Vista Tested Boot Managers
A Vista specific issue to be aware of.
Tests to date have not uncovered any reason why the information on this page
Warnings If you already have the Microsoft bootmanager configured for dual or multibooting then you should not attempt to install and run another at the same time. It is not impossible of course, but it can cause conflicts and problems so you would need to know what you are doing. All of the bootmanagers below replace the IPL (Initial Program Loader) in the MBR and therefore could cause you serious problems if you already have a custom IPL. You should read the section on changes to the IPL on this page.
Software like EasyBCD and VistaBootPro are not third-party bootmanagers but mainly just a graphical interface to the Microsoft tools that are used to configure the Microsoft bootmanager. If you have used such an app to configure a dual or multiboot machine then you are using the MS bootmanager.
Vista created partitions are different from the old conventions and this may cause problems for some bootmanagers. When multibooting with other OSes it is recommended that you stick to standard partitioning rules so as to avoid any issues. See Vista's New Partitioning Rules. (Update:- see these two links for details about advanced format hard drives and working with the new partiton alignments).
Testing has been done with both 32 and 64bit Vista on standard PC BIOS computers with internal basic IDE and SATA hard drives. You would be advised to be cautious if your set up differs from this. No hardware or software RAID configurations have been tested. I won't recommend any particular bootmanager as I cannot test all situations and all possible hardware configurations. I'll only report my experiences and it is up to you to test things out for yourself before committing to anything on a required working machine.
Vista Compatibility There is a new and unique issue with Vista that will require specific abilities from third-party bootmanagers. I'm simply calling it the "BCD Hibernation Issue" and it only applies to Vista on second or higher hard drives and logical partitions and mainly affects the hibernation and hybrid sleep functions. The Vista OS itself will happily boot from most hard drives or partitions and many currently available bootmanagers can do this successfully without this issue causing any real problems until hibernation is attempted, or the BCD boot options are edited. See BCD is Always Open for full details. To deal with this issue fully your bootmanager will have to be able to drive swap correctly for second or higher hard drives so that Vista believes it is on the boot hard drive. For logical partitions the bootmanager will have to be able to mark the logical partition as active and remove all active flags from primary partitions.
XOSL (Extended Operating System Loader) version 1.1.5 - Dec.23.2000
Over several years old but still holding its own. Can be installed inside an existing OS but the preferable location is on its own small dedicated partition, which can even be a tiny logical at the very end of your extended partition. Does change the IPL and unfortunately while it is doing this it also changes the Disk Signature, which causes the only slight problem with XOSL. If you take care of this problem then XOSL is otherwise fully compatible with Vista and will solve the BCD Hibernation Issue for both second or higher hard drives and logical partitions. Vista uses the Disk Signature in the boot process so you can either update things so that the new signature is accepted, or preferably you can just remove Vista’s dependence on the signature so that the change has no affect. Details on how to do these things are on the cloning page. Another option would be to make a note of the Disk Signature and manually re-write it after installing XOSL. This could be done with HxD from inside Windows or with PTS-Disk Editor from DOS.
When installing XOSL you can decline the inclusion of both “Ranish Partition Manager” and “Smart Boot Manager” unless you specifically want them, so change the default install settings for these items from Yes to No. They can be added later if so desired. After installation you have to manually set up all the boot options and so a working mouse is really handy, but support for USB mice seems patchy so if you do have problems try using a PS/2 mouse if you can. The original XOSL is installed from floppy but there was a recent attempt at an update to allow installing from CD http://sourceforge.net/projects/xosl2 but there is also the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) which already includes XOSL and makes it easy to install from CD, and if your computer supports it a bootable USB memory stick.
To fully take care of the BCD Hibernation Issue you have to correctly set the boot options for Vista. For second or higher hard drives you must make sure that for each individual Vista the option ‘Swap Drives’ is checked. For Vista on logical partitions the option ‘Activate partition’ must be checked. It is also advisable when booting from logicals to hide all primary partitions on that drive and any hard drive before it in the bios boot order. There is an option in the global settings Preferences>Misc which is ‘Allow active partition per HD’ and I like to uncheck this one but it is not essential if drive swapping is working as it should.
