The best way to experience the Vista betas, or any operating system for that matter is to dual-boot. Dual-booting offers you next to maximum performance, whilst maintaining the best compatibility with your existing operating system to either continuing using, or to assist in the migration to the new OS.
Microsoft has made it relatively easy to dual-boot Windows Vista with your existing XP installation. Here’s a quick guide outlining the basic steps you need to undertake to get to a working Vista desktop environment.
Most people have only one hard drive, and sometimes you’re limited to only one drive on a notebook for example. This causes problems if you want to install two operating systems on the same drive. Vista offers you the choice to upgrade your existing XP installation, but this would mean you would lose the ability to restore your XP to its previous state if necessary, this poses many compatibility problems and you suffer the risk of losing crucial data.
The solution is to create a new partition. Previously, creating partitions were only possible when you had just formatted your drive, but now many software solutions are able to ‘split’ partitions in to several new partitions whilst keeping your existing files. There are many different softwares that achieve this, I personally recommend Acronis Disk Director Suite. There is also Norton PartitionMagic, which I found more complicated to use.
First you need to split your existing partition. You should allocate at least 10GB of space to your new partition, as Vista requires approximately 6-7GB depending on your configuration. Commit these actions. After a few subsequent restarts, you should end up with 2 drives appearing in ‘My Computer’.
Now you can start installing Vista. For those of you with a DVD, it’s quite straight forward. If you have an ISO image of the Vista DVD I recommend to use a virtual drive software to emulate the DVD image, this is much faster than reading from a DVD, and more reliable. For virtual drive emulation, I recommend Daemon Tools. From Daemon Tools, mount the Vista DVD image and proceed to installation.
And then proceed with install. It is fairly straight-forward from here. After about 40 minutes, you should be in the desktop of Windows Vista.
Next time you boot up the computer, you’ll be presented with a selection menu. Here you can choose to boot to either Vista or XP. By default, it boots to Vista after 30 seconds of inactivity, selecting “Earlier version of Windows” will boot to XP.
After playing around with Vista for a few days, you may want to remove it from your system, and reclaim the hard drive space. Microsoft has made this step very simple as well.
- Boot your computer in to Windows XP.
- Ensure you have the Vista DVD image emulated or in the DVD drive.
- Go to “Start” and “Run”. Type in “e:\boot\bootsect.exe /nt52 ALL /force” (without quotes, and replacing e: with the drive letter of your Vista DVD).
- Restart the computer, and you will notice the boot selection menu is gone.
- Format the partition/drive where you had Vista installed.
- Remove two files (Boot.BAK & Bootsect.BAK) on your XP drive’s root folder (C:), these were backup files of your previous bootloader, now no longer useful.
- Optional: Restart to ensure it still works.
- Use your partition software to merge your partitions together.
And now you have returned your computer to its previous state, without Vista and without the new bootloader. If anyone has any issues, please post it in comments and I’ll try to resolve it.