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Multiboot XP or Server 2003 with Vista, Windows7, or Server 2008 and Linux

Updated on January 3, 2014

So you miss XP and want it on your Windows7 or Vista PC?

Or, perhaps you found this article because you have a boot problem and have "lost" an operating system? (Probably right after installing or re-installing XP or Server 2003?) Or, you are thinking of adding more operating systems to a large hard drive? Then read on.

Multi-multi booting

In the most recent versions of Windows, from Vista on... there has been a change in the technology of boot-loading the operating system. If you have an older but very "capable" XP system it is very easily possible for virtually anyone to repartition the hard drive, and add either Vista, Windows7 or Server 2008 (if you had a Reason to add Server 2008). The boot loaders of the later 3 operating systems will easily "pick up" and boot the older XP O/S registering it in a menu when you start your system. This gives you a list via the boot loader, of what operating systems are on your hard drive. In the case where you add Vista or Win7 AFTER XP ... yes, it will work fine. But some people who just generally assume that "All Windows Products Play Well Together", may be in for a surprise, if they have a new machine and just think they can install XP (because they miss it and want it available) in the same way. If you create a partition on a Win7 or Vista system, then install XP (or server 2003) what happens is the older boot loader takes over entirely.

... And fails to register the original operating system.

This can be a very disconcerting experience. But it actually is not that hard to fix. You need your Vista or Win7 dvd (or find a way to borrow or obtain one, or a recovery cd/dvd for EITHER operating system will work...) and that's about it. I'll give the instructions that should allow you to recover your lost system.

If you have an older XP system, and you are adding Vista or Win7, you are not going to have a problem. You do need what is known as a "3rd party partition manipulation utility" like Norton Partition Magic or some such, to shrink the main partition and to make a second Primary partition, but if you can figure that out, and have your Vista/Win7 dvd... the boot manager handles the situation easily and it will be a smooth experience. After the install you reboot, and you have both XP and the new OS available.  A very easy to make dual boot system.

In case you actually want a full description of HOW to set up a simple dual boot, I'll describe that fully too. So, let's begin with THAT. The manipulation of hard disk partitions.

Norton Partition Magic at work

3rd party partition managers

At the moment I am typing this I am running Norton Partition Magic (ver 8) in the background, on the last partition of my Terabyte hard drive. I have this hard drive broken into 4 pieces at the moment. 4 Primary partitions. Windows operating systems (normally) will only boot from primary partitions. This hard drive is broken into 3 200gig partitions with XP, Win7, and Server 2003 respectively on it. And a final partition that is about 350 gigs. I am currently resizing that last partition so that it is a 300 gig partition (with a lot of software stored on it) and a final 50 gig partition that I will install Ubuntu 8.1 into. I'll be mounting Ubuntu into what is known as a logical partition since Linux is okay with booting from any drive or partition, as long as the boot manager and boot files are "in order". Yes, I am glossing over a lot of details and implying a lot in one or two sentences here, but, I will detail the essential parts of an XP dual boot, directly below.

The pictures here of Norton, just give the impression of various "operations" the program is performing during the resize.  In the larger picture below you see a graphic representation of my hard drive.  You can see the 3 200gig partitions and the 300gig that was just created named "Xtra".  directly behind that partition you see an area that is about 50gigs and it is entirely unallocated.  I'll be putting Ubuntu right in THAT spot...

Most hard drives can be partitioned. This partitioning creates what would be called "virtual" hard drives. In reality you have only ONE hard drive. But you CREATE through manipulation of what is known as a partition table, another hard drive, simply by DEFINING it in the partition table ON your hard drive. This is accomplished through various software utilities. The newer versions of Windows, like Vista or Win7 come with very good partition management software. You can use this to resize your primary partition and make another one. Making room for an installation of XP... or perhaps another operating system. Even a duplicate of the one already on it, if you wish.

The partition I just made with Norton Partition Magic


Above you see the picture AFTER the resizing of what used to be my 4th primary partition, I turned it into a logical drive.  A logical drive is made within what is known as an "extended" partition, it is no longer a Primary partition.  But, within an extended partition, you can make many more "logical drives".  In this case I will use the unallocated (50 gigs) space for my (future) Ubuntu setup and Ubuntu itself will make other logical drives to install it's file systems there.

