Partitioning Tools

15 Feb 2005

Paul R. Potts

So, it seems to be a dirty secret of managing mixed-boot configurations that the open-source partition management tools are terrible. I have tried them out periodically over the last ten years or so, and have expected to see improvement, as so many aspects of Linux have improved, but it has not really happened.

Case in point: Knoppix and qtparted. Let’s say you have a typical partition-management problem like I did: you have a dual-boot system, and you haven’t left enough room in your parititions, but there is a lot of unallocated space available on the drive itself. In my case I wanted to remove an unused FAT partition, and expand the first one, moving everything further down, then remove an unused ext3 partition and expand the existing ext3 partitions to take up that space.

With qtparted, you just can’t do this. It doesn’t really support the various operations necesssary to do this at all. It just isn’t complete.

A die-hard Linux weenie would tell me to get on the ball and write a tool. After all, aren’t most open-source projects the result of scratching a personal itch? Well, I suppose that technically I have the skills needed to work on such a project, but I’m aware of what I don’t know, and writing code to rearrange partitions and directory structures at that level is something I can happily lead to other people.

In fact, because I have some idea of the difficulty involved, I’d be willinto to pay someone else to write a tool for this purpose. So, what about the commercial tools?

I tried Partition Magic, now owned by Symantec. It did not work at all either. Essentially, while it claims to support ext3 partitions, “support” here means that it will correctly identify and display them. It can’t actually do anything with them, such as move or resize them. It also requires a floppy drive, and will crash if one isn’t present in your computer. I demanded (and got) a refund for my online purchase, and happily deleted it from my computer. In my view, the marketing materials for this product are completely deceptive, and you should avoid it.

Paragon’s Partition Manager, on the other hand, worked nearly flawlessly, and the $50 download also comes with a useful CD-burning tool. It deleted one FAT partition and resized another, deleted one ext3 partition and resized two more, and moved a swap partition. It even resized the whole extended partition, consolidating free space. It even did its resizing on the active partition I was running from, by rebooting and executing a script. Obviously, doing a tricky operation on the partition from which you have booted the computer is a potentially risky operation, but everything worked perfectly afterwards, including my dual boot involving both the NT boot manager and GRUB.

I did see one crash while examining a partition’s contents, but this had no lasting effect.

There’s the old saying that Linux is free only if your time isn’t. I could have reinstalled both Windows 2000 and Linux from scratch, remaking all my partitions and then restoring all my software from backup or from installation disks. Taking into account the time needed to download all the Windows 2000 and Fedora updates, that probably would have taken at least a day. Instead, I have a tool that did all this rearranging in perhaps thirty minutes. Better still, I know that if I need to rearrange some partitions in the future, this tool will do it for me painlessly. I’m very impressed and highly recommend Paragon’s Partition Manager for all dual-boot Linux weenies who may need to rearrange partitions.

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