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How to Tri-Boot your Mac with: Mac OS X, Windows Vista & OpenSuSE Linux

Right, I’ve been thinking of writing up this post for a while but I’ve been putting it off because of its enormity, it’s very long and very annoying but the end result is real nice. As I imagine the audience this specialized post will reach out to is pretty small, don’t be afraid to email me with any queries as I know that things don’t always work first time;

Difficulty Rating: 4/5

I’m going to assume anybody attempting this kind of thing knows their way round a computer, if you don’t, give it a go and good luck.

I’m going to tell you how to set up your Mac (in my case a newer Core 2 Duo Macbook) to tri-boot with Mac OS X (Leopard or Tiger), Windows Vista and OpenSuse 10.2 Linux.

You will need:

An Intel based Macintosh Computer

Mac OS X (Tiger or Leopard) Installer Disc


Windows Vista Installer Disc

OpenSuSE 10.2 Installer Disc

An Internet Connection!

Refit is a free program that is needed to allow the tri boot to take place; it works by syncing the windows MBR with the Mac GPT. It is one of the most excellent pieces of software I have ever come across and it made my life very easy. You can get it from here:

Opensuse as I am sure you already know is a popular Linux distribution and my personal favorite. Version 10.3 is out now but for this tutorial you have to use 10.2 and then upgrade (which I can explain to do later.) You can get it from here:

Now you’re good to go.

1. Install Mac OS X

For the purpose of this post I’m going to assume your Mac is blank and without an OS, or, you are formatting and re-installing OS X. So…

Insert the OS X installer DVD and hold down C to boot to it.

Select the disk utility program from the programs located on the top menu bar.

Now, for the partitioning;

Primary partition formatted as HFS+ (OS X)

A partition for Linux formatted as FAT32 (This will be formatted again later)

A partition for Windows formatted as FAT32 (This will be formatted again later)

Once that is done apply the changes and exit the program, this will bring you back the OS X installer, choose your OS X partition and select a clean install of OS X.

Proceed with the installation until you have entered all your personal information and are logged in for the first time.

Once you have logged in you will see two extra hard drives on your desktop, these are the partitions we created for Linux and Windows earlier.

2. Preparation

Download and install all software updates for OS X via “Software Update” and restart your computer, Mac OS X should be booted automatically.

Once all the updates are installed you are ready to download and install refit, jump on and grab a copy of refit, install it as you would any other piece of software and reboot. Once you have rebooted use the partitioning tool on the refit menu to sync the MBR with the GPT, reboot and then boot into OS X.

Refit as well as a nice boot menu, gives you the chance to manually sync the newer GPT style partition table with the older MBR partitioning table which Windows uses, hence forth allowing you to run 3 OS’s in harmony together.

Now don’t worry if refit doesn’t look very appealing you can quite easily edit the config file and customizie it with your own banners and icons and removing certain aspects of it, I will tell you how to do this later and have a picture of how my beautiful refit boot screen looks, although for now it is essential that you leave the default refit screen alone!

Now would be a good time to make a cd for Windows containing Macintosh device drivers so that all the hardware works properly in windows. Now, like me if you have leopard then simply pop in your Leopard DVD into a Windows computer and the boot camp drivers are already there on the disc and a simple installer does all the work for you. Although if you have Tiger you need to download a free bit of software from Apple called Boot Camp. You can get it from

Once you have downloaded boot camp install it, then you need to make a driver cd for Windows, this can be done by right clicking the boot camp program and clicking “show package contents.” Then copy the Contents/Resources/diskimage.dmg file to the Desktop and use Disk Utility to burn that image to a CD, save this for later when Windows is installed.


3. Preparing the Windows partition.

Ok, you’re ready to start installing other OS’s to your Mac.

Insert the Windows installer disc and restart the Mac, when it reboots refit should pick up the Windows disc. Select the disc from the refit menu and boot to it.

Once you have booted to the Vista disc follow the install through up to the hard drive selection screen, now, there will be far more partitions there than you thought, but don’t worry, just make sure to choose the last partition that you created and not the third. There will be one for refit (200mb,) one for OS X one for Linux and one for Windows, with some smaller partitions in-between. Select the last larger partition that you created for Windows and format it as NTFS.

