Dual booting Debian and KolibriOS

KolibriOS is very impressive stuff, and after finding a brief set of instructions for installing it to a hard drive, I had a “dual-boot” system of both Debian and Kolibri running on the old Thinkpad 560e that’s still floating around the house.

It’s not as hard as it might sound; the instructions I found here from a few years ago still work fine with Debian stable as a host system. I can’t tell you why decided to use Debian, other than the fact that the CD was already in the drive.

And chances are I doubt it really matters which other Linux distribution you use as host, because the symbiont is tiny by comparison. If you give it a FAT32 partition of its own, you can save files to and fro and between the operating systems without having to rely on something like a floppy drive as an intermediary.

For my own purposes, this is what the partition array looked like on my test machine, with a slot specific to Kolibri.

/dev/hda1 64Mb /boot ext2
/dev/hda2 128Mb swap swap
/dev/hda3 1Gb /dos fat32
/dev/hda4 ~ / ext2

That last partition was whatever space happened to be lying around. It was more than enough to hold an entire Debian stable command-line installation, while the /dos partition was where all the Kolibri goodies sat — and a gigabyte was way too much space for that, too.

In any case, I had a place to read and write screenshots or text files or what have you, and move them between operating systems. Primitive, but on a machine with no CD, no floppy, no USB and network access only while in Debian, I am hoping you can forgive me.

Once Debian was installed, I got the machine online and added syslinux and p7zip-full. The former brings in the memdisk package, which will allow you to boot straightaway into Kolibri off the hard drive, and the latter makes unzipping the .7z format a little easier. If anyone on the Kolibri team is listening, it’s probably not necessary to compress a 5Mb ISO down to 3.5Mb, but do as you will. …

Download the floppy image with wget, expand it to the /dos partition and keep an eye on where the kolibri.img file lands. Then edit your /boot/grub/menu.lst file to add something like this.

title KolibriOS
root (hd0,2)
kernel /memdisk
initrd /kolibri.img

As always, pay close attention to the root designation if you changed the array from what I had, and to the location of the .img file, relative to the top level of the partition. In other words, don’t prefix the kernel or initrd lines with “/dos/”, because it won’t work.

After that it’s simply a matter of rebooting. If everything is set correctly, Kolibri should running in only a few moments, far faster than by floppy. At 166Mhz and with a horrid 2Gb 4200rpm drive, it’s up and running in less than 5 or 6 seconds.

The downside is that the video card in the 560e is officially certified VESA1.2 — no ifs, ands or buts. That explains why no Linux distro to date could push it beyond 640×480, and why even Kolibri can’t push it past 640x480x16. And that depth is utterly unattractive, with color smears and ruined visual effects everywhere.

No matter. I have other uses for that machine, and not all of them require a decent visual interface. … 😈

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