Beginners Level Course: Partitioning Hard Drives in Linux
Your hard disk is like a pie. You can divide it into sections. For example, if you had two partitions, popular operating systems would generally call them C and D. You can call them Ginger and Fred, or Ginger and Marianne or even the Professor and Marianne if you like. I just use these bad jokes as a way of saying that C and D are naming conventions that belong to other operating systems. Linux doesn't use them. Linux may call them /hda3 and /hda5 for example. We'll get to that in a minute. Then you will need another partition known as a 'swap' partition. This 'swap' partition is just a way that Linux uses to get more memory so that you don't run out of it.
The classic way of partitioning your hard disk is with a program called 'fdisk' The program comes with a lot of whistles and buzzers and flashing messages that say "Danger, Will Robinson". There's a version for Linux but it doesn't mention Will Robinson. We want to say here that this is the SWAT team method of doing it - the scorched-earth policy of partitioning. If you have that important term paper on your hard disk, or pictures of that dream vacation to Hawaii that you haven't shown to your Aunt Betty yet or your best DOOM scores, you'll need to make back-up copies of them. The re-partioning using this method will get rid of them - forever! [cue ominous organ music]. But installing Linux isn't dangerous and if you choose to install you may not need such a drastic solution to your partition problem. As we mentioned before, If you're fortunate enough to have a hard drive with more than one partition (the old C: and D: routine), then it may be just a question of moving some files around. Unfortunately this lesson can't take into account everybody's individual circumstances.
There's a tool called FIPS that comes with major Linux versions. This will re-arrange your hard drive so you can install Linux. There are also other commercial products that will do the same. That may be an option for you, unless you've got a hard drive that's bursting at the seams. You should know that any decent working Linux system - and by decent, I mean, having the programs that will let you do anything you did with your Windows system- will take at least 2 gigabytes. Please keep that in mind. And if you want those videos of Hawaii on there, I'd plan for a bit more.
To talk about where Linux and other operating systems should go. In any situation where you've got two things sharing the same space, like two people sharing the same apartment, one person will always exert his rights over the other. Other operating systems usually want to be the only ones in the computer, so even though it's really not going to be this way, you have to install them in the first 'primary' partition, and that way it thinks it's the only one there. That means installing it in /hda1 in Linux speak. So remember, if you've chosen to go the fdisk route, the other operating system should be re-installed first. When you've got that re-installed, you are free to install Linux in what's left. Once you've installed Linux, you can actually see the other system's partition, sort of like those phony mirrors at the supermarket. We'll talk more about that in another lesson.