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Learnings while installing PC-BSD
Author: Varuna E.


My notebook computer (DELL Vostro A840) had W2k on the primary, FAT32 & FC8 with Linux kernel 2.6.28 respectively on the extended partition, with space still for another OS.  The existing boot loader was GRUB.

Found on the net that PC-BSD was pretty much the preferred BSD variant; although I love FreeBSD; so thought of installing it on the available disk space.  The installation of PC-BSD8.0 was a breeze and chose to install the PC-BSD boot loader.

Post reboot first time after installation, noticed the following boot loader menu:

F1 Win
F2 ?
F3 PC-BSD

Hmmm, F2 ? indeed brought a huge smile on my face, and was due to the fact that PC_BSD was questioning Linux.  I guess PC-BSD must have had some pity on W2k; hence, it has listed it in the boot loader menu.  I had never ever realised the gravity of the situation.

The question that I faced was how to get back the partition for Linux.  I did not take the easy route of scanning the disks, pulling out the relevant info into the boot loader.  I rather took the decision that I would for the time being just not list the PC-BSD partition info into the GRUB configuration file, rather recover the Linux partitions using the Linux install media and then figure out how to proceed further.

Started the recovery session from the install media to recover the GRUB boot loader.  No matter what combination I tried, FC8 install scripts never recognised the boot loader info placed by PC-BSD.  This got me to a point to declare any further attempt to recover the Linux partition is futile.  Looking at the behaviour of the FC8 install scripts, I just concluded that it did not make any sense to redo the partition once again.

The next step that I tried was to go ahead an remove the PC-BSD boot loader by re-installing the W2k.  To my surprise, even W2k was not able to remove the PC-BSD boot loader.

So the question is:

What is PC-BSD installer doing to the MBR?
How is it able to force it way to such an extent that neither FC8 nor W2k is in a position to nudge their boot loader into the MBR?
Why is PC-BSD boot loader restrictive to such an extent that to get rid of it the entire disk needs to be wiped clean? 

I did not dig deep into the issue, rather let go the circus of getting PC-BSD, W2k and Linux in to the same boot loader.

Beastie – where are you?

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