Free Boot Managers and Multi-Boot Loaders

Boot multiple operating systems on one computer

Free Boot Managers and Multi-Boot Loaders

If you want to boot more than one operating system ("OS") on a single computer, a boot manager or multi-boot loader comes in handy. The boot loader allows you to easy create and configure a boot menu so that you can select which OS to boot, set a timeout so that a certain OS is booted if no keys are pressed within a certain time limit, and even prevent the booting of certain operating systems on a computer if a certain password is not entered. Note that some operating systems, like most (if not all) of the free Linux distributions already come with their own boot loader that can dual boot / triple boot Linux, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and other systems that you want.

Commercial boot managers, like Terabyte's BootIt Collection usually provide additional features, like the ability to work on both the traditional BIOS and modern UEFI systems, partition your hard disks and fix partition errors, securely erasing a partition or entire hard disk and clone and/or image (backup) a partition or drive.

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Free MultiBoot Loaders

rEFInd Boot Manager

The rEFInd is a boot manager that works on EFI and UEFI systems, capable of booting Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux on the local computer, as well as boot from a network boot server. You can manually configure the list of operating systems to boot, or have it automatically detect the systems available. The boot menu can also be customized to display your own icons for each system, the background, etc. You can install it from within Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. This is open source software.

XOSL (Extended Operating System Loader) Boot Manager

XOSL installs itself into a dedicated partition (which you have to create yourself). The initial installation has to be done from real mode MS-DOS (not a DOS prompt window running in Windows). Operating systems that it can boot include MS-DOS, FreeDOS, Linux (with LILO), Windows 95/98/NT/2000, Solaris, BeOS, etc. You can password protect certain boot items, set a automatic boot timeout, install up to 24 operating systems, swap drives, etc.

GAG The Graphical Boot Manager

GAG boots up to 9 operating systems from either the primary or extended partitions. It installs itself into the boot track, has support for a timer to boot a default operating system, includes password-protection for the configuration menu as well as for individual operating systems, has a SafeBoot system where your hard disk is booted even if GAG is overwritten, and supports hard disks of up to 4 terabytes. It is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

Smart Boot Manager

Smart Boot Manager is an OS independent boot manager that searches for drives and paritions, and automatically includes bootable partitions into its boot menu. It includes a scheduler that allows you to boot a particular system at a preset time. It has the ability to boot from CD-ROMs, boot the default boot record after a delay if no keys are pressed within a specified time, place keystrokes into the operating system's key buffer prior to booting it, etc. It also supports the password-protecting of partitions, drive and the administrative screens.

GNU GRUB - Grand Unified Bootloader

This boot loader, used in some Linux distributions by default. It is distributed here in source form; you probably already have the binary version if you are running Linux. It is able to boot multiple operating systems, including Linux, Windows, MS-DOS, etc.

LILO - Bootloader for Linuxr

LILO was a boot loader used in many Linux distributions in times of old, though it has since been superseded by others. It is distributed here in source form. This multi-boot loader can handle Linux, Windows, MS-DOS, etc, and has basic GPT and RAID support (with limitations).

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