fdisk /mbr command to get rid of it.)

Now it's time to install OS/2. Follow the normal OS/2 installation procedures, but use the advanced partitioning options to create the extended partition and its logical partitions. While the OS/2 fdisk program is running, don't forget to install the OS/2 boot manager and add the NEXTSTEP and DOS partitions (make them bootable).

You can install OS/2 either on a DOS file system or on an OS/2 HPFS file system. If you install OS/2 on an HPFS file system, you won't be able to access the OS/2 partition from DOS. See the OS/2 installation manual
for details.

Solaris 2.1
If you're thinking about installing Solaris on your system, there are a couple of things to be aware of. First, Solaris requires its own primary partition. It puts all the individual file systems it needs--/, /usr, /opt, swap, and so on--in that primary partition. Also, if the Solaris partition is set active, it displays an option screen when it starts up to allow you to select one of the other partitions to boot. If you don't select another partition, it completes the Solaris boot sequence.--JK

NEXTSTEP, DOS, OS/2, and Linux

All four? Well, yes, if you have a big enough hard disk.

Actually, this is pretty much the same as the NEXTSTEP, DOS, and OS/2 case, except that you have a new option to consider. You can use LILO as your boot manager instead of the OS/2 boot manager, but there's a trade-off: OS/2 is more verbose and gives you more information about your boot options, while LILO doesn't take up an extended partition of its own.

Install the operating systems as before, reserving a partition for Linux. A basic Linux installation requires 40 to 80 megabytes of disk space (about the same as required for OS/2). One possible partitioning scheme is shown in Figure 5.

No. Type Operating system Size(MB) Label
1 Primary DOS 100 /dev/sda1
2 Primary NEXTSTEP 600 /dev/sda2
3 Extended -- -- /dev/sda3
Logical OS/2 100 /dev/sda5
2 Logical Linux 100 /dev/sda6
2 Logical Data 99 /dev/sda7
4 Primary BootMgr 1 /dev/sda4

Figure 5:
A partitioning scheme for NEXTSTEP, DOS, OS/2, and Linus

The last column in Figure 5 is the name by which Linux refers to each partition. The primary partitions are /dev/sda1 through /dev/sda4, and the logical partitions go up from there. (These names are for a SCSI disk. If you're using an IDE disk, you'll have /dev/hda1 through /dev/hda4 instead.) Linux can access the raw data blocks in each partition, but it can only read Linux and DOS partitions as real file systems.

The Sky's the Limit

You have a lot of flexibility in your operating system and partitioning options. Just take the time to plan your strategy and you'll be able to switch OSs with relative ease.

Joe Keenan is a member of NeXT's Technical Support Team working out of the McLean, Virginia, office.
He specializes in large network support for NeXT's commercial and government customers. You can reach him by e-mail at
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