At this point I will say that you will encounter many errors when trying to install Vista, mostly being told that your disc is not suitable etc etc, just keep rebooting and keep retrying, TRUST ME it does eventually work.

Now you don’t actually want to install vista at this point this process is just to prepare the partition, so at the first reboot that the setup undergoes don’t continue with the reboot and move on to the next step.

4. Installing OpenSuse Linux

Insert the Opensuse disc and boot to it from refit.

Follow the installer through and when you reach the configuration options screen do as follows:


Format the 3rd partition (the FAT32 one created earlier) to ext3 and set mount point to /

Nothing else should be formatted or mounted, only touch this third partition.

Do not create a swap partition and ignore the two warnings you get when you click apply.

Boot Loader,

Set the boot loader to LILO and not GRUB as GRUB will fail to install.

Remove the windows entry from the bootloader options screen as it will cause LILO to fail.

Set the bootloader to install to the Linux partition (most probably /dev/sda3.)

Change any other settings to your preference and continue with the install.

At the first reboot of the install you must use the refit partitioning tool to sync the MBR and the GPT again. This, unfortunately, has to be done although it causes you some problems.

Because you have to sync the MBR and the GPT the LILO bootloader will have been destroyed. So we will install it again…

Boot to the Opensuse installer disc as you did the first time, when you get to the first stage of the install screen do not continue, Press crtl + FX to change the init level (X = the number of the text based init level, usually 4, 5 or 6, therefore for example, press crtl + F4.) You should then be prompted with a nice command line interface. At the command prompt enter the following commands to reinstall LILO:

mkdir /media/suse

mount /dev/sda3 /media/suse

mount –bind /dev /media/suse/dev

chroot /media/suse

lilo -v

(sda3 is the partition you installed Linux to, it should be sda3!)

Once you have reinstalled LILO, reboot and once again use refits partitioning tool to resync the MBR and the GPT. The reboot and you should be greeted with a lovely OS X icon, a Windows icon (won’t boot) and Linux icon.

boot into the Linux partition from refit and continue with the Opensuse installation. Complete it and reboot.

5. Windows Installation

Insert the Windows disc again and boot to it.

Do the same as you did the first time and install to the 4th partition and format it to NTFS.

This time, upon reboot, select the Windows partition from the refit menu and finish the Install.

After this you’re done and you have a Tri-Booting system.

6. Extra Notes

Instead of Vista you can use Windows XP as long as it has service pack 2.

To install the Mac drivers on Windows just pop in the disc you created earlier and run the installer, and everything just, works, easy.

OpenSuse will not be very good as it isn’t configured yet; You need to configure it fully, including wifi support, trackpad support, creating a swap file, iSight support and a proper resolution! If you find yourself strugling with this then don’t hesitate to email me and I will tell you how to do it,, or send me a message to my wordpress account, djw42.

To configure your Refit boot screen open refit.conf and edit it to your wishes (its pretty self explanatory) and remember to remove the #’s once you have made your changes. To use custom icons (like me…) replace the icon in the refit directory with a custom icon of the same name and it will be automatically used by refit.

Try not to mess around with any partitioning tools from within either of the OS’s and if you want to change the name of your Vista hard drive do it within windows and the changes will occur on OS X as well.

If you want write support to your NTFS partition within OS X or Linux you will need the ntfs-3g driver, which can be found for free here;

Ok, you’re done, enjoy.


Daniel Walton


15 Responses to “How to Tri-Boot your Mac with: Mac OS X, Windows Vista & OpenSuSE Linux”

  1. Thank you so much ! I will try it and tell you if it works for me 🙂

  2. Well done dan, a very nice job, an looks like people apreciate it too, look forward to ur next entry. Adios

  3. I would like to know if you can help me get rid of the about icon and leave the shutdown and restart icons there in rEFIt

  4. Sure, there is a file that you need to edit. If you spotlight for ‘refit.conf’, and open it with text edit, you can find everything you need to customize your rEFIt screen. However as far as I can remember the about, shutdown and restart icon all fall under the same category, so it might not be possible. I’ll check with Dan on this one and let him get back to you, sorry for the slow reply.


