This process, otherwise known as dual-booting or multi-booting, is not recommended for the beginner, but you don't need to be a total propeller-head, either - especially if you have some specialised software to make the process easier. PartitionMagic is one such software package. With its included utility, BootMagic, it takes a lot of the pain out of setting up your computer to run with more than one operating system. The latest version adds some useful new features to a program that was already pretty versatile.
Partitions are special low-level divisions on your hard drive that accommodate different operating systems. Most Windows installations have only one partition that takes up the whole disk drive, while Linux installations will usually have three or more. Just to make things more complicated, different versions of the same operating system may use different partition types, and many operating systems can't read the partitions created by other systems. Some operating systems may also conflict with the setup of others, preventing them from booting. Changing partitions manually carries with it the risk of losing data if you make a mistake.
This is where PartitionMagic comes in. It can recognise, create, delete and modify all the most common types of partitions using a simple graphical interface. A diagram of the hard drive clearly shows the size, location and type of each partition, as well as how much data is on it. You can easily shrink an existing partition and create a new one without losing data (though as a precaution, you should always back up important data before working on partitions).
You can use either pull-down menus or wizards to tell the program which operations you want to perform, and you can specify the size of a partition either by typing in numbers or dragging the boxes on a graphical partition map. You can specify a number of operations to be done in sequence, then press the Apply Changes button and go and have dinner while the computer grinds through the hard work.
PartitionMagic 6 comes in two versions, Standard and Pro (we tested a beta of the Pro version; the final release will be out by publication time). The major difference between these is that the Pro version can be remotely operated over a network - most home users will want the Standard edition.
New features in Version 6 include a tree view on the left of the main screen which simplifies navigation, especially if you have more than one hard drive. There's also a new "split" function which enables you to break a partition into sections as well as to decide which directories on the original partition will be on which of the new ones. A "copy partition" command is also available. The functions of the previous version, which allow you to merge partitions, resize them, convert between some file systems and change the size of FAT clusters, are still in place, while support for Windows Me and Windows 2000 has been added (though if you have version 5.0, you can get an upgrade to support these systems at the PowerQuest Web site).
BootMagic is the other part of the equation. It lets you decide which of your installed operating systems you want to run when you start up the computer. It's also pretty easy to use compared to the Linux boot manager, LILO.
You still need to install any new operating systems yourself, and resolve any issues that may occur between them, so, while multi-booting has been greatly simplified, it still demands some computer knowledge.
The main disadvantage of PartitionMagic is that it doesn't run natively under Linux, and has to be installed on a Windows or DOS drive. But if you're used to one version of Windows and want to try a different one, or a different operating system altogether, it's a very useful tool.
PartitionMagic 6 beta
Price: Standard $149.95; phone for pricing of Pro versionSupplier: Marketing ResultsPhone: (02) 9899 5888URL: www.powerquest.com