I’ve had no issues with Vista created partitions or support for SATA hard drives. The only slight down side of XOSL is that it requires manual configuring to set the many options. No big deal if you only have a few OSes and seldom move things around, but it can get tedious if you have many OSes or make regular changes.
GAG (translates as Graphical Boot Manager) version 4.10 - last updated Oct-Nov 2008.
Can be installed to the MBR to replace the IPL, or can be entirely run from a floppy disk. Requires manual configuring to add items to the boot menu. It can't hide logical partitions and has a limit of 9 OSes. Will boot any Windows including Vista from any drive or partition but does not handle the BCD Hibernation issue for Vista on second-plus drives or logicals. Vista also requires that you don’t choose the option to ‘swap drives’ if you do want to boot it from a second-plus hard drive. I've had no issues with Vista's new partitions.
An excellent open source bootmanager. Even if you don't use GAG as your permanent bootmanager I would recommend that you keep it on floppy or CD as a recovery tool. If something messes up your system then you can boot the computer from the GAG floppy or CD and find and start the PBR of any partition, without having to actually install GAG. It bypasses the MBR on the hard drive and sets the active and hidden status of a partition as it boots it.
OSL2000 version 9.21 - December 2008. (Ver 9.03 or earlier change the Disk Signature).
MBR bootmanager that replaces the IPL and runs entirely from that location. Auto detects bootable OSes and dynamically builds the bootmenu on every bootup and so adds new items to the menu for you. Just install it and it's there and ready to go. Only configurations you really have to do is select a partition hiding option and give menu items names if you want, but it does have many other optional features. Has slightly limited partition hiding options but is very easy to install and use and is competent and dependable.
Will boot any Windows from any partition or hard drive and has no problems with Vista made partitions, but unfortunately does not yet take care of the Vista BCD Hibernation Issue on second-plus hard drives or logicals. If however you are aware of this issue and turn off Vista hibernation and don’t try to mistakenly edit the wrong BCD, then it is possible to use it for Vista on any partition or drive. I have used this bootmanager continuously since 1999 and particularly like the way it automatically handles all the system changes I'm always making.
Boot-Us version 2.1.6 – March 2005 (some previous versions should also work)
A few years since last updated but copes with Vista better than some others. Can be installed to the IPL or into an existing partition, or can be run from floppy or CD. Can boot any Windows from any drive or partition. Auto handles drive swapping and has excellent partition hiding options. Can uniquely ‘True Hide’ partitions to make them unrecognisable to Windows for when it ignores the hide flag, which can be used as a workaround in some situations with clones. Does require manual configuring but is the easiest of the manual ones here. A competent and dependable bootmanager.
Will boot Vista correctly from any primary partition on any hard drive and does cure the BCD Hibernation Issue by drive swapping in the correct manner that Vista requires. Does not cure the problem for logical partitions however but it is possible to use the true hiding option to prevent a wrong BCD being held open in the Vista logical you are booted into, but this is not an ideal or recommended solution. Vista created partitions are recognised as not conforming to standard conventions and you will get messages to this affect. I've found that most times this will not cause a problem and Boot-Us will still work with them okay, but I have had a few instances where a partition created to Vista's rules will not be offered as a boot option for adding to the bootmenu.
BootMagic version 8.00 build 253 - bundled with Partition Magic 8.0
Must have a FAT partition to be installed to. Can't Drive Swap so is unable to boot 2K/XP/2K3 from anything other than the boot drive. I have had it booting Vista from a second hard drive and from logical partitions, but more times than not it just will not behave. I have had so many problems just getting this bootmanager to install and work on modern hardware that I have given up trying to figure out the variables of why it is so flaky. It does not take care of the BCD Hibernation issue and I did not get as far as testing if it would have problems with Vista created partitions. It may have been good in its day but I have considered it unreliable for several years now. It can be very difficult or near impossible to repair or reinstall when it goes wrong. You would have to have a simple setup on oldish hardware and also have a real soft-spot for this old timer to want to experiment with it. Not recommended. If anyone does do some good testing on a range of current hardware and masters the variables then I would be happy to add your results here.
Vista suitable for primary partitions on the boot hard drive.
