Multi-boot or Multi-booting is the act of installing multiple operating systems on a computer, and being able to choose which one to boot when starting the computer. The term dual-booting refers to the common configuration of exactly two operating systems. Multi-booting requires a program called a boot manager.
I collected here some free and commercial boot managers and some tools to configure Windows Boot Manager.
Free Boot Managers
GAG is a Boot Manager program. It’s loaded when the computer is turned on and allows you to choose the operating system you want to use.
- Allows boot of up to 9 different operating systems.
- It can boot operating systems installed in primary and extended partitions on any available hard disk.
- Can be installed from nearly all operating systems.
- GAG doesn’t need its own partition. It installs itself in the first track of the hard disk, wich is reserved for these kinds of programs. It can also be instaled on a floppy disk, without using the hard disk.
- It has a timer to boot a default operating system (selectable by the user).
- The configuration menu can be protected with a password.
- The program works in graphic mode (needs a VGA or better graphic card), and has a lot of icons.
- Hides the primary partitions which allows the user to have instaled more than one DOS and/or Windows in the same hard disk.
- Allows a password to be put on each operating system, denying access to non-authorized people.
- Allows the boot manager text to be translated to all languages.
- Can exchange disk drives, allowing to boot from the second, third… hard disk operating systems such as MS-DOS.
- Has the SafeBoot system, that allows to boot your hard disk even if GAG is accidentally overwrited.
- Supports a great variety of keyboards (QWERTY, AZERTY, QWERTZ and DVORAK keyboards).
- Fully support for hard disks up to 4 terabytes (4096 gigabytes).
- Full version and free software (distributed under GPL licence, with source code)
GNU GRUB (short for GNU GRand Unified Bootloader) is a boot loader package from the GNU Project. GRUB (shortened form of GNU GRUB) is the reference implementation of the Multiboot Specification, which enables a user to have multiple operating systems on his computer, and choose which one to run when the computer starts. GRUB can be used to select from different kernel images available on a particular operating system’s partitions, as well as pass boot-time parameters to such kernels.
LILO is a Boot loader for Linux/x86 and other PC operating systems. It is responsible for loading your Linux kernel from either a floppy or a hard drive and passing control to it. It is capable of booting beyond cylinder 1024 of a hard disk if the BIOS supports EDD packet call extensions to the int 0×13 interface. LILO can also be used to boot many other operating systems, including DOS, Windows (all versions), OS/2, and the BSD variants.
Multiple Boot Manager (MBM)
Multiple Boot Manager (MBM) is a boot management program distributed as an Open Source Software (GNU GPL). MBM has following features.
- It can select a boot partition with boot menu at boot up.
- Supports drive size of up to 2TB and can boot from the patitions in the 2nd or later drive and logical patitions. (Depends on each OS)
- No patition is required to install the boot maneger it self.
- Supports up to four physical drives. (Must be recognized by BIOS)
- Built-in partition table editor can manipulate partiotion table to create/delete/modify partitons on the drive. This will help to build multi-OS environment.
- Optional graphic based boot menu and the menu builder is available.
Plop Boot Manager
The Plop Boot Manager is a small program to boot different operating systems. The boot manager has a builtin ide cdrom and usb driver to access those hardware without the help/need of a bios. You can boot the operating systems from harddisk, floppy, CD/DVD or from USB. You can start the boot manager from floppy, CD, network and there are many more ways to start the boot manager. You can install the boot manager on your harddisk. There is no extra partition required for the boot manager.
Extended Operating System Loader (XOSL) is a full-featured free/open source (GPL) boot manager with a real, easy-to-use and full-blown graphical user interface. XOSL can dual boot over 30 various operating systems on a single disk.
Note: XOSL is not under active development (but it works), last realease: XOSL 1.1.5 (December 23, 2000)
Commercial Boot Managers
Acronis OS Selector
Acronis Disk Director Home includes a boot manager called Acronis OS Selector that is powerful, reliable, and easy-to-use.
Running on Windows XP systems and higher (including Windows 7), it allows you to install multiple operating systems on one computer. You can boot an operating system from any partition on any hard disk or have several multiboot systems on the same partition. It’s easy to use and fast.
BootIt Next Generation
BootIt NG is a partition and multi-boot manager with a powerful and simple-to-use set of tools for partitioning, imaging, and multi-booting your computer.
