First time setting up a laptop capable of booting multiple Linux distributions


I have this quite old laptop that had Ubuntu 16.04 LTS set up on. But then I upgraded to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and wasn’t completely happy with it. So I was thinking of starting all over again but this time with multiple Linux distributions. I knew that I wanted my Ubuntu 16.04 LTS back and was thinking of installing Lubuntu 18.04 LTS. Just in case, I created 5+2 partitions for Linux and one for Windows. Continue reading to see how I did it.

I was searching the web to get the information about how to set such a system up. I had some experience by having previously set up a system with Linux Ubuntu 16.04 and Windows 8. At that time I was using Windows app to create a partition for Linux but this time I wanted to make everything in Linux.

Booting up with Ubuntu 16.04 Live DVD

So, I started with booting up with Ubuntu 16.04 Live DVD that I had made a couple of years ago. I didn’t start by installing the Linux because I needed to set up the partitions for my new boot setup and separate partitions for each Linux distribution. Additionally, I made two partitions for my work and personal files that are shared between all the distributions.

Note: I’m not a Linux expert nor expert on operating systems. The following is just my experience of trying to install multiple Linux distributions on my laptop.

Creating boot, operating system and storage partitions

I started from making the whole hard drive unallocated space and created a completely new partition table. I chose the gpt partition table and created the following partitions:

  • EFI boot (fat32 file system, 1GB, flagged as boot and esp)
  • BIOS boot (unknown file system, 1GB, flagged as bios_grub)
  • Swap (linux-swap file system, 4GB)
  • Windows partition (ntfs file system, 50GB, flagged as msftdata)
  • Linux 1 partition (ext4 file system, 20GB)
  • Linux 2 partition (ext4 file system, 20GB)
  • Linux 3 partition (ext4 file system, 20GB)
  • Linux 4 partition (ext4 file system, 20GB)
  • Linux 5 partition (ext4 file system, 40GB)
  • Small extra Linux partition 1 (ext4 file system, 100MB)
  • Small extra Linux partition 2 (ext4 file system, 100MB)
  • Storage partition 1 (ext4 file system, 200GB)
  • Storage partition 2 (ntfs file system, 40GB, flagged as msftdata)
  • Unallocated space (60GB)

Installing multiple Linux distributions

I reserved the fourth partition for Windows but I decided not to install it. I just wanted to test different Linux distributions so I started installing operating systems from the 5th partition /dev/sda5. The first distribution of Linux I installed was Ubuntu 16.04. I selected the 5th partition /dev/sda5 as the root of the operating system, file system remained ext4 and I checked the format option just in case. Then I just selected /dev/sda as the target drive to install the operating system and hit the install button. A swap was discovered automatically and all I had to do is continue installing the Ubuntu 16.04.

To recap what I did:

  • Selected partition to install Linux into (/dev/sda5)
  • Set mount point to root (/)
  • Set or kept the file system at ext4
  • Selected the hard drive (/dev/sda)
  • Hit the install button

Note: I didn’t set the mount points to storage partition 1 and 2 but I fixed it later. I suggest you set those points to the storage partitions because I had to face some problems while fixing my mistake.

Fixing the mount points of storage partitions

After installing the first Linux distribution I noticed that the storage partitions were not mounted and I didn’t have access to write to the storage partition with ext4 file system. I had no problem with the ntfs partition but ext4 partition was owned by root and I had no use of it at this point.

At first, I made a big mistake by opening the application Disks and changing the mount point of the storage 1 partition to /home. After doing that I was unable to log in to my Ubuntu 16.04 user desktop. So I went to the internet and started searching the solutions.

Cleaning up the partition mount point disaster

It didn’t take me long to discover that I could just hit Ctrl+Alt+F1 to bring up the terminal view. The good news was that I could still log in with my Ubuntu 16.04 username and password. The next task was to edit the /etc/fstab to fix the mount point error and get back the option to log in with my user. I tried to use the command sudo gedit /etc/fstab but I got an error saying that there was a problem with opening the gedit user interface.

I got saved by the nano command

Then I discovered that I could open the /etc/fstab with a command in a terminal view. The saving command was sudo nano /etc/fstab. There I could easily edit the partition info, save the document and reboot. Just in case I didn’t change the value of the mount point but I deleted the whole line to be sure that I could still log in with my user.

Going back to the mount point in Disks

Being a little wiser I went back to the Disks application and this time changed the mount point of the storage partition 1 to /storage. Later on, I went to change it to /home/user_name/storage.

Installing the other Linux distributions

To install the other distributions I did exactly the same as with Ubuntu 18.04 but used a different partition for each distribution.

Last update: 2018-10-17 (Y,M,D)

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