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.

Manually adding an entry for Windows 7 to an Ubuntu GRUB2 menu

A recent endeavour of mine has been to set up a dual-booting arrangement on my Toshiba Equium laptop with Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows 7 on there side by side. However, unlike the same attempt with my Asus Eee PC where Windows XP coexists with Ubuntu, there was no menu entry on the GRUB (I understand that Ubuntu has had version 2 of this since 9.04 though the internal version is something like 1.9x; you can issue grub-install -v at the command line to find out what version you have on your system) menu afterwards. Thankfully, I eventually figured out how to do this and the process is shared here in a more coherent order than the one in which I discovered all of the steps.

The first step is to edit /etc/grub.d/40_custom (using SUDO) and add the following lines to the bottom of the file:

menuentry ‘Windows 7′ {
set root='(hd0,msdos2)’
chainloader +1
}

Since the location of the Windows installation can differ widely, I need to explain the “set root” line because (hd0,msdos2) refers to /dev/sda2 on my machine. More generally, hd0 (or /dev/sda elsewhere) refers to the first hard disk installed in any PC with hd1 (or /dev/sdb elsewhere) being the second and so on. While I was expecting to see entries like (hd0,6) in /boot/grub/grub.cfg, what I saw were ones like (hd0,msdos6) instead with the number in the text after the comma being the partition identifier; 1 is the first (sda1), 2 (sda2) is the second and so on. The next line (chainloader) tells GRUB to load the first sector of the Windows drive so that it can boot. After all that decoding, my final comment on what’s above is a simple one: the text “Windows 7” is what will appear in the GRUB menu so you can change this as you see fit.

After saving 40_custom, the next step is to issue the following command to update grub.cfg:

sudo update-grub2

Once that has done its business,  then you can look into /boot/grub/grub.cfg to check that the text added into 40_custom has found its way into there. That is important because this is the file read by GRUB2 when it builds the menu that appears at start-up time. A system reboot will prove conclusively that the new entry has been added successfully. Then, there’s the matter of selectively to see if Windows loads properly like it did for me, once I chose the correct disk partition for the menu entry, that is!

Firefox spell checking: getting rid of a mispelling from your dictionary.

Mozilla Firefox includes a spell checker and like any such function, it offers a chance to add words to a custom dictionary. Of course, you can also add misspellings too and these definitely need to be removed. With Word, it’s a matter of looking for custom.dic and deleting the nefarious item. With Firefox, it’s similar, at least on Windows anyway. The file that need to edit is persdict.dat and you’ll find it in C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[random name].default. My search for the relevant information took me over to Lifehacker.

Update 2012-12-11: For users of Linux, the location of the above file is as follows: /home/[user id]/.mozilla/firefox/[random name].default. Once you find persdict.dat in there, the required editing can be perfomed.