Thursday 12 November 2009

Triple Boot MacBook (Mac OSX 10.6, Windows 7 & and Ubuntu 9.10)

When I bought my MacBook last year, my intention was to use it to Triple boot either Mac OSX, Windows or Linux. As you might know, this is only possible on a Mac system, because, no other hardware can run Mac OSX except a Mac.

This is how I managed to get the three operating systems onto one machine.The three operating systems I wanted were; Mac OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala).

The things you need are;

(1) Mac OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) Installation DVD

(2) Windows 7 Installation DVD

(3) Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)  iso image burnt onto a CD-ROM. I will tell you later on how to download and burn the iso image onto a CD-ROM.

First things first. You need Bootcamp to install Windows. The guide on Apple's website gives an exhaustive account on how to use Bootcamp to install Windows Vista. You could use the same guide to install Windows 7. The website Simple Help also gives a decent walkthrough on how to install Windows 7 using Bootcamp. So I will skip this part. A thing to note is the installation will go through a couple of restarts. Do not press any key during restarts. Once the installation is completed, eject the Windows 7 installation DVD. On some occasions, you may not be able to eject the Windows 7 installation DVD. Do not panic, just restart and press Alt key (Option key) and enter into Mac OSX to eject the DVD. Alternatively, press the eject key during start-up to eject the DVD.

Now comes the part of installing the necessary drivers for Windows 7. The Mac OSX installation DVD contains the drivers for Windows Vista, which work perfectly well for Windows 7. Installing the drivers will enable you to get the following Mac components working;
  • Graphics
  • Networking
  • Audio
  • AirPort wireless connectivity
  • Bluetooth
  • Built-in iSight camera
  • Brightness control for built-in displays
You now have a Mac with a Dual boot option.

Coming to the next question, how to install Ubuntu 9.10. Bootcamp will only permit you to install only one operating system (mainly Windows). It took me a while to figure this one out. There are no easy posts on the internet on how to do it. This is how...

For this you need to login to Mac OSX and follow these Steps.

Step 1:  Go to Disk Utility under Utilities. You will get a screen like this...

You might have noticed that the size of my Windows 7 partition is only 40 GB. I don't use Windows 7 that often on my MacBook, hence I chose to limit it to 40 GB.

Step 2:  Press on the Mac volume and Go to the Partition tab and adjust its size. I chose to reduce it by approximately 40 GB.

Step 3:  Press Apply and you will find the new Partition named Mac 2

Step 4:  Rename the partition as Ubuntu and set the format type to FAT32 and press Apply.

You will now have a new partition Ubuntu formatted to FAT32 file system.

Step 5:  Whilst still on Mac OSX, it is now time to download rEFIt as Mac OSX only detects Windows during startup. rEFIt is a boot menu and maintenance toolkit for EFI based systems like  Intel Macs. It has a graphical boot menu, which detects all operating systems (including  Linux and Windows) loaded on an internal hard disk. Once downloaded leave it on the system. We will come back to it later.

Step 6:  Now is the time to download Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) iso image file (32 bit). After downloading it burn it onto a CD-R. This is how to do it.
  1. Open Disk Utility. It's in the Utilities folder (/Applications/Utilities).
  2. Go to File menu and click Open Disk Image and then choose the downloaded iso image file.
  3. Insert a blank CD-R and click Burn. Follow the prompts thereafter. 
  4. Once the burning is complete, leave the CD as it is.
  5. Restart Mac.
Step 7:  When the Mac starts to power up click the Option Key (Alt Key) and hold it. Mac OSX and Windows discs will be displayed via the Mac Bootloader. Continue holding the Alt key until the CD-R is displayed. Incidentally the CD-R will be titled Windows. It is normal that all the non-Mac discs are named Windows in Mac OSX. Once the CD-R is displayed click on it. The Ubuntu CD-R will start to load.

Step 8:  The first screen will display five options. Choose the Install Ubuntu option.

Step 9:  Thereafter you will be led through a series of screens with some straight forward options, first is Language, second is Where are You? (to set your Time Zone) and the third is Keyboard Layout. Under Keyboard Layout choose the Keyboard that has got Macintosh (for example: United Kingdom - Macintosh).

Step 10:  Now comes the most important step in the installation process, which is to Prepare Disk Space. Choose the Manual Option. You will be presented with four partitions.

Ignore the following partitions; (1) First fat32 partition (likely to be /dev/sda1) that has got Windows MBR (2) hfs+ partition (likely to be /dev/sda2) that has got Mac OSX and (3) ntfs partition (likely to be /dev/sda4) that has got Windows 7. Choose the second fat32 partition (likely to be /dev/sda3) which matches the size created using the Mac's Disk Utility in Step 4.

