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Originally Posted by captain_video
Only primary partitions can be made either active or inactive. If made active, it's the partition on which you install your OS. If made inactive it usually gets hidden and can only be seen with a partitioning program.
True about the primary part (as logical partitions cannot be booted from, at least with Microsoft OSs...).
But not really true about inactive partitions. Generally a data partition, even if it is a primary, will not be active. Active is just a flag to tell the boot loader (Windows boot sector) which partition to boot. Partitions aren't really hidden/visible, that's more of a volume thing. Volumes can be mounted to a drive (ie. assigned a drive letter), or can be mounted to an empty directory (much like Unix/Linux), or can not mounted at all, in which case they appear "hidden."
I have attached a screen shot from my server. Note all the data partitions, visible as drive letters, but as inactive primary partitions. You could make them active and it wouldn't really affect anything other than they really aren't supposed to be active as you can't boot from them. Note that the active partition on Disk 0 is Recovery (which is not mounted, therefore hidden). This is where the system boots from, where BOOTMGR is located and where the BCD files that control booting Windows (they point to the C: partition where Windows actually is installed) are located.
Finally, there can only be one active partition per disk, just in case that isn't obvious...