How-to Triple-Boot Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu and a shared DATA partition on the same disk

Preamble :

As Apple now turns to ARM processors for their MacBooks, killing BootCamp as a concept, then I though I should just make a short how-to install multiple OS’s on the older, soon to be considered useless, computers as they will probably be very affordable.

Apple created the official BootCamp concept for OS X Leopard 10.5 in 2007. They released an official installer to install OS X and Windows. However they chose to make it a hands-off installation which did not use the full potential of the concept.

Why bother :

The procedure I will outline allows to install :

  • Windows 7 or 10 on a NTFS partition.
  • MacOS up to and including High Sierra ( the computer does not support Metal so no Catalina ).
  • A shared DATA partition on a NTFS partition.
  • An Ubuntu installation with a root and a swap partition.

The benefit here is that you get two Windows accessible partitions instead of one. You can use them for whatever you want. I prefer one separate partition to hold DATA.

This requires five partitions and with some hidden extra partitions for boot and recovery that makes for seven partitions.

Introduction :

BootCamp as a concept is a slightly fragile mix of a disk simulating having been initialiased as a MBR disk yet really being a GPT disk. The first four partitions created on the disk will have a MBR identity. Additional partitions will not have a MBR identity, only a GPT identity and can only been seen by OS X and Ubuntu.

The difference from the official installation method is that one should make the partitioning from an OS X Installation DVD simply using Disk Utility.

The recent versions of MacOS has apparently crippled Disk Utility functionality so get a DVD for 10.9 Mavericks to do the partitioning. Maybe newer OS X versions will work too.

The official BootCamp concept installs OS X in the first partition before Windows. This is silly as the OS X recovery partition will take up a partition wasting a precious MBR partition ( seen from the Windows perspective ).

When you start partitioning, Disk Utility will silently create a small EFI boot partition as first partition. It will just be there. The first -official- partition to create should be the NTFS Windows System partition. The second should be the NTFS DATA partition. And the third partition should be an HFS+ journaled case insensitive partition. That defined the four MBR partitions and completes the operations for which Disk Utility is needed.

Remember to leave un-allocated space after the allocated partitions so Linux can be installed. And also leave some space to allow disk cloning ( see below ). A reasonable figure would be 50..100 GBytes.

You can now install whatever flavour of OS X ( ~ MacOS ) you want onto the HFS+ partition. OS X will silently resize the HFS+ partition to add a partition for recovery. It does so without destroying the MBR mapping and without taking up a MBR partition.

Thereafter you can install Windows. Windows will see the disk as a basic MBR disk. Nothing special. Then you install Support for BootCamp in Windows.

Support for BootCamp is actually nothing more than hardware drivers and a few utilities, as one to control the BIOS, selecting whether you boot to the Mac boot disk selection menu, or boot directly to Windows.

Thereafter you can install Ubuntu. It will install itself by accessing the disk as a GPT disk and use some of the un-allocated disk space. It will recognize that you have Windows installed and offer to install a GRUB boot menu that offers to boot either Windows or Ubuntu. I prefer using that option.

Booting between the three OS’s is therefore something like this. Either boot to OS X selection or Windows/Ubuntu selection as programmed into BIOS. That BIOS setting can be modified in OS X Preferences and in the Windows Task Bar. If you see the Windows/Ubuntu selection then you can choose which OS to boot. There is a default timeout which in effect allows the computer to boot to Windows or Ubuntu without human interaction.

Corrupt Partitioning Check ( rEFIt 0.14 ) :

The dual partitioning mapping ( MBR and GPT ) can get out of sync. I haven’t experienced this for years but it was quite normal to happen in the early days. It is therefore important to verify that the two tables are in sync. There is a utility to check this, called rEFIt 0.14. It is a nerdy thing, yet easy to use, that runs under OS X. Download it and do a check !

Backup :

There is really no safe way to backup this tricky disk system configuration. So I do something different. I make a complete disk copy ( ~clone ). To do so you must have ( at least ! ) two identical disks. Or spare disks which are the same size or somewhat larger than the currently used. Look for the number of sectors. Not just the number of GBytes.

Cloning is effectively done, booting into OS X Recovery Mode.

First un-mount the clone disk ( if mounted ) using Disk Utility.

Then get the disk numbers and use DD to clone the disk using a Terminal window. Use the procedure listed on the following web site to do the actual cloning ( yes it is from 2011 ) :

See the Clone Your Hard Drive section there for the required typing. It is marked in red for your convenience. It is only a few lines that needs to be typed.

You clone the whole disk in one operation. Not the individual partitions.

Hint – You may need to use the Caffeinate command to prevent the computer from going into sleep while cloning.

