Wednesday, March 31, 2010


A while ago, I was really getting interested in different OSs, specifically Linux distros. So I started "Project 7", which was attempting to boot 7 portable Linux distros off of one thumb drive. Believe it or not, I actually got fairly close. I think I had Slax, Puppy, maybe Crunchbang and several others, but I was still so unfamiliar that I couldn't get them all to boot.

Now I feel like expanding on that point a tad. I don't know what the record is for most OSs on a single machine, but I really want to see how many I can get. I figure if I buy a 1 Terabyte drive, I'll have plenty of room to fit a ton of distros. They'll probably have just enough room for the OS and a few apps, and then I'll have a separate disk/partition for the documents that they all can share.

The only problem I face is that I believe you can only have like 4 primary partitions on a drive. So that means I can either buy a ton of little drives (like 30GB) or maybe use extended partitions. The only other issue I face is problems with GRUB, but that's more of my inability to deal with the menu.lst and such than it being an actual hindrance. Maybe I could group OSs together in extended partitions, like netbook distros together and debians in another, that sorta thing. And GRUB should be fine. I can't imagine it being a problem. But then there's other bootloaders if GRUB doesn't work out. Unless there's a real problem that effects all bootloaders, one should work.

I don't think I just want to grab OSs and stuff them on there, I think I want to actually use them and be able to fairly confidently use every single OS on the system. And I'm not sure if I'll throw OSs on that are a ton like other OSs, like I won't have Windows 95, 98, 2000, ME, etc, or Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. But we'll see how that goes, since every Linux distro is a fork of something else. Here's a list (that I'll probably edit along the way) that I want to get started with:
  • Windows XP: Why? Because it's the best OS of all time. Period. Ok, well, maybe not, but it's the one I've used the most. And I have a ton of keys laying around.
  • Windows 7: Just for the heck of it. And because I'll possibly have switched over to 7 by the time I can launch this project.
  • Ubuntu: Because it's the Linux beginner's delight. And because it's the Linux distro I've used the most.
  • OS X (or some other Mac): Because I want to be fair. And for fun.
  • Crunchbang: Because it's awesome. And cause I like the logo.
  • Slackware: I've never really used it but I have used Slax. I honestly liked the feel of Slax more than Ubuntu. The only reason I didn't go with it is that Slackware isn't really (as far as I can tell) as newbie-friendly.
  • Puppy: I tried it out alot and it was a pretty fun little OS.
  • DeLi: Same as above.
  • Chrome OS: I don't care if it's still in pre-alpha: this machine will run Google!
  • ReactOS: Even if it's still in Alpha (or hopefully Beta).
  • Damn Small Linux: My collection wouldn't be complete without it.
  • Solaris: Never even tried it, but what they hey?
  • Coyote: I can't even remember if I used this one, but I might track it down. [4-05] Iiiiiiii'm dumb. This is a firewall. I think I might have been thinking of µLinux....
  • Jolicloud: This one I haven't even tried yet, but I'm going to. Ubuntu is failing me on my EEE netbook, and this looks like a good replacement candidate. Downloading now, will VM the ISO, then maybe install later today/this week/this year/this lifetime.
  • [3-31] JNode: Because an OS based on Java is extremely intriguing to me.

What about Debian? Fedora? FreeBSD? Gentoo? Knoppix? openSUSE? Mandriva? Mint? PCLinuxOS? (Did I miss any main ones?) Well, the only time I've got distro shopping is (a) when I had an old machine that I wanted to run something light and fast (and not Windows ME), and (b) when I wanted to replace Windows XP on my netbook. So I've really only looked at the Ubuntu and its forks, a bunch of live small ones for the old PC, and ones that were built specifically for netbooks like Cruncheee (which is now absorbed into Crunchbang) and Easy Peasy. So I haven't really tried a ton of the other popular ones (or obscure ones), though I'm hoping Omniboot will help me be able to do that. The way I see it, if I have a ton of OSs, I'll try to cycle through them (since mostly I just surf the web, and I can use X-marks to sync Firefox profiles across them all) and learn more about them. Then I can slowly add more and more distros and learn each of them. (A few others I'd like to try are Basic Linux, MuLinux, MiniLinux, Tiny Core, Slitaz...)

I mean I listed 14 OSs in the bullet points, and already that's a quatuordec boot. I'd like to get familiar with those before I throw in some more. And I know I go after the smaller, lighter distros, but it's because smaller OSs are generally simpler and so you can get used to them more easily and quickly, whereas giant distros like Ubuntu take some time to get the full effect. (At least, that's my theory.)

It's really just a nugget of an idea. First I'd need to find out just how I can pull this off (hopefully on one drive), then I'd need to actually buy it, then I'd need the free time to start all of this.

