Linux and Boot Camp Make It Easy to Create a Triple Boot Mac
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Low
December 24, 2008 Mac2Windows column
Apple's Macintosh computers migrated from using PowerPC CPUs to using
Intel chips, the hacker community took it as a challenge to find to a
way to run standard PC operating systems - primarily Windows and Linux
- on the new Macs. The ways they came up with worked - but as with
so-called Hackintoshes (non-Apple PCs running Mac OS X), it wasn't
pretty, and it wasn't something that most users wanted to try on their
own. (See, for instance, my June 2006 column, Windows
XP on Macintel a Reality
forestalled all this by releasing Boot Camp - first as a beta that ran
on then-current Mac OS X 10.4 and later as a Leopard-only official
release. In typical Apple fashion, Boot Camp "just works", smoothly and
easily - at least if you're prepared to accept the limitations
hard-wired into it by Apple.
The major limitation, at least for
me, is that Boot Camp lets users install any PC operating system they
want, as long as it's Windows XP (SP2 or later) or Vista. (And note
that upgrade versions of these are not supported, at least not easily.)
think of a couple of reasons for the limitations. First, unlike most
PCs, the Intel Macs do not use old-style BIOS at startup; they use a
newer EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) that isn't supported by
earlier versions of Windows or by many other PC operating systems.
Apple supports Boot Camp users by including Windows drivers for the
hardware built-into its Intel Macs. I doubt that Apple wants the
responsibility for providing drivers for the wide range of PC operating
systems. (These drivers are typically on the Disc 1 of the set that
ships with compatible Macs, but Apple doesn't do a good enough job of
letting users know about this as they're setting up Boot Camp. How
about a mention of this in one of the dialogues as users are running
the Boot Camp Assistant?)
I've wanted to be able to install
Linux on my Mac. I can run Linux in a virtual session using my choice
of Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or the free VirtualBox, but I'd
like the option of booting my system directly to a Linux installation.
something like Mac Boot Camp Linux gets pages of links showing that
it's possible . . . but the first hit - a 2007 article, Triple Boot via BootCamp Ubuntu
- makes it seem more daunting that I want to get into. Early on, the
user is guided through using the Terminal to repartition the hard
drive, the first of a long list of command-line actions.
Sorry, I don't want to go there.
2008 versions (8.04 and 8.10) of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution
adds a feature that makes all this command-line stuff unnecessary.
Those versions offer the option of installing Ubuntu Linux from within
Windows and making use of the Windows file system - no repartitioning
It does this by using a feature called Wubi - but
potential users don't need to know anything about that. It's simple to
use. With Windows running, just insert a Ubuntu (8.04 or 8.10) install
CD; the Wubi installer will auto-open, with an option to "Install
inside Windows". (Alternatively, a user could choose the "Demo and full
installation" option, which will reboot the system to the Ubuntu CD,
allowing for a standard installation, complete with nondestructive
repartitioning of the hard drive. Maybe that would work with a Boot
Camp Windows installation - I didn't test it). (Later: Since my Mac can't boot to the
Ubuntu CD, I don't think this would work, in fact).
inside Windows does not repartition the drive. Instead, Wubi creates
Linux hard drive partitions living on files in the standard Windows
Files folder structure. Rather than adding Ubuntu and Windows to the
standard Linux GRUB boot loader, it adds Ubuntu as an option to the
standard Windows boot menu. And it adds an item to uninstall Ubuntu to
the Windows Add/Remove Programs control panel.
convenient, there is a small performance penalty running Ubuntu from
within the Windows file system rather than with a "real" Linux file
system, although the penalty isn't noticeable in my tests.
all works very cleanly and smoothly - I'd previously used it on several
"real" PCs. Now I'm pleased to report that I set it up from a Windows
XP Pro installation on my aluminum MacBook as well. As with the earlier
installations, it was simple and straightforward: start up Windows,
insert the Ubuntu CD, choose "Install inside Windows", fill in a few
dialogue box choices - (virtual) hard drive size, desired user name and
password - wait a few moments, then restart.
The trick is that
when installed this way, Mac OS X doesn't know that Linux is installed.
The Mac's Startup Disk system preference offers choices to boot to Mac
OS X or Boot Camp.
you boot to the Boot Camp installation, you get the Windows boot menu.
And this offers the choice to boot Windows or Ubuntu. (Windows is the
default - this can be changed if desired.)
I've mentioned, Apple offers drivers for Mac hardware to users booting
into Windows via Boot Camp. Windows runs without these drivers. Apple
doesn't offer Linux drivers, but Ubuntu runs on my MacBook nonetheless.
When it started up, it noted that my MacBook has an nVidia display
adapter and offered to install "restricted proprietary" drivers for it,
promising better 3D performance. That should also be available for Macs
with ATI display adapters - as was the case on the Dell laptop on which
I also have Ubuntu installed. A "restricted" driver was also available
for my system's Broadcom WiFi hardware. (What? You thought Apple made
its own AirPort WiFi chipset?)
WiFi, ethernet, sound, even
Bluetooth work. I don't think the built-in iSight camera works (though
I haven't checked), and my MacBook's trackpad doesn't have the
right-click support that's an option in OS X. These are not
show-stoppers - all the vital hardware is supported "out of the box".
my MacBook triple boots with no messy Terminal commands needed. With
Boot Camp, Apple made it easy for ordinary users to set up their Macs
to boot to Windows. By using Wubi, the Ubuntu folks made it just as
simple for Windows users- and Boot Camp-using Mac users to add Ubuntu
Linux to the mix.