I have used DD for years as there were no reliable alternatives. Nowadays there are utilities for MacOS that claims to handle the hybrid partitioning scheme. But why bother ..

Updating :

Updating/refreshing each OS is no different from what one would do if there were only one OS on the disk. I even made an in-place update to Windows 10 from Windows 7, back in 2015. It just works.

Summary :

This is the old school way of managing multiple OS’s on one disk. Modern people prefers virtual environments like VMware. VMware player 15 ( the current version now ) is quite reliable but I prefer the real thing.

How-to Install Win 3.11, Win95, Win98 and Win2000 on the same disk

Preamble :

I recently had to start my very old laptop to open a WPK file ( that is the original Wordperfect file format ) using the program installed under Windows 3.11. Which made me reflect a little about that computer. So here is something from memory lane.

Nowadays I only run Window 10.

But I also keep an aged laptop running Window 7 and Windows XP. It doesn’t see much use, frankly. But better safe than sorry so I keep it.

And I keep an even older laptop from around 2000 running Windows 3.11, 95, 98 and 2000.

Uncommon Disk Configuration :

Having a single computer switchable between those four old OS’s is not common. And it also requires a special partitioning scheme that Microsoft actively disapproved stating it would give trouble and did not support doing. I haven’t experienced any trouble.

The key to allow this is partitioning the hard drive with four primary partitions.

In those days most disks was IDE disks ( contrary to now SATA ) and the disks used the MBR disk initialization scheme ( contrary to now GPT ). The disks sold those day could be as small is 6GB. The sweet spot disk size for this setup is 40-80 GB. Odd problems could arise using disks larger that 128GB so don’t do that.

It can be difficult to find a utility that allows doing this special partitioning. But companies like Paragon and Acronis had disk utilities that supported doing this off a boot CD. I used such tools.

While writing this, I googled the subject and found a link to a free utility which claims to support generating multiple primary partitions.

See here : https://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/super_fdisk.html.

Otherwise you could mount the disk in an external enclosure to do this. If you have an older Mac then Disk Utility can be used.

Disk partitioning could/should be done before installing any OS. Just in case something should go wrong.

How to select the OS to boot :

The tool used to switch between which partition to boot from is the very basic tool FDISK.exe which was included in all DOS versions. You select which partition should be Active next time you boot. Simple as that. Windows 2000 has a GUI to set the Active partition but the principle is the same. Notice though that FDISK with DOS 6.22 ( Windows 3.11 ) can see and select all primary partitions but it doesn’t know what is on the partition and it also reports the partition size wrongly. But selection works.

No need to install any fragile custom boot manager or anything. Any computer savvy person can do this.

Using this concept has the very nice property that the active disk is always given drive letter C:. The drive letters for the other partitions were mangled in a way only Microsoft could explain. Or maybe they could not.

Remember that Win 3.11 could only install on FAT. 2GB max. And it could not understand any newer partitions like FAT32 nor NTFS. So one such partition should be made. I made it the first partition on the drive. Some also claimed technical reasons for why a FAT partition should be created first.

The next two partitions were for Windows 95 and 98. They also supported FAT32 but not NTFS. So FAT32 were used. 4-8 GB were the sizes I choose.

Finally a partition for Windows 2000. It supported the older partitions and NTFS. I preferred to use FAT32 because then Windows 95 and 98 could use drivers located on that partition. So this partition was the largest. Which were nice as it could also be storage for backups for the older OS’es.

Installing and Round-Up :

All four OS’s were fully independent and did not rely on each other. So once the drive were partitioned then each OS could be installed in any order. The benefit of that fact was that it was also easy to backup each partition to support recovering from system corruption often occurring when installing drivers for the three oldest OS’es. Windows NT backup was very handy for this.

Then it was time to actually install an OS. While partitioning the disk one should also have made the decision which partition to boot from. Which OS to install first. Suggestion is starting with Windows 2000 to have the backup utility ready when installing the older OS’s afterwards.

There is essentially nothing more to this subject. The concept described is very robust contrary to Microsoft’s officiel dual-boot concept which often corrupted the OS’es if anything unexpected happened.

DOS Boot CD :

It is nowadays possible to boot to DOS from a boot CD. Using a boot CD instead of a floppy disk gives a boot speed advantage. It also allows to boot a system that does not have a floppy drive at all. That was the case for several laptop models from around year 2000. Those laptops were sold with an external floppy drive that connected using either the printer port or an USB port. Fortunately the BIOS for those machines often also supported booting off a CD :

Look here for ISO images : https://www.allbootdisks.com/download/iso.html.