Why all this, you might ask? Because I can. Well, really, it's because I'm curious. Operating Systems are so vast, I'd just love to sample here and there. I'd love to get a ton of distros on one system and switch between them to sample the many flavors of OSs. And if I ever got tired of it, I could just wipe the drive and then I have a 1T drive at my disposal.

Here's a chart I found that.....well, charts the Linux distros (Apr 1 2010). (PSSSST CLICK IT.)This isn't nearly all of them, I assume, but it's a good start. If I were to someday get every single one of these installed on Omniboot, I'd have ~205 operating systems on one disk. That's like an icosa boot. Nifty.

Omniboot Supervisor,

[UPDATE 4-8-10] So it looks like you really only have 4 primary partitions per disk, and then I think a total of 24 primary + extended. But it also looks like you can have unlimited Logical partitions inside an extended partition, so I'm thinking that I will just have all 200 in Logical partitions, and if I'm not mistaken, Linux can boot from those just fine. Still, I need to confirm it if I'm going to go out and drop money on a 1TB drive.

Also, I finally looked through every single distribution on the chart I posted above, and I was surprised to find that alot were in languages other than English, servers, or proprietary. So it might be alot less than 200. But then I also know that there's a ton that are listed on DistroWatch that aren't on the graph, so maybe I'll end out adding even more than 200. We'll see.

Considering that I might be buying a 1TB drive, installing all 200 distros would give me around 5GB for each distro, which honestly seems like plenty. My current Windows folder is around 2GB, so without programs, I'd guess it's like 3GB, which seems hefty for an OS (to me). Plus, I'm not going to install all the same programs on every distro, I think...I'm not going to have Firefox, GIMP, Chrome, Pidgin, etc on every single one. But even if I did, I think that would only bring me up to like 150MB (which is mostly Firefox). Still, it seems like it will be fine.

The only thing that worries me is that I thought that about my netbook too, but Ubuntu filled up my 4GB HD with almost just the install. And that's still an ongoing problem I have with Jolicloud.

The only other thing I can think of would be Swap partitions. Or Partition. Can Linux share swap? I should think so. If so, then I can just make one Swap partition instead of 200. Seems like it should, but that's another thing I would have to check. But even if they can't I can boot Linux without a Swap, right? I mean, I deleted the Swap off my netbook and it seemed to do just fine..........right?

[UPDATE 4-17-10] After a bit more digging, it looks like you can only have 63 logical partitions on a disk, period. So that means that I'd have to get 3 disks, which would probably need to be around300mb each. After looking around for how much these would cost, they average around $50 for 300GB, so I'd need to spend like $150-$200 for 1TB instead of $100.

So I've decided to not go that route. Instead I guess I'm going to go with Virtual Machines. I feel kinda stupid for not thinking of it earlier, but I guess it's cause I wanted to make a system that boots hundreds of OSs. So it kinda takes away from the whole experience, but oh well. It will be alot easier because it will be a ton easier to create virtual disks instead of partitions, I won't have to mess with GRUB (necessarily), and I get a nice GUI to use.

It's kinda upsetting to me, since before I could say "I'm going to build a system that boots over 100 OSs!" whereas now I can just say "I have a over 100 OSs installed to my Virtual Machine". Not really as impressive, but meh. I also want to see if I can still use GRUB just because I think that would be so cool, to have a GRUB menu with 100 different options.

I did find that this has been done before. Someone posted a sample of a GRUB file that boots 100+ systems, which looks fantastic to me, but the only thing is, I just haven't looked into if you can add a ton of hard disks to VirtualBox and then let GRUB have access to them. I'm planning on creating a different disk for every OS (because it really doesn't make sense to put ten distros on one virtual disk...) but I'm thinking VB will have problems if I try to add all 100+ drives to every single machine....but we'll see.

[UPDATE 4-21-10] Well, I bought the 1TB drive and I'm currently downloading 20+ distros via torrent. I realized that this has kind of evolved into another project, not the same as Omniboot, so henceforth, it's going to be vOmniMachine (for Virtual Omni Machine). Yeah, it has a different ring to it than Omniboot, but I'd like to keep the idea of a multi-boot system in my head, and keep running with the Virtual Machine idea. So vOmniMachine will be a kind of "test drive" for Omniboot. To be honest, the more I look at it, the less fun it sounds to deal with installing 100+ distros to a physical I'm thinking that Omniboot won't be near that, especially if I want to use the same drive I just bought.

So yeah, in summary, Omniboot is being put on hold in favor of its predecessor, vOmniMachine, which I'm going to start in almost 3 weeks exactly. (The minute school gets out on the 6th of May, I'm probably going to start. I'm not exaggerating....probably within 20 minutes of walking through the door after my last class). Omniboot will be a select number of Operating Systems rather than a buttload of various ones, and since I want to give each of them plenty of space (and not have to buy a disk), Omniboot will for sure have no more than 60 distros.

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