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I have the following problem:

I have a system with a single hard disk, partitioned into 3 partitions:

  • Windows XP
  • Windows 8.1
  • an empty ext3 partition.
  • an additional logical 4 GB partition reserved for swap space

The system worked and I could dual boot between WinXp and Win8.1. (originally there was only WinXp, and I partitioned the drive as depicted above during the installation of Win8.1, as a preparation to later install Linux as well) Before you question it, I need both WinXp and Windows8.1 for development purposes.

After all the above worked correctly, I tried to install Debian from the most current installation DVD.

The installation onto the third partition seemed to be successful. When prompting to install GRUB, however, instead of detecting WinXP and Win8.1, it detected only "Windows Vista" (huh?) and prompted me that it will either install Grub onto the MBR, or if I didn't see all the operating systems, I should configure it manually.

I chose manual configuration, but instead of seeing a list of partitions and OS's I could only see a list of hard drives. As I have only one hard drive, it was the only element in the list. I selected it, and the installation completed while reporting success.

However, now that the system restarted (with me removing the DVD when prompted to do so), it fails to boot anything. "No operating system found".

I booted up the installation DVD, and entered rescue mode. However, even rescue mode seems to be completely the same as the normal installer mode. After having to go through the language selections, I hit Esc, and got to a menu depicting the steps including the installation of grub. (interestingly, it wanted to install the whole Debian again, but I managed to skip it and now I'm offered the same choice again)

The following operating systems have been detected on this computer: Windows Vista (loader)

If all your operating systems are listed above, then it should be safe to install the boot loader to the master boot record of your first hard drive. /* ... */

Install the GRUB boot loader to the master boot record?

The ideal outcome would be to have a boot loader which allows me to select between WinXp, Win8.1 and Debian. Is that possible? How?

What happens if I install GRUB on the MBR? I would expect (and hope), that when I boot up the machine, GRUB will allow me to choose between "Windows Vista" and Debian, and if I choose "Vista" I'll land on the boot loader of Win8.1 where I can make the choice between WinXp and Win8.1. Is this assumption correct? This would be an acceptable (although less preferred) alternative to the "all 3 OSs selectable from the same boot loader"

Update:

I've read on several forums that it's completely normal for different versions of Windows to be detected as "Vista" and they still should work, so I decided to choose "OK" for the installation of GRUB onto the MBR. However, it still asked me to specify a path. No matter what I choose (/dev/sda, or /dev/sda3 for my Linux partition) it ends with "Executing grub-install failed. This is a fatal error."

Checking the console, it says

grub-install: error: failed to get canonical path of '/dev/sda'.

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The problem seemed to be the following:

  • on my first try I didn't choose the MBR for grub, and it failed to install
  • on my second try I skipped the lengthy process of installing the OS itself, because it was already installed, I just wanted to set up grub.

Now I did a complete formatting of the ext3 partition and installed Debian again from scratch. At the end, I specified the MBR for grub.

Now everything works.

When I start the machine, first I'm greeted by grub, and I can select between Windows and Debian. If I select Windows, then the Win8.1 bootloader menu appears, and I can select again, between Xp and 8.1

I hope this information helps future readers.

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I had somewhat similar, though not completely same situation to solve. Having an old installation of WinXP and Kali 3.18 on same disk, I wanted to replace WinXP with Win7 and add Debian Jessie to the disk, leaving Kali untouched. Currently, Grub2 (with Grub Customizer) was managing OS booting.

So after creating needed partitions and fixing issue with Win7 domineering on MBR (that is - giving the dualboot option choice back to Grub2) I started to install Debian, choosing manual conf also. (As a swap space, used swap created by/for Kali.) Reaching boot loader install options, I was also presented with options for Win Vista and "other Linux". But also in the choices was option not make Debian installation bootable. So, I concluded, it was better to leave Debian without boot at first rather than let installation overwrite MBR with wrong OS choices.

After installation had finished, I rebooted to Kali, detected new Debian installation in Grub customizer and added it to boot choices. And the final reboot to start in Debian.

This may not have been the most stylish solution but hope it is helpful for future preference.

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