Start Menu for Windows 3.11 :

You can actually download a program called Calmira II that gives Windows 3.11 a start menu like Windows 95. That is the coolest thing I have seen for years :

Look here for info : http://toastytech.com/guis/cal.html.

Laptops from around year 2000 :

What is a usable laptop from year 2000 to implement this four OS scheme. A relevant question as they cost next to nothing if they can be found.

There are three essential qualities for such a computer :

  • It must have a proper graphics chip. The ATI Rage or derivative is a good starting point. Besides having Windows drivers for Win 3.11 and newer it also supported DOS graphics.
  • It should have a proper sound chip. The ESS Maestro in some variant is a good starting point. Besides having Windows drivers for Win 95 and newer it also emulated Sound Blaster Pro in DOS and Win 3.11.
  • It should have a BIOS setting to expand the display to full size in text DOS. Otherwise the DOS display will only cover the central part of the display which looks silly.

Using USB for anything pre Windows 2000 is hit and miss, except for an USB mouse on Windows 98. These old laptops usually had only one USB 1.1 port anyway. Be sure to have backups before trying to install USB drivers.

Examples of compatible laptops includes : Compaq Armada M700, HP OmniBook 6000, Dell C600 and IBM ThinkPad 20-something. They are rare, fragile and probably ugly. And they were expensive when new.

As a compromise there are still plentiful of ThinkPad 40 and 41. The ThinkPad 40 and 41 are quite simple to install if they are fitted with the Radeon 7500 chip. The ThinkPad 41 with a Radeon 9000 chip can be used for Windows 95 using a UNIVBE display driver. But it only supports generic 16 color VGA for Windows 3.11. And there is no sound support in Windows 3.11.

The best ( in the meaning of giving the fewest complications ) computer to configure for a four OS setup would of course be an old desktop computer with a Tseng ET4000 graphics card and a Creative Sound Blaster sound card.

How-to Organize Files into Folders

Summary :

How to organize PDF and HTML files into folders so that the interesting one(s) to read can be found when needed.

Using some special characters to manage Folder and Files listing order when viewed from a Windows PC or an iPad. This is a tricky issue :

   -   #   ^   .   ¤   =   

The Challenge :

Nowadays we just Google whenever we need information about a subject.

Introductory updated information can always be found on Wikipedia.

But what to do with scattered off-line information kept in local PDF or HTML files. PDF files can be anything from a pamphlet or a handout to a complete e-book.

  • So a file naming system and a folder naming system is described that helps finding the information when needed.
  • Introducing a File Content grading system and using empty Folders as Index Cards for a File Grouping system.

Why bother :

Older references once found and read are often removed from the WEB after some time. I like to be able to re-read older references to help my memory so I want an off-line system.

And once the number of off-line files passes ~100 then they must be organized in order to be handy. I am way past that limit.

Organizing could be in the form of tagging as used for music. Unfortunately there is no standard tagging format for documents saved within the file that can be used across platforms. The problem here is my quest for something also usable on a tablet like an iPad or Android. There are plenty of options if one merely want something for desktops like Windows, see below.

Organizing information can be taken to any desired complexity. Like :

  • A Catalog’ing system like used for museum artifacts.
  • A Citation Index system as we have used used for scientific topics for decades.

But I settled with something simple that didn’t require any database and do work for both tablets and desktops.

Programs handling tagging of files :

Here is a link to a website with a comprehensive overview of tagging programs ( primarily for Windows ) :

https://turbofuture.com/computers/Whats-the-Best-Software-for-Tagging-Files-A-Review

Why not -just- a wiki :

Keeping documents as documents and not as text in wiki systems like Confluence on a web site preserves the layout of the text, including page separation, typeface selections, chapters, bookmarks and so on.

So you can make a proper print out.

The Challenge – part 2

Having settled on managing documents then the first problem arises. How are folder and file names presented on different platforms. Nowadays we have a number of platforms like :

  • Windows
  • MacOS
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android

How to ensure that we have a common look on the platforms we want to use. A concept for folder naming and file naming is proposed that handles this problem.

Text Search using DocFetcher :

Unknown by most then a PC, Mac and Linux can have document search almost like Googl’ing. However it is neither available on iOS nor Android.

The magic program allowing this is DocFetcher. You select a drive or folder to be indexed and it sets of. Some time later it is done and you can now search for sentences and get a list of documents, including PDF files, where there was a match. You even see text snippets of the contexts where the text was found. And it present the results in a snap. If you change or add documents the program will quickly update it database. It is a brilliant piece of software.

OneNote 2016 :

Another text management concept called OneNote ( or OneNote 2016 ) is also very useful.

I use OneNote 2016 as the first stop to manage shorter texts typically captured from the WEB, but I find the OneNote concept less suited for longer texts which I prefer to have in a PDF file.