But, the main thrust of this article is about an XP install AFTER Win7 or Vista already exists.

So, let's assume you have a new Vista system. And you want to add XP to it. In the main menu of Vista go to Computer and "manage" and open the Disk Manager. On the graphical representation of your disks main partition right click and choose "shrink partition". The amount that you shrink this partition is the amount of space that your install is going to have. All by itself XP is about 1.5 gig. So for a very minimal install, you must have at least 5 gigs. More if you need it, and have it available on the hard drive.

Vista / Win7 disk management

Creating the New Partition

After resizing the original partition, you can right click on the newly UN-allocated disc space that is available and select "New Basic Partition".   Choose NTFS file system so you won't have to format it later and name the drive something appropriate like "XP".  Click "next" on the rest of the screens and just finish the partitioning process.  In case you do have multiple partitions already just make a note of what partition(s) you have so you know what you are putting, where...

Format the new partition

Your New Partition in Disc Manager

All right. Upon conclusion of this disc operation, you must reboot in order for the system to see your hard drives with their newly assigned drive letters. Also, you might as well put your XP cd into the drive in preparation for the imminent XP install. Upon reboot, do select the PROPER partition to put the operating system into. ... PLEASE... make sure you have noted what partitions already exist.

Now, not to confuse things. But ... just in case someone is reading this who is doing the OPPOSITE of this particular list, meaning, they are adding Vista or Win7 to XP, first of all, you would have needed to procure your partition management software, (since XP doesn't have inbuilt partition management) and produce the new partition... and yes, after its creation you would also be at the stage of installing your new Operating System, except YOU are not going to be experiencing any problem with your boot manager... well, it is true that "Murphy" is always wandering about looking for trouble, but... it SHOULD be absolutely no problem.  Every time I've added Win7 or Vista to XP, it's been a straight easy experience.

Moving right along. The XP install on our Vista or Win7 system...

XP install step one

Put XP into the partition you just Created

Now, we let XP install for a while...

If you've never performed a Windows install before, it takes a while but, there's a time period of about 25 min or longer depending on your hardware.

The last time I performed an upgrade for a customer, it was on an older machine... it took a long LONG time for common operations to complete.  The machine could run Vista, But barely.  And not only that, it was slow with the XP in the first place.  The hard disc itself was a slow one.  That happened to be a case where I installed XP ...after... Vista. Even tho the machine originally came with XP.  We had thought we'd be getting rid of XP and running with just Vista.

Originally the owner had wanted only Vista on the machine, since it seemed that the performance of the machine was adequate to run Vista.  But upon trying it, he wanted his XP available too, because the Vista was just too slow for normal use.  He wanted to keep the Vista though just so he could become familiar with it.  But he preferred to use XP on that machine for practical time constraint reasons.

Reboot... and you have only XP

Okay, This articles primary thrust is centered upon installation of XP into a machine that has either Vista or Windows7. Upon installation of the XP and it's reboot... all you will see is...


You do not get a boot menu.  You only see XP, yet the original Vista or Windows 7 is still "there"... The boot loader of XP will not recognize the original operating system. We will bring that back next.

Boot To your Vista or Win7 DVD

Starting the Boot Loader repair

Booting to the Vista DVD you see it saying "Loading Windows Files" and it takes a little while, with a progress bar crossing the screen.  Then the "splash screen" with the Vista GUI manifests.  Do not choose the installation option, click "Repair your Computer".  As soon as you do this a program launches that "searches" for what operating systems can be found on your machine.  Do not worry if it stops and does not show a listing for Vista.

Searching for Operating Systems

Don't worry if you don't see Vista, just click "Next"

Do not choose "Fix Startup" choose "Command Prompt"

In order to get Vista or Win7 to boot, first fix the Boot Record

Yes, there is an option to "fix startup" but it does not work in absolutely all situations, so we will do it the explicitly manual way. The first step in recovering Vista (Or Win7) is the next two commands you enter at the command prompt.

Bootrec.exe /fixMBR


Bootrec.exe /fixBoot

Now, remove the DVD and reboot the system...

And now...

Either Vista (or Win 7) now starts.

Okay, now that Vista or Windows 7 is "back" in charge of the Boot Loader (MBR refers to Master Boot Record), we need to now configure the option that allows you to choose XP from a list.

