Restoring GRUB for dual booting of Linux and Windows

Once you end up with Windows overwriting your master boot record (MBR), you have lost the ability to use GRUB. Therefore, it would be handy to get it back if you want to start up Linux again. Though the loss of GRUB from the MBR was a deliberate act of mine, I knew that I’d have to restore GRUB to get Linux working again.So, I have been addressing the situation with a Live DVD for the likes of Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Once one of those had loaded its copy of the distribution, issuing the following command in a terminal session gets things back again:

sudo grub-install --root-directory=/media/0d104aff-ec8c-44c8-b811-92b993823444 /dev/sda

When there were error messages, I tried this one to see if I could get more information:

sudo grub-install --root-directory=/media/0d104aff-ec8c-44c8-b811-92b993823444 /dev/sda --recheck

Also, it is possible to mount a partition on the boot drive and use that in the command to restore GRUB. Here is the required combination:

sudo mount /dev/sda1 /mnt
sudo grub-install --root-directory=/mnt /dev/sda

Either of these will get GRUB working without a hitch and they are far more snappy than downloading Boot-Repair and using that; I was doing that for a while until a feature on triple booting appeared in an issue of Linux User & Developer that reminded me of the more readily available option. Once, there was a need to manually add an entry for Windows 7 to the GRUB menu too and, with that instated, I was able to dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows using GRUB to select which one was to start for me. Since then, I have been able to dual boot Linux Mint and Windows 8.1 with GRUB finding the latter all by itself so your experiences too may show this variation so it’s worth bearing in mind.

Do we need to pay for disk partitioning tools anymore?

My early explorations of dual-booting of Windows and Linux led me into the world of disk partitioning. It also served a another use since any Windows 9x installations (that dates things a bit…) that I had didn’t have a tendency to last longer than six months at one point; putting the data on another partition meant that a fresh Windows installation didn’t jeopardise any data that I had should a mishap occur.

Then, Partition Magic was the favoured tool and it wasn’t free of charge, though it wasn’t extortionately priced either. For those operations that couldn’t be done with Windows running, you could create bootable floppy disks to get the system going in order to perform those. Thinking about it now, it all worked well enough and the usual caveats about taking care with your data applied as much then as they do now.

For the last few years, many Linux distributions have coming in the form of CD’s or DVD’s from which you can boot into a full operating system session, complete with near enough the same GUI that an installed version. When a PC is poorly, this is a godsend and makes me wonder how we managed without; having that visual way of saving data sounds all too necessary now. For me, the answer to that is that I misspent too many hours blundering blindly using the very limited Windows command line to get myself out of a crux. Looking back on it now, it all feels very dark compared to today.

Another good aspect to these Live Distribution Disks is that they come with hard disk partitioning tools such as the effective GParted. They are needed to configure hard drives during the actual installation process but they serve another process too: they can be used in place of the old proprietary software disks that were in use not so long ago. Being able to deal with the hard disk sizes available today is a very good thing as is coping with NTFS partitions along with the usual Linux options. The operations may be time consuming but they have seemed reliable so far and I hope that it stays that way in spite of any warning that get issued but you make any changes. Last weekend, I got to see a lot of what that means and I setting up my Toshiba Equium laptop for Windows/Ubuntu dual booting.

With the capability that is available both free of charge and free of limitations, you cannot justify paying for disk partitioning software nowadays and that’s handy when you consider the state of the economy. It also shows how things have changed over the last decade. Being able to load up a complete operating system from a DVD also serves to calm any nerves when a system goes down on you, especially when you surf the web to find a solution for the malady that’s causing the downtime.

Restoring the MBR for Windows 7

During my explorations of dual-booting of Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.10, I ended up restoring the master boot record (MBR) so that Windows 7 could load again or to find out if it wouldn’t start for me. The first hint that came to me when I went searching was the bootsect command but this only updates the master boot code on the partition so it did nothing for me. What got things going again was the bootrec command.