Using the old desktop version has several benefits :

  • It allows you to do proper backups. Read the horror story about having no backup when the Microsoft OneNote server mess-up : https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/2246511-onenote-has-a-dark-side-stop-using-onenote-until-you-read-this
  • It allows you to export the full Notebook or just a Section or just a Page to a PDF file which may include automatically generated Bookmarks after some unknown rule.
  • The continuously updated OneNote iPad ( and Android ) app handles the older OneNote 2016 files fine so both apps can be used for daily use as preferred.

Preferred File Types :

I have most static content documents in one of these file types :

  • PDF
  • HTML

Documents naturally divided into pages are best viewed using PDF as good PDF viewers have a lot of reading features. This is not so for the other file types. There is a add-on for some WEB browsers called FireShot. This add-on will create a potentially very long PDF page without any page break. The concept does work but most OCR decoders and some PDF readers are not prepared for this and will crash or refuse to view such a file.

WEB pages can be saved to a single HTML file using add-on’s. This is kind of last resort solution as the WEB browser add-on’s, generating such a file, did not always generate a proper copy. Typically some images would be missing or the text formatting would be flawed. Such a plug-in could be Save Page WE or SingleFile both of which -sometimes- work. – But if the web content instead is copied to Word then Word supports saving the content as PDF as well as DOCX. Word is exceptionally good at managing all the copied text and images in the original layout and Word of course also allows you to do the required editing to manage page shifts !

Preamble :

This is an Age Old Subject. So what new twists can possibly be added to this subject.

To get started, I will just refer to what others has written, so here is a nice text with a nice text layout :

The Folder and Files Organization Objective :

What they advise to do makes sense. What they end up suggesting is a ( very ) deeply nested folder structure in which each folder level gets more specific/detailed.

My PDF documents are not sharply dividable into just one specific topic so creating a deeply nested folder structure actually adds confusion instead of clarity.

So in my case I will add additional constraints :

  • I don’t want endlessly deep folder nesting. I limit nesting to max two folder overview levels and one level with files. Thus max three folder levels and usually only two. Example shown below.
  • I don’t want folders including only one or two files.
  • I don’t want folders including 100’s of files.
  • Everything should look the same whether viewed on a PC or viewed on an iPad ( or Android ).

What I have come up with is :

  • A file naming template.
  • A concept of how to use folder names as index cards into the content of a folder.
  • Use a special character ¤ to separate items when listed on the same line ( file name or folder name ).

The funny character ¤ is a classic character called “generic currency” character and it is included even in modern character sets, like ISO/IEC 8859. Texts including this character looks the same on both a Windows PC and on an iPad. For some strange reason it is never used for anything, but as it visually looks good it is the perfect item separator character when making a filename which should include various information.

The File Name Template :

I have therefore created my own file naming template using the ¤ character and some spacing surrounding it as :

Title & Version ¤ Grading ¤ Year ¤ Pages ¤ Writer ¤ Publisher

Title is obvious.

Version could be any brief marking, like v2 or 2nd. Don’t waste many character on that.

Grading is not obvious. I sometimes adds some characters to describe my impression of the text. I use these four character selections : C|R E I P|T. C|T means the text is either Cursory or Reference like. E means the text includes Examples. I means the text is Illustrated. P|T means that the text is either Practical or Theoretical. So a text graded as RT will be difficult and slow to read. A text graded as CEIP will be easy, maybe even amusing, to read.

Year is obvious. Use 1978 and not just 78. I considered putting year first as it indicates the relevance of a file. Something written in 1930 is probably not as up-to-date and relevant as something written in 2010. But in the end and because having a lot of texts without date stamping I settled for making it entry two ( or three ).

Pages is obvious. It conveniently indicates the complexity of the file. Something 3 pages long is probably not as comprehensive as something 300 pages long. HTML files are not separated into pages so there is no length info for such a file. Append page number with a p, like 10p. And use 1xp for HTML. This avoids any misinterpretation with year.

Writer is obvious. I don’t always include the Writer as I don’t know the writer anyway.

Publisher is obvious. A book like text may include a Publisher. But it is more relevant for WEB content where naming the company publishing the information could be important.

With all that information to be included in a file name it is important to be as brief as possible. Ignoring the Writer and/or Publisher when necessary. Keeping the length shorter than ~ 100 characters is fine.

Grading

I am increasingly adding grading to text file names as it adds a another dimension to the type and quality of the text.