  5. Hi.
    I have a Mac Boock Pro with Leopard, XP and GNU Linux inside it.
    After Installed refit, in the “refit boot menu” if I select Mac OS X, it starts up Leopard directly.
    But if I select Windows XP or GNU Linux, after some seconds start the grub menu, and I can select GNU Linux or Windows, indiscriminately to my previous choice.
    Why refit “pass the control to” MBR, and launch grub if I select XP or GNU Linux (and not the same for Leopard)?
    If I remove grub from MBR, refit launch the correct OS, even MBR is empty ?
    Can I “force” refit to “ignore” the content of MBR and launch the boot directly using the LBA Address ????

    Best Regards

  6. Hey, sorry for the lateness of the reply.. We’ve all been swamped lately. I’m not really that up to scratch with refit as Dan. I know that refit is pretty specific regarding what is can/will boot, and doubt it will boot from the LBA address. I’ve alerted Dan to it, he can’t comment until tomorrow I’m afraid. Check back then and he’ll be able to help you.


  7. First I had Mac OS. Then I installed rEFIt and Ubuntu and had a working Mac-Linux dual boot. Today I installed Vista onto my last 20GB of space. It wasn’t easy, and I did have to burn another DVD, but it finally worked. First major problem: After installing Vista, rEFIt no longer displayed Linux as an option to boot from. I figured I would fix that later and began to work in my new Vista machine. I ran software update and restarted. Along the way, I synced rEFIT. I proceeded to choose Windows (labelled in rEFIt as unknown legacy boot). rEFIT showd the semitransparent legacy boot logo while Windows loaded. It was taking a while, so I left for dinner and came back. Windows had not loaded. I turned my MacBook off and tried to load Windows again. Now it reported “No Operating System Found.” Uh oh. GParted and the Ubuntu installer showed the Vista partition as free space. Looks like the rEFIT sync removed the information necessary to boot Windows. How can I get that information back? I can’t use my install key again legally!

  8. Your guide is excellent and working perfectly. Thanks! I’ve also used the latest openSUSE 11.0. I just have one question: why can’t I create an openSUSE swap partition? Your guide says not to create it. Won’t performance be affected adversely?

  9. Hi and thanks, you cant create a swap partition because macbooks only support 4 partitions on the hard drive, 5 partitions (including the swap) would be too many but as things stand you have used the maximum 4 partitions with refit, mac, windows and linux therefore you sadly cant have a swap partition although you can do the following and create a swap FILE, this is for a 2gb swap file:

    dd if=/dev/zero of=/swap bs=1024 count=2097152
    mkswap /swap
    swapon /swap
    echo “/swap swap swap pri=1 0 0” >> /etc/fstab

  10. Thanks for the guide. Looks fantastic and just what I was looking for before embarking on this task. The only question I have before I undertake this, is regarding VMWare Fusion. At present I use bootcamp with windows and Fusion will recognise the bootcamp partition and allow me to load it up whille using Leopard. I really want to have the ability to either boot naturally or “emulate” all 3 OS’s (Mac, Win, Opensuse). However I have read elsewhere that Fusion only recognises the last partition? Have you had any experience with this, or do you know of a way to accomplish what I am after. Also, Is it possible to swap the order of the OS’s in the partitions such that Linux is in the last one and Windows in the Middle?

    Thanks for your help

  11. YAA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You

  12. this looks good, clear and helpful. many tutorials on this complex triple boot. many guides. this looks clear and good. will use this for this project.

  13. simple question, but in refit v.0.14, won’t let me save refit.conf file after editing. says “the document ‘refit.conf’ could not be saved. The volume is read only”. what gives? can’t find any info on this problem. otherwise, great help! thanks!

  14. Well thanks for this guide, its incredible how you figure all this out…when you read the refit documentation they never really explain how to actually get the thing working…I dont know how you go about figuring it all out.

    Anyways, I see this post is getting pretty dated, so i hope you dont mind me asking questions about it still. Well I have an 07 or 08 macbook pro core 2 duo as well, snow leopard 10.6.8 and ive installed refit 0.14. I want to install win7 and the latest version of Ubuntu.

    Do you think i can (more or less) still follow the steps described in this guide? can you suggest anything I should look out for?

    thanks for your post and any help you can give me

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