Manipulating Windows partitions requires special consideration and tools. See How to Resize Windows Partitions for more information. In general, use Windows tools when manipulating existing Windows partitions.
- Format Windows partitions using the NTFS filesystem, in general. However, Windows 98 requires FAT32, and Windows XP will function fine with FAT32. The NTFS filesystem allows greater security (and ability to lock folders), which can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your point of view. (Microsoft can administratively lock your folders without your permission in NTFS). Windows Vista and Windows 7 both require NTFS.
In general, it is desirable to use Windows tools when formatting Windows partitions, but most current partition managers (such as GParted) are able to format the filesystem (NTFS or FAT32) in the partition correctly.
Linux and Mac partitions
Most current partition managers (such as GParted) are able to format or reformat any partition to the desired filesystem type (ext3, ext4, swap, hfs+ for Mac OS X, NTFS or FAT32 for Windows). In general, Linux partitions should be ext3 or ext4, but FAT32 and several other options are available as Linux filesystem types.
Install Windows in a primary partition
If Windows exists or will exist on your system, it must occupy a primary partition. Most users put windows on the first primary partition, but this is not necessary. For more information on installing Windows and Ubuntu in separate partitions, see Dual Booting Windows and Ubuntu.
Why use multiple partitions?
- When an operating system loads from its own partition, it always runs the fastest. When other alternatives are used, such as running one operating system within another operating system (using a virtual machine or a virtual disk mechanism), it is always slower (due to higher RAM and hard-drive requirements when using these methods).
- Bootloaders such as GRUB can be used to choose which operating system to load when each operating system occupies its own partition.
- The main reason to use separate partitions is for ease of maintenance. When an operating system (OS) occupies its own partition, it can easily be updated without affecting other operating systems or data that might be stored in other partitions.
This is especially useful when certain applications are able to be used by multiple operating systems. A groupware application (such as Kolab), for example, can be placed in its own partition and be used by whichever operating system is booted. It can stay consistent and independent, even when one or more operating systems update themselves. It can then be updated independently of any particular operating system update and in fact be excluded from "automatic updates" by certain operating systems.
The linux filesystem can use a separate mount point for any directory, even if the directory exists in its own partition. Here are some examples of directories that are often given their own mount points (often in their own partitions):
- swap -- Swap partitions allow you to use some of your harddrive space as RAM. Swap prevents your computer from crashing when you run out of RAM space, and additionally, allows the RAM to be used efficiently.
- /home -- The /home mount point is where individual user settings are stored. By placing this directory in its own partition, they can be shared between multiple OS's and remain constant even when each OS is updated.
/boot -- The /boot mount point is where the GRUB bootloader files (needed to boot an OS) are stored. (GRUB2 can also be used to allow multiple OS's to boot.) Having a dedicated /boot partition can make it easier to run and maintain multiple operating systems.
Arguments against partitioning
- 'Data loss is less frequent with current operating systems.' -- If you believe this one, I have a bridge to sell you.
'The need to run multi-boot systems is mitigated due to the advent of virtualization and virtualization tools like VirtualBox such that running a virtual Windows OS on an Ubuntu system is mostly a breeze.' -- It's not. I've tried it. It runs very slowly on all but the most powerful computers with lots of RAM.
- 'Partitioning to create swap space is unnecessary since systems are much faster than before, Linux runs more efficiently, and RAM is quite cheap.' -- RAM may be cheap, but not all computer motherboards can expand their RAM capabilities (and therefore still need swap). Further, Linux systems require more RAM these days, not less. Also, it is not the OS that requires plenty of memory, it is the programs that run within the OS that requires memory.
Choosing a filesystem for a data partition
If you need a 'universally writable' drive so that Win, Mac, and *nix operating systems can share files, consider these issues:
- NTFS is a consideration, but it is proprietary and Window's peculiar usage of these drives means that Linux doesn't quite work perfectly with it. Further, Microsoft has the capability (and sometimes does) remotely lock NTFS folders. Do you want to take that chance?
- FAT32 was historically a good choice, but its size limitation (32 GB max) makes it quite small for today's standards.
- The exfat file system has no size limitation, but it is not commonly used.