A very dry text would be graded as :

¤ ···T ¤

A very user friendly yet comprehensive text would be graded as :

¤ CEIP ¤

User friendly ? – Texts are written with various objectives. One might be that the writer just wants to send a message. Like a law text. Another purpose would be that the writer cares to explain why and how his message should be of interest to the reader. Like the notes for a law text. You get the idea.

Using Folders as Index Cards to Information in a Folder :

It is important to notice that an iPad list folders mixed with files when listed alphabetically. This is an Apple thing and in my opinion quite stupid. I want folders naturally listed in front of files so something must be done to ensure that the iPad also list folders ahead of files. A little file naming ingenuity makes it possible.

Folders at the Highest nesting level :

At the highest folder nesting level there are only folders. Below is a partial listing of the first entries. The full list includes about 100 folders which is the maximum number of folders I want to to scroll through. The content is sometimes re-arranged to keep that limit :

A
AUD=  .Acoustics
AUD=  .Brüel & Kjær
AUD=  .Engineering
AUD=  Amplifiers
AUD=  Driver Units, Crossover and more
AUD=  HI-FI
AUDz  Media and Music and more
AUDz  Reviews
AUDz  Software
AUDz  Speakers
B
BASE^  LabVIEW and the NI World
BASE^  Python
BASE=  MATLAB & Simulink, Octave, Scilab and HiQ
C
CAD=  Electrical
CAD=  Math
CAD=  Mechanical
D
DSP=  .Analog Devices
DSP=  Basic Concepts
DSP=  Converter Principles
DSP=  Digital Communication
DSP=  Digital Filters

I try to group content into a few all-encompassing subjects, like AUD ( Audio ), BASE ( important knowledge ), CAD, DSP and so on. I have about 15 such subjects. But it changes as I sometimes re-group the content within the subjects.

A re-group was creating a Mechatronics subject, which points to concepts as Robotics, Control Theory, Mechanical Analogies and other sub-subjects. These sub-subjects makes nice relations within the Mechatronics subject.

The listing includes these special attributes :

A Is just a visual separator ( empty folder ) between each subject. I try to use a single character for clarity.

AUD= .Acoustics Where Audio is the subject. The dot or point in .Acoustics is used for sorting, forcing Acoustics to be listed first, as well as to indicate this is an important item within this subject. The equal = character indicates that there is a organized sub folder here including files related to the subject.

AUDz Reviews The z character replacing an equal = character indicates that there is an un-organized sub folder here including a mess of files ( that should be organized ).

BASE^ LabVIEW and the NI World The presence of the ^ character indicates that this is a sub folder consisting of more subject folders instead of files. This concept is a convenient way to avoid having too many folders at the highest nesting level. The used special characters ensures that a folder link to a sub folder with additional subjects is listed first.

Sub folders at the next highest nesting level :

The next highest nesting level may contain :

  • Either files for the subject.
  • Or it may contain more folders related to the subject to avoid having too many folders at the highest nesting level.

BASE^ LabVIEW and the NI World is an example of a sub folder with additional subject folders instead of files. This is the folder listing :

A=  Language, Classic and NXG
B=  Actor Framework and OOP
C=  Project, SVN, EXE-built and more
D=  Digital Signal Processing
E=  MathScript, Matlab and HiQ
F=  Vision
G=  SQL
H=  Remote Panels and Computing
I=  Sim and Control, Simulink, PID and Fuzzy Logic
J=  Kalman Filtering
K=  Test Automation
L=  Python and LabPython
M=  Assorted
N=  Toolkits
O=  References
P=  NI-DAQ, VISA, PXI and more
Q=  DLL, CIN and more
R=  DMA, Buffers and more
S=  myRIO and CompactRIO
T=  ELVIS ( look in the Mechatronics chapter )
U=  Hardware and more
V=  CVI aka LabWindows Language
W=  ComponentWorks
X=  Measurement Studio
Y=  ActiveX, ATL, COM and OLE
Z=  Multisim
Ø=  Newsletter and more

The full content is listed to show that it may be convenient to add a character is front, like A= in order to control what is listing first ( most often used or most relevant or whatever ).

But the sub folder could also have looked like the folder listing shown for the highest nesting level. The only rule here is that it should look good to the reader ( me ).