Step 11:  Press Add. Under the screen New Partition you will be given the following choices ;
(1) Type for the new partition select Primary 
(2) New Partition Size. Give a partition size that will leave about 1 GB space for the Swap partition.
(3) Location for the new partition. Select Beginning.
(4) Use as to set the file system. Choose Ext4 journaling file system.
(5) Mount point set to /.

Step 12:  Select the next partition /dev/sda5 to set the Swap partition. Press Add. Under the screen New Partition you will be given the following choices ; 
(1) Type for the new partition select Primary 
(2) New Partition Size. Give a partition size of 1 GB space for the Swap partition.
(3) Location for the new partition. Select Beginning.
(4) Use as to set the file system. Choose Swap.

Press Forward to apply the partitioning changes.

Step 13:  Next screen will be Who are you? to set up your login details. Enter the details and Press Forward.

Step 14:  You will get the screen Ready to Install.  In this screen press the Advanced tab and select Install Boot Loader to /dev/sda4 (likely location of your Ubuntu installation). Do not select (hd0).  This will overwrite the Windows 7 MBR. If so refer to my earlier post on how to repair Windows 7 MBR.

Come out of the Advanced screen and press Install.

If the steps are followed as suggested you will have Ubuntu 9.10 installed on your Mac.

Step 15:  Now is the time to get back into Mac OSX. Go to the location where rEFIt was downloaded and install the software onto Mac OSX installation volume. Once the installation is complete, rEFIt will load on startup. The second icon is your Ubuntu 9.10 installation.

Here is the screenshot of Ubuntu on Mac. Isn't it amazing?

This is how the Mac Disk Utility will look after Ubuntu installation.

One final point of note. Ubuntu's Network Manager might not detect the wireless card on MacBook. To get wireless internet access, I used an USB wireless adapter (Philips SNU5600), which the Network Manager detected. To resolve the problem I installed Wicd via Synaptic, which detects the MacBook wireless card. Though Wicd detected MacBook's wireless card, it didn't detect Netgear WN111 connected to my Desktop computer. I will write about Wicd's problems in another post.

POST UPDATE ON 01/01/2010:

I also advise you to visit the following webpage (Thanks to Sean):

to get help on the latest Linux drivers required for Ubuntu to work effectively on a  MacBook.


Unknown said...

Thanks!, your post save me, because i was trying this aproach but i ended with no linux boot!, now i have done right!, one question: wich theme or how can i have a desktop like yours in ubuntu?

Unknown said...

I used the New Wave theme. To get the bottom dockbar I used Awn· I also installed Screenlets to get the screenlets.

Anonymous said...

"because, no other hardware can run Mac OSX except a Mac..." Use do a simple Google search mate! Results will surprise you....

Rama Maganti said...

Not legally I suppose. This is what I found in the SOFTWARE LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR MAC OS X.

You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-branded computer, or to enable others to do so. This License does not allow the Apple Software to exist on more than one computer at a time, and you may not make the Apple Software available over a network where it could be used by multiple computers at the same time.

Anonymous said...

way easier than a lot of the other guides. The screen shot of what your drive should look like was a huge help! Did anyone else end up with a "legacy" icon instead of the Linux mascot? Just me?

Rama Maganti said...

I too ended up with the legacy icon. It didn't bother me.

AndyFitz said...

Thanks very much Rama. I'm going to try this tomorrow!

Unknown said...

Thanks, my computer made it sda3 though. Also to note, lots of driver updates need to be done, check there.

Anonymous said...

any reason why you specify 32-but Ubuntu, since the Macbook can handle a 64-bit version?

Unknown said...

No particular reason to use 32-bit Ubuntu. It is difficult to get Adobe Flash to work on Ubuntu 64-bit.

Joe Miller said...

Has anyone tried this with openSUSE? I am getting ready tonight probably to attempt to set up my triple boot and I was going to use openSUSE but the more I read it seems Ubuntu has more support, drivers, etc.

Unknown said...


Yes, I agree Ubuntu has more support. I never had a problem for long with the amount of information available on various forums. For example, it is easy to install Ubuntu onto a memory stick, I did this a few years back. When I tried the same with OpenSuse I had to do a lot of workarounds. I wrote a post on how to do it, but I abandoned it midway because it was way too complicated for any user to follow. You will find the same with many other things.


chazzzle said...

Installed openSUSE 11.3 tonight via DVD using this guide. Worked wonderfully. Only difference is you have to choose to create your own partition setup and then have it install using the partition you created using Disk Utility. It takes care of the rest.

There's no apple wireless support out of the box as far as I can tell. I'm currently looking into a solution for that.

jquenee said...

I've tried your procedure and at the end my Windows XP SP3 don't start because disk0s3 have been change to disk0s4 when I added Linux partition (blue screen error)

To fix that, I've re-installed Windows XP a second time. And now, it's working perfectly.

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