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I have a machine that currently has Windows Vista living peacefully with Ubuntu 10.04 but I would like to test out another distro outside of a virtual machine without destroying my current Ubuntu or Windows installs. Is this possible? If so, any recommendations on how to arrange the partitions? I was thinking of moving user home areas to a separate partition and having 1 partition for all Ubuntu files and 1 for all files associated with the other distro.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

For the simplest setup, the installer of the new distro should recognize the two curretly installed operating systems and not interfere with them (install itself to a new partition, add itself to the existing Grub configuration).

If you want more convenience, your setup sounds reasonable: set up three partitions, two with mountpoints of / for each OS, and the third with a mountpoint of /home/ used by both. You should be able to set this up reasonably easily with the distribution installers. Note that Linux support for NTFS is now robust, so you might want to just have both mount your Windows partition for most file storage (an advanced setup would be making all three OS put their user profiles in an NTFS partition - not particularly easy but doable).

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+1 but I would not recommend the part putting all profiles shared on one NTFS partition because there are frequent differences between windows and linux software versions (at least releases differences) and you can kill one version upgrading to the new one available for 1 OS (like Thunderbird or Skype for example) and there are sometimes path differences so you end up with a profile cluttered with config files you don't know from where they are coming. – laurent Nov 21 '11 at 17:31
I pretty much only use Windows to run iTunes or MW3, and also to watch DVDs, since all of the Linux players I've tried were very jittery (although it might be time to revisit this...), so I have no need for shared partitions, but thanks for the suggestion. I've had Windows XP happily poop all over my MBR when fiddling with disk partitions in the past but since MW3 is probably the most important function on the machine I want to be careful not to screw things up :) – BD at Rivenhill Nov 30 '11 at 20:59

Not a unique way to do this but my preference would be similar to your idea, keeping the home on a separate partition and each linux distro on a separate partition.

Additionally, I use another data partition in NTFS (to be accessible from windows and both linux in your case) to place documents used in all OS like images, texts, speadsheets, presentations...).

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As long as you are installing Linux after you installed Windows and not the other way around there should be no major problems if you have enough disks or partitions.

Your partitions idea seems ok, but i never tried using the same home partition with several linux distros. In theorie it should work, but there might be problems occuring.

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