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My old XP ThinkPad T41 needs a reinstall to deal with Windows rot. It has a restore partition that I have used before without issues.

However, after tinkering with live CDs over the years and, more recently, playing with friends' netbooks, I fancy trying Ubuntu or some other "easy" Linux distro for a while to see if I can manage without Windows. This laptop is not my main computer and only really used for web-based stuff nowadays, but I occasionally need to use it for admin duties on my home network (RDP etc.).

My one worry is that, as I don't have a Windows install CD, the Ubuntu install might somehow affect the restore partition and leave me unable to get the hell out of Dodge if I suddenly find that my life simply cannot continue without some app/functionality that only Windows gives.

Is this a possibility? If so, are there steps I can take to ensure it doesn't happen?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

No, Ubuntu would not wipe out your partition unless you ask it to. But said that, it will change the MBR (unless you will tell it not to) and your fancy blue button that gets you into recovery mode would not work.

You can, however tell it to install GRUB loader into some other partition but this is rather advanced step so I'd recommend ask some local Ubuntu guru to do that. I've done it myself and I can tell you that's possible but I'm not sure I can explain procedure in necessary details.

Not so much detailed description is:

  • when you creating partition for Ubuntu, make sure you set "Boot" bit on it. IBM MBR will load first partition with bootable bit.
  • you have to find out how partition when you installed Ubuntu is named in GRUB terms. It should be something in the '(hd0, 0)' format.
  • on the last step of installing Ubuntu when it asks you if it is ok to install GRUB, open advanced settings and enter the location you found out in previous point.

That's it. In fact, if you're going to create swap partition, you can install GRUB there too, just make sure it is marked as "Boot" in cfdisk.

On the other hand, even if you install GRUB into MBR, it will find restore partition and will ask you if you want to load from it. I haven't tried it but I think it will be the same as with pressing a blue button.

DISCLAIMER: I followed this procedure couple of times but the last time was with Ubuntu 8.10 so I don't really know if it works with 9.04. I don't see a reason why it wouldn't though.

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Thanks, it was the MBR that I was afraid of. No local Ubuntu gurus here, so it looks like I'm rocking XP for a bit yet. – Lunatik Sep 2 '09 at 9:23
I've added not so detailed description, hope it helps. Otherwise you can always use Wubi, hibernation and some other goodness wouldn't work but other than that it is the same Ubuntu :) – vava Sep 2 '09 at 10:42

The ubuntu install will not wipe any partitions unless you ask it to. It's default action is to resize your existing partitions so long as there is enough free space.

However having said that I'd always recommend taking a backup. Once you have a live cd or usb stick you can boot from it then backup your whole hard drive using the dd command to an external usb drive.

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If you are going to do this, I recommend using sysinternals sdelete with the -c option before taking the image. This will write zeros to all unused sectors on disk, making the final image much more compression friendly for long term storage. – Michael Kohne Sep 2 '09 at 12:12
I'd not heard of that one but it's a good idea. I know that if you don't the image files are very compression unfriendly. – Col Sep 2 '09 at 16:26

If you want to retain Windows as a dual boot, it should be fine. Ubuntu will allow you to:

  • Use a free partition, or resize the windows partition
  • Not format the existing windows partition
  • install GRUB, which will provide you with a menu during boot time with the windows as well as ubuntu boot options

So, I do not foresee any problems. Have done this multiple times. Do recommend a backup, though !

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No, he's afraid of other partition, that holds preinstalled image of Windows so if anything goes wrong system could be restored in one button press. – vava Sep 2 '09 at 11:45
Ok .. on my T42 (long time back), I had installed Ubuntu (6.xx) and it still showed the recovery partition as one of the boot options. – Abhinav Sep 2 '09 at 12:24
Hm, but does the blue button work? I know that GRUB smart enough to find this partition, not sure if it is smart enough to load from it though :) – vava Sep 2 '09 at 12:33

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