Dual booting OSX and Ubuntu on a Macbook Pro

In these series of posts we'll talk about how to set up Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" to dual boot with Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala" on a Macbook Pro (the procedure will probably work with previous and newer versions as well - feedback is always welcome!) This setup has quite some "nuances" next to the technical issues concerning the installation, e.g. how to set up the home folders, using a shared partition, etc.

Usage scenarios

We have quite some operating systems to choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses. If I try to summarize my usage of computer systems, I'm doing mainly the following stuff:
  • Net
    • Browsing, Skype, Messenger: OSX and Linux
  • Media (mainly OSX)
    • Pictures: RAW to JPG workflow: Nikon Capture and Apple Aperture on OSX
    • Audio editing: recording and mixing down rehearsals, one track per instrument: Apple Logic Studio on OSX.
    • DVD and CD remastering: grabbing DVDs, CDs, re-compressing them to XVID/MP3: Linux is unbeatable with all the free tools.
  • Software Development (mainly Linux)
    • Java: Eclipse, IntelliJ Idea: Eclipse already in the Ubuntu repositories, thus looks like "integrated" in Ubuntu.
    • Tomcat: from Ubuntu repos
    • PostreSQL, MySQL: from Ubuntu repos


For browsing the net Firefox is my favorite next to Opera (btw, 56% of the visitors of this site use Firefox - with Explorer having some 20%...). Both Opera and Firefox run fine either on Linux or OSX, so no real preference here. Same with Skype. Concerning Messenger I have the option to use Adium on OSX (which, configured properly is beautiful like OSX itself and can be used with MSN, Facebook chat, Google talk, etc) or Pidgin and Empathy on Ubuntu, which can also be used for MSN, ICQ, Yahoo messenger, etc. Thus, we can go to the Net with either OS; we even have some options to synchronize the settings like bookmarks between the browsers.


Personally, I like to work with audio on OSX since Linux is - at least today - unfortunately not the best option for this purpose: although Logic Studio is pricey, but IMO it's simply the best tool to perform Audio editing (not to mention the painful lack of the Linux driver for my MOTU Ultralite). My other option would be to use Windows (Sonar), but I'm using mainly Mac and Linux lately, and I just don't like the "instability" feeling of Windows anymore. Rumors say Windows 7 will change this, but I'll just give it some time before trying it. Somehow I'm more enthusiastic about the new Karmic Koala and Snow Leopard thingy for now.

For the photography raw workflow (converting Nikon D50 raw NEF images to JPGs), currently I only have experience with Nikon Capture (I used it on XP for years) which, albeit not so nicely but also works on OSX. After following some tutorials on Apple's site, I'm planning to migrate to Apple's Aperture in the future since it looks promising. But, for now I'm using Nikon Capture. So that's also OSX.

DVDs and CDs: the open source tools in the Ubuntu repos are unbeatable. Just google for "ubuntu cd rip" or "ubuntu dvd rip" and you'll see what I mean: everything built in the repos, no shareware/freeware utilities to haunt for... So Linux is the clear winner here for the moment.

Software development

My two favorite Java IDEs in use today are IntelliJ Idea and Eclipse (the third main one is Netbeans, but I dont't use it lately, although I remember I liked it quite much too). Both IDEs run perfectly either on OSX or Linux, but - at least for me - life is just easier if software development is done always in Linux. It is true, we have all the open-source stuff as "macports" (you can go as far as entering "sudo port install tomcat6" in a command line on OSX, which will download the sources of tomcat6, compile it and install it), yet after developing for years both on OSX and Linux I still have the feeling that in Linux everything is just where it should be, while on OSX I always have to figure something out. Yes, everything can be figured out, yet my "Just works" credit goes to Linux when software development is concerned. So I use Ubuntu for software development.

Where is windows?
Windows could be just as easily integrated into a triple boot environment as OSX and Ubuntu. To be exact, previously when I've had a 320GB HDD in this Macbook, I've had Windows too since Nikon Capture was running best in Windows; but since that was the only usage lately and I had to live with a smaller HDD for a while, I've had to make some sacrifices and Windows had to go... Basicly all we need is one more partition for Windows. But, quite oddly the Macbook was only able to start Windows with REFIT if it was on a specific partition, I don't remember if the 3rd or 4th.


So you've got your new Mac and you wish to install Ubuntu on it. To have more than one operating system, you'll have to create some additional partitions. You have two ways to proceed with the partitioning:
After the partitioning is done, you can go ahead and Install Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala" on an already partitioned drive.

In the next post, we will discuss how to configure Ubuntu to have access to the Shared partition and we'll set up some symbolic links in both OSX and Ubuntu to store our Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos in the common folder, so that we have access to them no matter which one we start up.

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