Shrinking primary partitions to make room for logical partitions

Q I have a HP 6710 laptop that already has three primary partitions on it: Vista, HP recovery and another 2GB partition. Am I right in thinking that I can shrink the Vista partition, fill the space with an extended partition, then put three logical partitions inside for root, home and swap? I would install the bootloader to root and use EasyBCD to load this into the Vista boot sector. An alternative solution would be to install to my external 160GB hard drive but I am reluctant to do this, as I want to have access to Linux all the time. Should I partition first from Vista (I have Partition Manager) or let the distro do it all? After a year of trials in VirtualBox I've decided on the testing branch of Debian, as it makes you learn all about APT and the rest of the terminal commands. If it gets too difficult I can always change to Mepis.

A You can do what you ask, and it is a fairly simple process. However, any time you modify filesystems and partitioning, you are taking some risk. If the process should be interrupted, you could suffer data loss. In some ways, this is safer on a laptop, because the battery provides protection against a failure of the power supply, but you must do this with the computer connected to the mains, as a flat battery midway through could be disastrous. You should back up all important data before carrying out any partition resizing operation in any OS. The first step is to boot into Vista and defragment it, as a fragmented filesystem is difficult, sometimes impossible, to resize. Once you have done this, boot from the Debian disc and let it take care of the partitioning. Select the Manual option under Partitioning, select your Windows partition and press enter.

You will see a menu with an option to resize the partition; take that and pick the size you want to make it, then use the Guided Partitioning option to have Debian allocate suitable sizes for the root, swap and home partitions. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, it is generally best to leave it to the people who developed the distro to decide how much space to give each of its components. However, I strongly suggest you take the option to use a separate home partition or you will almost certainly regret not doing so at some time. I'm not familiar with EasyBCD, but the Grub bootloader installed by Debian and most other Linux distros is a good way of handing multiple operating system and is well supported.

If you want to use EasyBCD, make sure you tell the Debian installer to install its bootloader into Debian's root partition. Otherwise, let it install to the master boot record of the disk and let Grub handle the choice between operating systems. EasyBCD appears to be tied to Windows, so is not a good choice if you plan to drop Windows at some time, whereas Grub is independent of any operating system. As usual with open source software, the choice is yours.

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