Again, you COULD possibly buy software to do this for you... but it's easy enough to do it at the command line if you know the commands for it. What we have to do is now edit a file called boot.ini. It's not that easy to locate and actually Vista and Win7 have a special utility for modifying it. It's called, bcdedit.exe.

If you want to see what Windows "sees" as it boots you can just go to a command prompt and run the command bcdedit. All by itself with no options. Go to the command prompt and right click on it and choose to run it as "Administrator" or you will not have the rights to operate a powerful command like bcdedit. And when you type in "bcdedit" at the command prompt you will then get a screen that looks similar to the following.

Adding XP as an option in the Boot Menu

There are 4 more lines of command to enter... and we are done. These lines are a bit more complex, so just be careful and enter them exactly as shown.

There are only two acceptable system responses at the entry of each of these lines. Your system will respond with either 1) "The operation completed successfully" or 2) "The specified entry already exists"

I actually Tested it. The first time I did this it said "The operation completed successfully" every time. I attempted to re-enter the commands. And I did indeed get the response: "The specified entry already exists"...

Enter these, symbol for symbol, note the curvy brackets, hyphens, etc...  the drive letter you see below "C:" is the partition that the Win7 or Vista is residing in... in the case of my own setup here, it is on the "D:" drive, I'll show you that listing later.

bcdedit –set {ntldr} device partition=C:

bcdedit –set {ntldr} path \ntldr

bcdedit –displayorder {ntldr} –addlast

bcdedit –set {ntldr} description “Microsoft Windows XP”

Now, you have actually labeled the Entry for XP properly, because the default name is "Earlier Version of Windows".  


choose your operating system.

You are DONE

I hope all this wasn't too confusing.  On the system that I JUST NOW redid the boot loader on I have first, XP... then Win7, then I chose to load Windows Server 2003 AFTER Windows 7.  I had actually forgotten (momentarily) that 2003 was like XP and when I rebooted and Win7 "disappeared" I then got the urge to write this little article on it.  Because it IS a very common thing that pops up, especially if you DO tend to install and or reinstall operating systems a lot.  In my own case I am setting up administrative systems that need to be flexible.  I have multiple operating systems available upon a reboot.

I saw one tech website where someone asked about triple booting Windows and someone else said "Not without medication"...

It's not that hard.

In MY case, with THIS system, upon installing Server 2003, it wiped the Win7 out of control.  I simply went through the EXACT same process as above and rebooted, and what comes up is a menu with 2 options.

Windows 7


Earlier Operating System.

when I choose "earlier os"  it then gives me 2 options: 1) XP (on partition 1) or 2) Server 2003 on partition 3)

Next.  I'm going to install Ubuntu in the unallocated space at the end of this hard drive.  We'll see how that "stacks" with these other operating systems.

If you have some kind of problem booting feel free to contact me.  I might be able to setup a system and simulate your own problem and might be able to come up with an answer if you need one.  Or, if you have a custom situation you'd like to setup, either personally or for a commercial purpose, also, feel free to write.  I've used a few different products out there for boot management, partition manipulation, image creation and movement... etc.


Submit a Comment

  • acaetnna profile image

    acaetnna 5 years ago from Guildford

    This is totally wonderful information, thank you so much. I shall definitely be bookmarking this page.

  • stvrich profile image

    StvRich 5 years ago from East Rockaway - Long Island - Planet: Earth ~

    You're welcome acaetnna. Thank you for the kind comment. I've been fairly busy lately learning some new technical stuff- concentrating on CISCO networking -and (obviously) not too terribly concentrated here on hub pages. But I really SHOULD do some more writing and add to these paltry few hubs I have. I LOVE your own work! Beautiful writing. My own Heart used to sing with words like yours ---daily--- those words used to flow naturally from me, and in abundance. Maybe one day again, it shall sing again. Keep on with your writing. It's lovely to see.

  • Pan Michal profile image

    Pan Michal 2 years ago from Zielonka

    Thanks a lot, mate. I've spent last few hours lookinfor some info on bcdedit and how to use it to restore booting older OS.

    In my case I had two instances of server 2003 and I upgraded (reinstalled) the first one to server 2008

    I only needed to use the 4 bcdedit commands you mentioned to restore proper booting.

    Thanks again

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