Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


GParted – A little open-source “partition magic”
by Alan German

Historically, Windows hasn't provided a graphical tool for modifying hard disk partitions, and users have generally had to purchase third-party software for this purpose. Vista does offer such a tool, in the form of its Disk Management utility, but this disk partitioning program is rudimentary at best. So, if you want to resize or delete an existing partition, or create a new disk partition, what can the open-source movement offer to facilitate the process? One answer is GParted, the Gnome Partition Editor.

While GParted is really a Linux application, both Windows' and Linux users can obtain the utility in the form of a bootable CD-ROM. The “live-CD” can be downloaded as an image (.iso) file and burnt to a CD-R to create a bootable disk. Note that you don't simply want to copy the .iso file to a CD, you need a disk-authoring software package that understands the .iso format, and can create a bootable disk from the image file. For example, in Roxio's Easy Media Creator, you would select “Copy Data Disk”, check the data source as “Disk Image or DVD-Video Folder”, browse to the .iso file, and click on “Copy” to create the bootable CD.

Once you have a bootable CD-ROM, the next task is to boot from it. So, put the disk in the drive and restart the machine. If your machine's BIOS is set to boot from the CD, the initial menu screen for Gnome Partition Editor will have “GParted Live (Default Settings)” highlighted. Press the Enter key to accept this option and start the boot process. You will soon see lines of text flowing rapidly down the screen. This is the underlying Linux operating system loading. But, you can just sit back and ignore this stuff. We aren't going to use Linux directly; we will just make use of the resulting GParted application. So, be patient until the text flow stops and you are presented with options to proceed.

The vast majority of users will find that the default settings provided will work just fine. For every option you should hit Enter to continue. So, on the package configuration screens, accept “Don't touch keymap” for “Configuring console-data” and “[0]” (beginner mode) for “Which mode do you want when configuring X?”. The video mode suggested for “Configuring xserver-xorg” (1920x1440 in my case) will almost certainly be correct for your monitor, and you will doubtless wish to accept “[33]” (US English) in response to the question “Which language do you prefer?”

If you held steadfast through the above-noted loading sequence, your video monitor is now displaying the main window of the GParted program (see figure). This window is headed by a main menu, each selection on which (GParted, Edit, etc.) gives rise to a series of drop-down options. In addition, several large icons provide ready access to the most frequently used program features (e.g. New partition, Apply changes).

Below the action items, a graphical view of the hard drive shows the individual disk partitions, designated as to name and size, as white boxes outlined in green. Any unallocated space is greyed out.
The table in the lower portion of the main window indicates specific properties of each partition, such as the file system in use (e.g. NTFS).

Clicking the mouse on any particular partition in either the graphical display or in the table causes a context-sensitive set of options to be highlighted. For an existing partition, the Delete, Resize/Move and Copy icons become active while, for unallocated space, only the New icon is activated.

Selecting the New command for currently unallocated disk space brings up a sub-menu where the desired size of a new partition can be selected. This may be done by sliding the end points of a display bar indicating the full amount of space. Alternatively, the size and location of the partition may be selected by specifying the free space preceding the new partition, the size of the new partition itself, and the amount of free space following the new partition. These three variables (and the slide bars) are linked so that changing one parameter automatically adjusts the other dependent variables. A check box is available to, optionally, round out the disk space used to a number of complete disk cylinders. A drop-down menu allows for the selection of the new partition as either Primary, Logical or Extended. Similarly, the file system to be used may be selected from a menu of options including FAT16, FAT32, or NTFS (for Windows) or ext3 (for Linux).

It should be noted that even after making all of the desired selections, and pressing the Add button, no changes are actually made to the hard drive. Rather the command is stored in a queue of such commands for processing once you confirm the actions by pressing the Apply button.

A sequence of pending operations may be further modified by using the Undo button to cancel the most recent operation, or by selecting Edit – Clear All Operations to allow you to start afresh.

A final check on your intentions is made when the Apply button is selected. A warning message - “Are you sure you wish to apply the pending operations?”- requires a second Apply button to be pressed before the changes to the disk structure are made. Alternatively, you may cancel the scheduled operations at this point.

Now, playing around with disk partitions, especially those used for booting operating systems, is not for the faint of heart. It's all too easy for the system to refuse to boot at all after the disk structure has been modified. One web source suggests that this will be the case for Windows Vista (see:
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/using-gparted-to-resize-your-windows-vista-partition/) so make sure you have your bootable installation DVD handy so that you can “Repair and restart” your machine. Even Windows XP with NTFS is reported to want to reboot and check the file system for consistency. But, none of these potential problems gives you any cause for concern do they? After all, you backed up your operating system and data partitions before you started – didn't you?

Actually, I can report that no major disasters should occur. I tried re-sizing various partitions on a machine, set to dual-boot into either Vista or Linux. Changing the size of an NTFS data partition, and of both the Linux boot and swap partitions had no effect on booting Linux. Similarly, Vista didn't mind me modifying the Linux partitions. But, after changing the size of either the data partition or the Vista boot partition, rebooting the machine into Windows was interrupted by a file system check, with corrections being applied automatically.

So, it would seem that the worst that will happen is that the system may run chkdsk after using GParted, and that seems a small price to pay for such a useful little utility.


Bottom Line:

GParted (Open source)
http://gparted.sourceforge.net/


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