Introducing the Triple Boot Mac

First, Linux ran on the Mactel, then XP, and now all three of the major desktop operating systems-OS X, XP and Linux-can run on an Intel-powered Mac... if you're very, very careful. (Linux-Watch)

It was only a matter of time. First, Linux hacker Edgar "Gimli" Hucek got Gentoo Linux running on a Mactel system, an iMac Core Duo.

Then, as Windows hackers, spurred on by a cash reward from Colin Nederkoorn of Houston, had just completed their efforts to get the far more troublesome Windows XP to run on Intel-powered Macs, Apple took the wind out of their sails by releasing a public beta of Boot Camp—software that allows Intel-processor Macs, such as the iMac and Mac Mini desktops and MacBook Pro notebook, to boot either Mac OS X or Windows XP.

You know whats coming next, right?

Yes, now Nederkoorn and friends have blazed a trail for adventuresome Mac owners to boot not only OS X and XP on their systems, but Linux as well.

This Triple Boot method is not for the faint of heart.

First, you must manually partition the hard drive. The Intel Macs use the EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) GPT (GUID Partition Table) for partitioning. Now, OSX 10.4.6 and most Linuxes with 2.6 or higher kernels have no trouble with EFI GPT. Windows, however, is another matter.

Windows still needs a drive with the old-style MBR (master boot record) partitioning. Microsoft has already said that it wont be supporting EFI, so youre pretty much stuck with having at least two incompatible partitions on a drive.

Since Apple recommends that users stick with the FAT32 (File Allocation Table) system instead of NTFS (New Technology File System), that also means youre limited to 32GB for your Windows drives.

Now, with Mac OS X 10.4.6s diskutil, you can create dual GPT/MBR partitioned drives. However, GPT doesnt support MBRs extended partitions, and MBR will only support four primary partitions.

Thats still enough, you think? Think again.

Apple reserves the first primary partition for its bootloader. That leaves one for each operating system, but Linux needs two partitions -- one for the operating system itself, the other for the swap partition. You can get around this by using a swap file instead.

This is a tried and true way of getting around this kind of problem. Unfortunately, swap files tend to run slower than do swap partitions. So if youre running multiple Linux applications on a Triple Boot Mac, you can expect to see a performance hit.

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