Brief flirtation with FreeBSD on my MacBook Pro is over


Screenshot of my short lived, high performance FreeBSD Xfce desktop :(

As I wrote in a previous post, I was wildly exited that I had managed to get FreeBSD booting side by side with Mac OS X Leopard on my original generation MacBook Pro. Not only that, but the performance was phenomenal: above and beyond anything graphically possible on a flimsy virtual machine. While this is true, a few more days of experimentation have led me to remove the FreeBSD partition again.

Unfortunately despite my discovery of several more articles on triple booting Intel bases Mac laptops, I still haven't been able to get it right. Alas given university work I need a copy of Windows handy occasionally, and again virtual machines don't cut it. This means that any FreeBSD partition would have to share the drive with two other operating systems.

The problem stems from an issue I keep running into with booting Windows once FreeBSD has been installed. If you know anything about partitions and multiple operating systems on Macs, these steps I took should make sense:

  1. Boot Leopard install DVD and use Disk Utility to create 3 partitions
  2. Install Mac OS X Leopard on the middle and larger partition
  3. Install the rEFIt boot loader and activate it
  4. Install Windows XP in the last partition
  5. Install FreeBSD in the first partition, converting the file system to UFS instead of deleting the partition and creating a new one as so often instructed

Once this is done, I am left with a functional installation of Leopard and FreeBSD, but Windows flashes a blue screen of death and restarts every single time. If I install FreeBSD first then Windows, FreeBSD complains that it can't find a bootable volume.

I've recreated the partitions and started from scratch three times, I've installed Leopard in the first partition instead of the second/middle partition, I've attempted to use the rEFIt Partitioning Tool but it throws an error and doesn't solve the GPT and MBR differences.

ASIDE: For what it’s worth, the folks who created rEFIt have done a phenomenal job with their tool; the boot menu is wildly convenient and it boots the right system every time. Now only if the operating systems would play nice!

I desperately want to get this right, but this is a production machine and I'm running out of time. I suppose for now I'll just have to stick with Windows and Mac OS X on this machine, and FreeBSD on a virtual machine unless I can think of something else between now and Wednesday. Frankly I'm just getting sick of watching the Leopard, XP and FreeBSD installers!

This machine has won the battle, but the war is not over. Stay tuned.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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