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Give Your Mac a Dual Boot: Running More Than One Operating System

written by: Michael Dougherty•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 6/29/2011

Increase your computing flexibility with software options that let you load a Windows or Linux installation alongside OS X.

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    Do More With What You Have...

    Do you need to run old or unsupported software, access programs and games only available for a particular operating system, or simply want to stay up to date on more than one computing platform? Whatever your reason for wanting to run more than OS X on your Mac, your first step is too choose a boot manager.

    Here we take a look at three of the best options.

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    Backup Your Files

    As I do with most guides that deal with the Master Boot Record (MBR), partitions and/or the file system, I will again suggest that before you start you backup all your data on your Mac. This is simply a precaution should disaster strike and is always a good practice. If you are backing up to an external drive using Time Machine or similar software you simply need to make sure your backups are up-to-date and your external drive is detached during the guide. Once you complete the guide and you are sure everything is working okay you can then re-attach your external drive and continue your computer use as normal.

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    Off to Boot Camp with You!

    Boot Camp is software included with Mac OS X that walks you step-by-step through the process of installing Windows on your Intel-based Mac. This software performs as expected, does what it's designed to do and makes installing Windows relatively hassle-free. Boot Camp will assist you in partitioning your hard drive, booting your Windows install CD, installing Windows and then provides you with drivers for your Apple hardware post-install. Until the release of the Intel-Mac this was not an option. Boot camp did not exist and the ability to install Windows on an Apple Mac didn't exist. This was a major development for both the users of Windows and Mac OS X, creating an easy way for Mac OS X users to install Windows on their Apple hardware and making the need for virtualization on the Mac platform obsolete. To date you can install Mac OS X, Linux and Windows on Intel-based Mac computers using any of the boot managers listed in this article. Boot Camp does an excellent job of allowing Intel Mac users to dual or even triple boot their computers with little to no computer experience needed.

    If you are interested in dual-booting Mac OS X and Windows this is by far your easiest and most dependable option.

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    It's as Easy as BCD?

    EasyBCD EasyBCD is another option for dual-booting your system with Mac OS X and another operating system. Whether you are installing Windows or Linux alongside your Mac OS X install, EasyBCD is very easy to install and configure, and does the job nicely. Simply download EasyBCD, run the installer and then run the program. You will be asked to name your new install and then prompted to input the platform you are installing (Windows, Linux, etc). That's it, it functions much like Boot Camp with built-in support for more than the Windows OS. Next, reboot with your install disk, install as usual and enjoy your new EasyBCD boot menu.


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    Just rEFIt!

    rEFIt, very much like EasyBCD, does an excellent job of handling the boot process on Intel-based Macs. rEFIt is easy to install and configure and in my time using it I have had no problems. rEFIt detects what bootable media is connected to your system each time it boots, meaning once installed you do not need to make any changes should you add another bootable drive to your system. Simply insert your bootable media and rEFIt will detect it and give you the option to boot from it during your next reboot. This is an excellent piece of software and I highly recommend it when dual-booting Mac OS X and Linux. If I was to choose a single boot manager for my Intel-based Mac it would have to be rEFIt, the ease of use and ability to attach and remove any number of bootable drives from the system at will make this boot manager a must-have.

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    As I mentioned above, Boot Camp is my tool of choice for dual-booting Mac OS X and Windows. I reserve the use of EasyBCD and rEFIt to when a user wants to dual-boot Mac OS X and Linux, although it is simple to use either to dual-boot Mac OS X and Windows. Again, One thing to keep in mind when playing with partitions on your hard drive (which you will be doing when setting up a dual-boot environment) is that you can easily make a mistake that will result in the loss of all the data on your system. For this reason I always suggest users do a full backup of their Mac OS X system before following this or any other guide on dual-booting Mac OS X and another OS using the Mac OS X boot managers listed.