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I'm going to be installing several new operating systems (all linux based) in the next few days. I've been using Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid, which is now hopelessly out-of-date, and no ...
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  1. #1
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    How much can I share between different distros on a multi-linux system


    I'm going to be installing several new operating systems (all linux based) in the next few days. I've been using Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid, which is now hopelessly out-of-date, and no longer being supported. I don't like Unity, so I'm going to be installing Linux Mint 15. I also like the idea of a rolling distribution, so I'm planning to install LMDE as well. Finally, I'd like to get more experience with the Fedora/Red Hat side of things (to gain relevant job skills), as up until now all my experiance has been on Debian/Ubuntu, so I'm planning to install fedora 19. I may end up removing one of the Mints, but I'll probably keep both a Debian and a Red Hat-based OS. I also have windows installed.

    My current plan:
    Drive 0: MBR partition table, ~110GB SSD
    Drive 0 Partition 0: /boot, ext4, ~2GB. In addition to all the boot files for all my various distros, I'd like to keep a cd image of parted magic and at least one other liveCD so I can run a live session without needing a disk.
    Drive 0 Partition 1: Windows C: NTFS, ~100GB
    Drive 0 Partition 2: Windows boot partition, 100MB

    Drive 1: MBR/GPT partition table, 500gb seagate SSHD hybrid drive, soon to be upgraded to a 256-512gb SSD.
    Sizes are all TBD on drive 1
    Drive 1 Partition 0: Swap
    Drive 1 Partition 1: / on Linux Mint, ext4
    Drive 1 Partition 2: / on LMDE, ext4
    Drive 1 Partition 3: / on Fedora, ext4
    Drive 1 Partition 4: /common, ext4 (files shared between all three linuxes.)

    I have several questions:

    1. Can I partition drive 1 with GPT, since my /boot is on an MBR disk? I have a legacy BIOS (no UEFI). Basically I'm wondering if grub, or another equivalant boot manager, can load an OS with / on a GPT disk while booting from legacy BIOS. If I can use GPT, what advantages does it offer over an MBR with extended (logical) partitions? The 2TB limit won't be an issue for this drive.

    2. What is going to be the best way to maintain grub as I inevitably update the kernels on the three OSes? I'd like a consistant grub screen, ideally with the current version of the three linuxes and windows, old kernel/recovery options, and livecd/memtest options. My worry is that with the default configuration, whichever OS was updated most recently will put itself at the top of the list, and everything else will come in with os-prober later on.

    3. To what extent can I share files between the three OSes? I customize my computer more than a little, and I'd rather not have to do everything three times. Obviously, any of my data files can be shared, but I'm wondering about system files. Can they share files like /etc/passwd or xorg.conf (I run a non-rectangular three-monitor setup). What about /var and/or /usr? Or should I just be symlinking individual files/directories one at a time? I imagine that getting LMDE to play nice with Mint will be much easier than involving Fedora, but I've never used Fedora, so I don't really know.

    4. Is there somewhere else that would be better equipped to answer my questions? I came here because Linux is the greatest common denominator amongst the three OSes.

    5. Finally, if you see flaws/improvements in my plan above, please point them out.

  2. #2
    Linux User IsaacKuo's Avatar
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    I don't know the #1, or a good answer for #2, but my experience for #3 is that sharing anything other than a common data partition is simply more trouble than it's worth. Even individual symlinks is probably asking for more trouble than you'd save. Instead, consider setting up a custom rsync script which copies files from one OS partition to the others (rsync has options to sync to the most recent file). That way, if one gets messed up you don't mess up the others.

    For example, you could set up mount "points" like this on all three OS's:

    /mnt/os1
    /mnt/os2
    /mnt/os3

    On each of the OS's, two of those are the mount points for the other OS partitions, while the other is a symlink to /. That way, the rsync script will look the same...just make sure to make all of the file references to somewhere within /mnt/os1, /mnt/os2, and /mnt/os3.
    Isaac Kuo, ICQ 29055726 or Yahoo mechdan

  3. #3
    Linux Guru Rubberman's Avatar
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    As in all such questions, the answer is "it depends".

    If the distributions have the same root (mint <- ubuntu <- debian), then it is not so difficult. However, if the systems are very different distributions (debian-based vs. RedHat/Fedora-based), then the only common point would be the /home (user) directories and all applications/libraries/kernels, etc. will have to be totally segregated between the distributions. Some even use different boot loaders... This is a situation where I advise you to install your preferred distribution to the hardware, and run the others in virtual machines, such as VirtualBox or VMware.
    Sometimes, real fast is almost as good as real time.
    Just remember, Semper Gumbi - always be flexible!

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