Making Windows The Default OS Using Grub 1

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Recently, I needed to send my netbook into the shop for some service. By default, I use Ubuntu 11.10, but I kept the Windows 7 Starter partition and I can choose my OS using grub. I'm not a huge fan of Windows as a desktop OS (especially when MS cripples it), but I really need it at least 3 or 4 times a year.

I didn't want to confuse anyone at the Toshiba shop with Ubuntu, so I decided to make the following changes to grub before sending it in:

I assumed that this would be a really simple change, but it took a surprising amount of research and problem-solving. Here's how I did it.

First There Was Bad Advice

All of the tutorials that I found told me to do at least one of the following:

  • Edit files that don't exist on my system
  • Hand-edit /boot/grub/grub.cfg

The problem with hand-editing grub.cfg is that your changes will be overwritten the next time you update you kernel or grub is patched for a security vulnerability. So unless you like screwing up your boot process every couple of weeks, you should avoid this technique.

Then The GUI Didn't Work

At this point, I figured that their just had to be a way to do this with a GUI, and there is. It's called Startup Manager.

It has a very simple GUI and I was able to make the changes that I need in less than a minute. However, when I rebooted, the default OS was still choice #1, which is Ubuntu.

I double-checked Startup Manager, and it told me that my default OS was Windows 7. Hmm, ok, back to the drawing board.

Finally A Way That Worked

At this point, I started poking around the following files:

  • /boot/grub/grub.cfg - This file actually lists all of your configured kernels and OS'
  • /etc/default/grub - This is the file that you're supposed to change when you want to make a change to grub.

In the grub file, I saw that the GRUB_DEFAULT was set to 16. This made sense, because my Windows partition was the 17th kernel listed in the grub.cfg file. However, when you looked at the grub splash screen at boot time, Windows was not the 17th option - it was the 6th option.

I therefore tried the following:

  • I set the GRUB_DEFAULT value to 6 in /etc/default/grub
  • I ran sudo update-grub
  • I rebooted my machine

Believe it or not, this actually worked. Once I rebooted, the Windows OS was displayed as the default OS in the grub splash screen.


So what should you do?

  • Don't hand-edit /boot/grub/grub.cfg
  • Avoid using Startup Manager in 11.10 because it doesn't work
  • Get the "index" of your Windows OS by looking at the grub splash screen
  • Count from the top starting with 0
  • Specify that number as GRUB_DEFAULT value in /etc/default/grub.
  • Run sudo update-grub
  • Reboot to test.

Good luck!

Last Updated 2012-06-25 09:18.