Sub folders at the lowest nesting level :

The lowest nesting level ( either second or third ) holds the actual files related to the subject. Here is a listing :

-1  = Introductions and Tutorials
-3  = Comprehensive Texts
-4  = Fluffy Texts
-5  = Comprehensive Documentation
-A  = LabVIEW Technical Resource
#1
#1x = Documentation Resources Index ¤ 2018.html
#1i = Get Start with LabVIEW ¤ 2013 ¤ 89p ¤ NI.pdf
#1x = Introduction to LabVIEW ¤ 2016 ¤ 71p.pptx
#1i = LabVIEW Fundamentals ¤ 2005 ¤ 165p ¤ NI.pdf
#1x = Tips LabVIEW Development ¤ 2007 ¤ 39p.pdf
#3
#3i = LabVIEW - User Manual ¤ 2003 ¤ 349p ¤ NI.pdf
#4
#4i = Best Pract. for BDs and FPs ¤ 2011 ¤ 115p.pdf
#4i = GPOWER XNodes and VIMs ¤ 2016 ¤ 33p.pdf
#4x = SW Eng Tools with LabVIEW - Hands On ¤ 43p.pdf
#4i = LabVIEW - Dev Guidelines ¤ 2003 ¤ 97p ¤ NI.pdf
#4i = LabVIEW - Meas. Manual ¤ 2000 ¤ 358p ¤ NI.pdf
#4i = LabVIEW - Meas. Manual ¤ 2003 ¤ 159p ¤ NI.pdf
#4x = LabVIEW Graph Dev - Hands On ¤ 2006 ¤ 126p.pdf
#4x = What is LV used for ¤ ViewPoint Systems.html
#5
#5i = G Prog Reference Manual ¤ 1998 ¤ 667p ¤ NI.pdf
#5i = Func and VI Ref Manual ¤ 1999 ¤ 609p ¤ NI.pdf
#5i = LabVIEW Version 5.1 Addendum ¤ 1999 ¤ 108p.pdf
#5i = The LabVIEW Style Book ¤ 363p.pdf
#A
#Ax = LabVIEW Technical Resource 1996 Q3 ¤ 24p.pdf
#Ax = LabVIEW Technical Resource 1999 Q3 ¤ 8p.pdf
#Ax = Tech. Res. Introduces Bundled Value Packs.pdf

The listing include both folders ( in bold ) and files ( in blue-ish ).

The listing also include these special attributes :

#1 Which is a visual separator ( empty file ) between each group. I try to use a single character for clarity.

-1 The minus sign preceding the number or character is important as it controls what an iPad lists first. So the folder names starts with this character to ensure they are listed first.

The folders shown first are empty and are only used as a convenient Index Card content overview of the files.

Both the iPad and a computer indicates folders with one type of icon and files with other types of icons which adds to the ease of content overview.

The numbers ( 0 to 9 ) shown in the folder names are reserved to always read this ( when included ) :

-0  = Recommended Texts
-1  = Introductions and Tutorials
-2  = Brief Concise Texts
-3  = Comprehensive Texts
-4  = Fluffy Texts
-5  = Comprehensive Documentation
-8  = History or Background
-9  = Handbook ( covers everything )

The recommended text is listed first. The other texts are listed in “heavy” order.

The characters ( A to Y ) can be included as needed. Z has a special meaning. It is listed last and indicates that the subject includes one or more zip files that may be convenient to have here :

-Z  = ZIPs and more

Marking OCR state of a file :

#1i #1x #1z #1 The characters x, i, z and no-character in a file name indicates the OCR state of the file, meaning whether it can be searched for text phrases.

A PDF file can have one of several states :

  • i means that the file contains a text layer that can be searched -and- the text includes a Table of Content ( ~ bookmark listing ). That is the preferred file quality where text can be found by searching and a content overview is presented by the ToC.
  • x is as i except there is no ToC. This kind of file is still searchable but it is difficult getting a quick overview of the content. A ToC should be added but making one is tedious work.
  • z is a file that that doesn’t include a searchable text layer. A “text” page is just an image. Such a file should be run through an OCR program to include a text layer so that the file as a minimum can be searched.
  • no-character is a file that has not been checked for the presence of a text layer. Meaning it should be checked when convenient.

A HTML file is always text and illustrations so it can always be searched. But it never includes a Table of Content. It is always a x.

Round-Up :

This concludes the description of my preferred off-line file organization. The basic idea is to present the files attractively in my preferred style. It requires some discipline to maintain but as long as the organization can be done on a PC ( using Total Commander ) it is manageable.

Take notice of the use of empty folders as a Content or Index Card listing giving a quick impression of the files content within a subject folder. Somewhat like an Index Drawer as they could be found in a Library, in old days. That concept can be tweaked as desired.

How-to Use an iPad to browse an external PDF Library

Summary :

How to use the iPad as a reading tool for a large library of files.

The use of two specific apps is suggested :

  • FileExplorer Pro does almost all what is needed.
  • And Files complements FileExplorer Pro very well for the missing parts.

Which easily handles the suggested use of a :

  • A ( simple in-expensive ) personal Network Server ( SMB or WEBdav ).

