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February 2014The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Drive Partitioning

The typical computer user doesn't have their hard drive partitioned. If they have just the one drive then everything is jumbled together on that drive. Only if they install a second drive into their computer will they have multiple drive letters being allocated (assuming they are running Windows) with one drive letter per drive.

Most people using computers probably don't even know what partitioning is so let's start with that before we move on to why you might want to consider using it.

Partitioning is where you divide up the one physical hard drive into separate physical sections each of which appears to the operating system as if it were a separate hard drive. So if we were to partition a 2Tb hard drive into two equal 1Tb partitions then the operating system would see two 1Tb drives instead of one 2Tb drive. Each of these logical drives would have a specific half of the physical hard drive allocated to it. As the operating system treats each of these as a separate drive any content written to one is kept physically separate on the hard drive from the content written to the other. Having one partition become fragmented does not have any effect on the other.

Using partitions serves no purpose unless you allocate specific uses to each partition. When I set up my first computer about 20 years ago (having been using other people's computers - mostly mainframes belonging to my employer - for the preceding 15 years) I wanted to be able to run multiple operating systems. At the time computers were not powerful enough to run multiple operating systems at the same time so the way to use multiple operating systems was to set up the computer to allow you to choose the operating system to run at the time of booting the computer. To change operating systems you'd shut down and restart selecting the other operating system. OS/2 version one actually used this approach within the operating system itself in order to be able to run DOS programs.

For my first computer to be able to run different operating systems I needed a separate partition for each operating system. As many of the programs I was using at the time (remembering this was before the release of Windows 95) were DOS and Windows programs that could also be run under OS/2v2 and Windows NT 3.1 (IBM's and Microsoft's second version of the OS/2 operating system respectively). To avoid having to have multiple copies of these application programs I set up a separate Applications partition and installed all of them to that partition. In some cases I had to install the same program multiple times so it could run on multiple operating systems but by installing it to the applications partition each time it meant that there was only one copy of most of the files installed and shared. As I also wanted to be able to access all my data regardless of which operating system I was running I also set up a separate partition to save all my data in. At one stage my computer had five partitions on the drive - one for Windows 95, one for OS/2v2, one for Windows NT 3.1, one for all the applications, and one for my data. By having the partitions like this I could start up any of the three operating systems and be able to run the same programs and access the same data. Any updates made to the data via one operating system could be read by another.

Now few people want to be able to run multiple operating systems and if they do then computers are now powerful enough to be able to run them at the same time by using a virtual machine to run one operating system inside of another. This means that it is no longer necessary to create separate partitions in order to be able to run multiple operating systems.

What about the idea of separate partitions for applications and data? As the various operating systems have been developed the versions have drifted further apart with respect to how they work and what they can run. Chances are that an application you have for one operating system will not even run on another operating system and you'd need a separate copy of the program for each operating system. Keeping your applications separate from the operating system (even though the design of the operating system has always made it impossible to keep it completely separate - hence having to install it over itself multiple times) is no longer worthwhile. Whether you are running one operating system or several on your computer today there are fewer compelling arguments for keeping the applications in a separate partition than there used to be. When I installed all the programs onto my latest computer I let them all install to the default location on the C: drive.

This leaves data as the only thing left to consider with respect to partitioning. Here I believe that it is still well worthwhile to set up a separate partition on your hard drive (assuming that you don't have a second hard drive in the computer). By keeping all of your data on a separate partition you make it easier to backup and restore your data and also make it easier to transfer it all to a new computer each time you upgrade. It certainly made restoring all my data to the new computer when my last one failed a much quicker process.

When your computer slows to the point where you need to reinstall the operating system and applications you can skip having to restore your data if it is on a separate partition and that partition doesn't get reformatted during the reinstall. Defining what to back up is easier if all your data is on the one partition with nothing else there (you can always restore your programs by reinstalling them if you don't back up your operating system partition). Also as the applications you run don't change all that frequently while the data you have is constantly being added to, keeping the data on a separate partition will help keep your operating system drive from getting fragmented as quickly. Your computer should continue to run faster for longer with the data separate than it would if everything was jumbled on the one drive.

I would currently recommend setting up a new computer with three partitions. The first partition will contain your operating system and applications. The second and third partitions would be for data with one of them being for data that you want to keep that gets backed up regularly and the other being basically a temporary workspace where the files you save there can be deleted after a short while once you finish with whatever you are doing that you needed the files for.
 

On Site

This is the 150th monthly newsletter in this series which commenced way back in 2001. A few weeks ago I redesigned the layout of the site slightly and made some significant changes to the JavaScript the site uses so that with the exception of a couple of statements that need to be in the head of the page all of the rest of the scripts including the advertising are now at the very bottom. Over the next few months I will look at further modernisations to the code as well as finding and fixing pages that got broken during the update.
 

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