Boot-US is an universal boot manager. It allows you to easily use of all your existing operating systems completely independent of each other. The boot manager can be comfortably installed directly under Windows.
MasterBooter is a boot manager which can be used to install and maintain more operating systems on a PC. System names, passwords are customizable. You can set the delay time, default system and beeping. It also has FAT hiding support, partition protecting from unauthorized access and customizable menu colors.
- A DOS or Win9x/ME based bootdisk or CD is enough for installation
- Capability of booting from any harddisk’s any partition
- Can boot many types of operating systems: Win9x/ME, WinNT/Win2000/WinXP/Win2003/Vista/7, MS-DOS, Novell DOS, Caldera DR-DOS, IBM DOS, OpenDOS, PTS-DOS, Linux, FreeBSD, SCO OpenServer, OS/2 (Warp, Merlin), OS X, Solaris, Oberon, Theos, BeOS, Unknown OS with ‘standard’ boot process
- Programmable delay time
- Dynamic hiding of primary FAT, NTFS/HPFS partitions
- Password protecting partitions
- Protecting partitions using special keystrokes at boot time
- Optional beeping when the boot menu appears
- Optional floppy boot support
- Up to 8 operating systems on a single computer without the hassle of boot disks (3 in the shareware version)
- Small memory and harddisk space requirement for the setup program only. The loader doesn’t use any memory or partition space
- Support for command line options to customize your boot menu (registered version only)
- Safety and easy-to-use user interface
- Advanced disk partitioning utility – EFDISK – is included
OSL2000 is an advanced multi boot manager. Using OSL2000, you can easily install, boot and manage up to 100 independent OSs in your system. A boot manager is a program that lets you have multiple operating systems in your system. OSL2000 boot manager, in addition to being a normal boot manager, has advanced features that let you seamlessly install, boot and manage 100s of OSs like Windows (all versions), Linux, DOS, etc.
zBoot Manager is an effective boot manager and partition manager, which allows you to easily install and use multiple operating systems on a single hard drive. It can even boot OS from second HD. zBoot Manager supports most types of systems such as DOS, Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP, Linux, and you won’t have to reinstall the system you’re using right now. You’ll be able to install up to 8 operating systems. It eliminates the need for FDISK. Directly set up 32 primary partitions with the built-in utility. Once set-up, the program displays a menu whenever you boot up, you simply select an operating system to run it on your computer. For security, selected systems may be password protected.
Windows Boot Manager (Windows Vista/Windows Server 2008/Windows 7)
The Windows Boot Manager (BOOTMGR) reads the boot configuration data and displays an operating system selection menu, and is thus, in some respects, equivalent to the boot selection menu functionality of NTLDR in prior versions of Windows NT. Boot Configuration Data (BCD) is a firmware-independent database for boot-time configuration data, and is used by Windows Boot Manager. Boot Configuration Data may be altered using a command-line tool (bcdedit.exe), by using Windows Management Instrumentation, or with 3rd party tools.
BCDEdit command line options: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc709667(WS.10).aspx
Tools To Configure Windows Boot Manager
EasyBCD is NeoSmart Technologies’ multiple award-winning answer to taking control of your bootloader. EasyBCD extends and revamps the Windows Vista/Windows 7 BCD bootloader, and with EasyBCD, almost anything is possible. Setting up and configuring a dual-boot between Windows 7, Windows Vista, older versions of Windows such as XP & 2003, Linux, Ubuntu, BSD, and Mac OS X is a breeze. You just point & click and EasyBCD does the rest.
Note: EasyBCD is not a real boot manager, but a tool to configure Windows Boot Manager.
DualBootPRO has been designed specifically to make manipulation and editing of the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store easy to use for both novice and advanced users. DualBootPRO also includes built-in diagnostics to help find and correct errors in the BCD store.
Note: DualBootPRO is not a real boot manager, but a tool to configure Windows Boot Manager.
Tags: Acronis Disk Director, Acronis OS Selector, boot, boot loader, boot manager, Boot-US, BootIt Next Generation, dual boot, DualBootPro, EasyBCD, GAG, GRUB, LILO, MasterBooter, multiboot, Multiple Boot Manager (MBM), OSL2000, Plop Boot Manager, XOSL, zBoot Manager