To use either of these, I needed to boot from a Windows 7 installation DVD. With my Toshiba Equium laptop, I needed to hold down the F12 key until I was presented with a menu that allowed me to choose from what drive I wanted to boot the machine, the DVD drive in this case. Then, the disk started and gave me a screen where I selected my location and moved to the next one where I selected the Repair option. After that, I got a screen where my Windows 7 installation was located. Once that was selected, I moved on to another screen from I started a command line session. Then, I could issue the commands that I needed.

bootsect /nt60 C:

This would repair the boot sector on the C: drive in a way that is compatible with BOOTMGR. This wasn’t enough for me but was something worth trying anyway in case there was some corruption.

bootrec /fixmbr
bootrec /fixboot

The first of these restores the MBR and the second sorts out the boot sector on the system drive (where the Windows directory resides on your system. In the event, I ran both of these and Windows restarted again, proving that it had come through disk partition changes without a glitch, though CHKDISK did run in the process but that’s understandable. There’s another option for those wanting to get back a boot menu and here it is:

bootrec /rebuildbcd

Though I didn’t need to do so, I ran that too but later used EasyBCD to remove the boot menu from the start-up process because it was surplus to my requirements. That’s a graphical tool that has gained something of a reputation since Microsoft dispensed with the boot.ini file that came with Windows XP for later versions of the operating system.

Booting from external drives

Sticking with older hardware may mean that you miss out on the possibilities offered by later kit and being able to boot from external optical and hard disk drives was something of which I learned only recently. Like many things, a compatible motherboard and my enforced summer upgrade means that I have one with the requisite capabilities.

There is usually an external DVD drive attached to my main PC so that allowed the prospect of a test. A bit of poking around in the BIOS settings for the Foxconn motherboard was sufficient to get it looking at the external drive at boot time. Popping in a CrunchBang Linux live DVD was all that was needed to prove that booting from a USB drive was a goer. That CrunchBang is a minimalist variant of Ubuntu helped for acceptable speed at system startup and afterwards.

Having lived off them while in home PC limbo, the temptation to test out the idea of installing an operating system on an external HD and booting from that is definitely there though I think that I’ll be keeping mine as backup drives for now. Still, there’s nothing to stop me installing an operating system onto of them and giving that a whirl sometime. Of course, speed constraints mean that any use of such an arrangement would be occasional but, in the event of an emergency, such a setup could have its uses and tide you over for longer than a Live CD or DVD. Having the chance to poke around with an alternative operating system as it might exist on a real PC has its appeal too and avoids the need for any partitioning and other chores that dual booting would require. After all, there’s only so much testing that can be done in a virtual machine.

An introduction to Wubi

The Toshiba laptop that I acquired at the start of the year is a Windows Vista box and it isn’t something with which I want to play too roughly because the OS came pre-installed on it. I still want to continue to see how Vista goes at close quarters so removing it to put Ubuntu or some other Linux distribution on there wasn’t ever going to be an option that I was willing to take either. Neither was the option of setting up a dual booting arrangement using disk partitioning; I have plenty of experience of doing that to set up dual booting machines over the years and I don’t needed any more than what I already have. So, I was happy to leave it as a Windows box and only as a Windows box.

That situation has changed and the cause was Canonical’s decision to go for something novel when it brought out Ubuntu 8.04. The premise is as follows: a Windows style installation that popped an entry in the Windows boot menu that allowed you to fire up Ubuntu without ever having to do disk partitioning or other similar rough play. For those who are less than enamoured with the Linux option, it’s even easy to remove too, as easy any other Windows program in fact. Removal of Linux is very definitely not what I’d do and that’s even without the pain and upheaval of more more customary means for setting dual booting machines. In these days of virtualisation and hypervisor technology, I have my ideas as to what has been used to give us that easy way in.

Being an Ubuntu user anyway, the possibility of having Ubuntu on the laptop and the interesting opportunity that Wubi offered for getting it on there was too tempting for me to give it a miss. A small download from the Wubi website is all that is needed to set things off. You get a number of options up front like where to put the (large) file to be used to house the Ubuntu world and how large you might want it. Setting a user name and password for the thing gets included among other items. The next stage is to download the files to be used to perform the installation. Once that is completed and it took me a few goes to get the whole lot (thankfully, it stores things up to the point where the downloading operation cuts out so you didn’t start from scratch each time; even so, it’s still annoying and could put some off), it is time to restart the computer and boot into Ubuntu to complete the set up of the operating system itself; it is at this point that the familiar very much returns. A reboot later and you are into a world that does its level best to fool you into thinking that Windows is another universe and never existed on that machine at all.

So, a machine that seemed destined only ever run Windows can run Linux now as well. Wubi comes across as a neat and clever way to get a dual booting computer and I hope to leave mine as I now have it. No feathers were ruffled on the Windows side and I saw no sign of any destruction. That makes Ubuntu’s way of doing things a much better option than other distributions that make you go down more invasive routes when creating a dual booting PC. A question remains in my mind. Could this approach take off?