The Challenge :

iOS does not directly allow an old iPad to access external storage, like an USB storage of some kind. Not even in version 13.

So what to do when you want to browse your library of 30GB of PDF files and HTML files. Thousands of files ..

Why bother :

The 9.7″ iPad has a superior display. It is bright, high resolution and it has the right display proportions, 4:3 ( 2048×1536 ). So in portrait orientation it resembles reading a book. And it is lightweight. It doesn’t get ( much ) better than that.

What not to do :

Have a little horror/fun reading this procedure how to transfer PDF files to an iPad :


The Solution – Preamble :

I have tinkered to find the proper solution for years. The primary problem is that I don’t like the way Apple wants me to do things.

What I describe next is what really works for me. Maybe others will benefit from reading about my setup.

Apple wants me to copy any file I want to read into the storage space allocated for the file reader, say iBooks. That cumbersome procedure would be OK if I knew which file I wanted to read, in advance. But often I don’t know that or I jump from one reading one file to reading another. Just browsing.   

Apple also wants me to put all files into one big container. No separation of related files into sub folder. Apple prefers to have you tag the files and sort files according to their tags. This concept has worked in iTunes for decades, so it does work. But not for books though as there is no standard concept of tagging books.

But I won’t rely on embedded tagging. I am basically a Windows guy. I want file separation in folders and sub folders. And I want to see files arranged according to their names in folders named according to subject.

One option would be to copy all of the files to the storage space for the preferred file reader. The space is there. But you will soon figure out that you have problems :

  • Can you cluster your files into folders of related content. Not all file readers support that.
  • Can you see a nice organized listing of the files. And not just a mess of file icons and a silly shortened version of the file name. Again not always.
  • Can you re-organize the files if you rename a file or want to put it into another folder. Again not always.

Any seasoned iPad user will recognize these problems and will know that an iPad isn’t the space and isn’t the tool, where you want to keep the files you want to manage.

Searching files :

I should mention that Windows and Linux allows the use of a program called DocFetcher. It is kind of a local Google Search Engine and will index the files content on a drive or a folder. It is brilliant. Except it doesn’t exist for iOS.

The Solution – The Network part :

The White Knight To The Rescue is the concept of Cloud space, or in broader terms (personal-) Network space.

Some put the files and folders onto a Cloud space. It could be Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive and more. I don’t quite like that solution because it means that you will need access to public WWAN or LAN and you will need to download files from the Cloud. Which may be slow and may cost you. Among other limitations.

I prefer the personal Network space solution. This solution means that you establish your own mobile personal Server and your own private speedy WLAN and access the files using the iPad when you need a file. And you can just manage the files to your liking using your normal computer. No need to sync to any iPad or Cloud.

In order for the personal Network space solution to work you need an app on the iPad that :

  • can connect to the server without fuzz, that is having a proper UI,
  • present the content in an organized way,
  • transfer the file you want to read to the iPad without fuzz,
  • open the file for reading and finally when done reading,
  • delete the file copy on the iPad.    

When you look at it then you realize that the iPad concept is really not designed for this kind of use. You need an app that is both a competent network connector, a competent file browser and a competent file reader. Competent in the way I understand it. Which may be different from what other understands as competent.

Quite surprisingly these apps exist and at least one of them is just right for this purpose.

The Solution – The Devices part :

In order to select the right app then you have to figure out what kind of network protocol you want to use. I see two protocol candidates :

  • SMB and
  • WEBdav

SMB is the protocol a NAS uses. You don’t want to tug around a real NAS but there are some smaller one’s ( with less features ).

WEBdav is a protocol WEB designers use to manage files. It is a protocol for file exchange, but for some reason not popular and mostly not properly supported by apps even if they claim to support it.

A mobile SMB server could be this one :

The Verbatim MediaShare Wireless. The size is like a 2.5″ hard disk. It is not heavy.

The thing includes a decent battery lasting hours, but includes no internal storage. So you insert a SD card and/or attach an USB SSD disk/stick. It supports ExFAT and NTFS but not HFS.

It generates its own network ( 10.10.10.254 ) and it supports pass-through to another LAN and the Internet. And pass-through really works as claimed which is a major feat.

It actually supports bridging between its own network and computers on the home network. Quite impressive.

It is not a media server like most NAS’s. No Twonky server or anything.

The best thing is that it is surprisingly cheap ( in 2020 ). 25$ or so. 

A mobile WEBdav server could be this one :

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick. The size can be judged by the copper cover for the USB connector. So it is small.

The thing includes a tiny battery ( for a few hours ) and internal storage in selected sizes. It is formatted in ExFAT. So you just connect it to the computer to manage the files to your liking. The storage is speedy as a good SD storage, but not SSD speedy.

It generates its own network ( 172.25.63.1 ) when not connected to USB and it should support pass-through to another LAN and the Internet. Pass-through usually fails so don’t count on that feature.

The drive functionality is very robust and if a file gets locked the app software can fix that. I have not lost any files or have had any file system corruption which is quite nice for a hot-plug device.

The thing is also surprisingly cheap ( in 2020 ). 25$ or so for 64GB.

The Solution – The App(s) part :

So now remains to find the iPad apps that will support these servers and have the desired PDF file reading characteristics :

  • Built-in file manager that supports the desired servers.
  • Connects to the server without fuzz. And remembers the selected setup.
  • Immediate start of file transfer when clicking on a file without unnecessary questions, like where to copy to and similar ( and worse ) annoyances.
  • Does not create a local copy just for reading a remote file.
  • Includes file name phrase search which is useful when locating a file among thousands.
  • File selection lists are multi line so long titles can be read in full length.
  • Supports chapter index ( aka Content Index ) lookup.
  • Supports go-to desired page or at least search for page number.
  • Supports phrase search in the file.
  • Both landscape and portrait view supported.
  • Supports expand-to-width view.
  • Optional : Supports viewing 2 pages at the same time.

I have -only- found this app :

FileExplorer Pro

  • Supports both SMB and WEBdav.
  • Supports all the desired features except for the 2 page viewing mode.

The mentioned servers also comes with their own app including a file browser and a file reader ( for both HTML and PDF ). But the problem is that the included file readers are bare bones as available in the development kits for iOS. No search, No page scroll. Not usable for reading anything except pamphlets and such.

Android version :

Although not the subject of this posting ( no need for such ) then a similar FE version for Android is worth looking at. It contains a nice file browser including network access and it opens documents using the Android preferred reader for whatever file type.

The Solution – The less useful App(s) part :

There are more apps that will read from one or both of the servers. A listing of other reputed and (well-known) candidates could be :

FileBrowser

  • Simple browsing.
  • Does not generate a local file copy.
  • No distinctive PDF reading features except page view.

Documents 5

  • Cannot connect to anything even if it thinks it does.
  • Pity because it is a nice PDF reader.

GoodReader

  • Very unfriendly file browser and a very clumsy file selection procedure.
  • Pity because it a superior PDF reader and PDF editor.

There aren’t that many apps that are candidates. Which makes sense when you think of all the disciplines a good app must master.

The Solution – Summary :

This concludes my exploration into having a nice PDF reading setup :

  • It works reliable.
  • It is affordable.
  • It is easy to maintain.
  • It is easy to carry around.
  • It works as long as you need if you bring along a little Powerbox. 

I have stated that the setup is intended to be used in a scenario to conveniently select a file from thousands such.

Actually I would use the same setup to manage just 10 files.

The Solution – Integrating with Files :

The newer versions of iOS includes a very useful app called Files. It is an app that let other apps expose their files to the Files app. Files can then do something with those files.

FileExplorer Pro supports Files. So when selecting FileExplorer Pro as the server in Files then Files can browse the content. Files show file names abbreviated ( shows start and end but cuts the middle part ) which is quite annoying but still usable.

The reason to bother using Files at all is that it has a few browsing tricks :

  • It allows you to simply jump from file to file within a folder while Quick View a small part of the file. Just like browsing through a mail listing in Outlook. The app jumps from file to file when swiping left-right. Swiping up-down selects page.
  • It has a chapter index pull-down like viewing option while viewing a file. Except that it shows a listing of the files within the folder instead. So one can easily jump one selected file to another.
  • There is no file name search nor text search for phrases within a file.
  • It has built-in basic viewers of various file types. Fine for browsing.

Files complements FileExplorer Pro very well for the missing parts.

Using Files as quick browser for the documents made accessible by FileExplorer Pro is a combo that must be tried in real life before the usefulness can be fully appreciated. A game changer in my opinion.

And now for something different :

There is an iOS app that offers an alternative route to transfer PDF files.

PDF Reader PRO

This app opens its local space for a browser located on your computer. You can then see what is located on the apps local iPad space and upload additional content from the computer. It is a unusual way of doing things and could be quite usable. And the PDF reader/editor is very competent.

File handling in the app is a mess however. No proper folder concept. The uploaded files cannot be downloaded by the same browser mechanism. It has been so for years. So the browser concept is obviously deprecated. The app also connects to a WEBdav server. Except it doesn’t work.

Pocket Drive

This app supports the same browser concept as PDF Reader Pro. The UI is a mess however. I guess it targets multimedia use.

Link to a 2020 review of 15 PDF apps which focus on general PDF use :