The Original Paragon BM version 5.6 was bundled with Partition Manager up to version 7 and then seemed to be discontinued. It was competent but a little feature poor and although is can be used with Vista in some limited situations it is not recommended.
It has recently resurfaced in Version 9 of Partition Manager and the latest versions of Hard Disk Manager but I can’t determine its current version number. It has had an update to the boot menu screen GUI and some minor function updates to allow it to recognise Vista and to support direct booting of logical partitions by their own PBRs. It was and still is an MBR bootmanager that replaces the standard IPL, but the updated version now places an extra component inside a partition, usually on the boot hard drive but could be any suitable drive. A folder called BM2005 is placed in the root of a primary partition and appears to be used entirely just to provide the colour graphics to the new boot menu screen. If you remove this folder the bootmanager continues to function as it should and simply reverts to the original text style boot menu, which is much less confusing and displays more entries on screen before needing to scroll down. Re-running the bootmanager setup will replace the BM2005 folder.
There are various things lacking with this bootmanager. It can’t drive swap so won’t boot any WinNT other than Vista from a second or higher hard drive. It does not take care of the BCD Hibernation Issue for Vista on either logical partitions or second or higher drives. The partition hiding capabilities are very limited and even worse when booting from second-plus hard drives or logicals, which can cause major issues for Windows when boot drive primaries are left visible. There is no means supplied with PM9 to install the bootmanager other than from inside Windows. With the very latest HDM Pro you do get an extra Win-PE boot CD that can do it, but it still won’t install if there is not a suitable unhidden primary partition to take the BM2005 folder.
On the plus side it is easy to install from inside Windows and requires no real configuring as it auto detects bootable OSes on every bootup and so updates the bootmenu after system changes. It is curious why it automatically adds Windows OSes it finds on other hard drives and logical partitions to the boot menu when it is unable to boot these OSes without issues. It does seem to be fully happy with Vista created partitions and worked okay for boot drive primary partitions, but I find it hard to trust a bootmanager that has got so many other things wrong with it.
Update Jan 2011 - Some testing of the currently available version shows no improvement. If anything it has got worse since my original review and I’m not wasting any more time on it. It is seriously out of date and needs withdrawing from the market place - Avoid at all costs.
OS Selector - Build 2160 - bundled with Disk Director Suite 10
Can be installed inside an existing OS or to its own small dedicated partition. Should detect installed OSes and automatically add them to the bootmenu. Will under the correct conditions work for Vista on primary partitions on any hard drive, but cannot drive swap in the manner Vista requires and so does not take care of the BCD hibernation issue for second or higher hard drives. However it may be possible depending on your configuration to prevent the wrong BCD being held open by specifying which boot drive primary will be set active, or by using the 'Force Hiding' option to make a partition inaccessible. This bootmanager won’t natively configure the booting of any independent WinNT from a logical partition, but it is possible to force this by manually editing an OSS configuration file, but this would be beyond the average user. When a logical is booted it is again not possible to completely take care of the BCD hibernation issue.
Support for Vista was recently added but there are still problems with getting OSS to see Vista and automatically add it to the boot menu. If any of your Vista installs have a generalized BCD, or even a slightly non standard BCD as sometimes can be the case with preinstalled Vista machines with manufacturer’s recovery systems, then OSS will not see that install of Vista and so won’t add it to the bootmenu or even allow you to do so with the ‘OS Detection Wizard”. Replacing the BCD with a properly specialized and standard MS example may let the Detection Wizard work, if not then the only option would be another difficult manual edit of the bootwiz.oss file in the main BOOTWIZ folder.
OS Selector is more than just a boot manager and its main party piece is the ability to make duplicates of installed operating systems and run these from the same partition as the original. The claim of it being able to boot a 100 operating systems is based on running several or more from the same partition. To do this OSS has to do some complex juggling of system files to avoid conflicts. It never was a good idea and in recent years has been made redundant by virtualization and the improved knowledge of how to get independent Windows to boot directly from logical partitions. I did make a few attempts to copy a Vista install but the program would just exit or drop to a blank screen and do nothing.
Even without ever using the other side of OSS there are still numerous things wrong with this boot manager. The main one being that it writes files into every operating system on every drive, even USB drives and flash drives. It copies and bypasses and even modifies the normal OS system files. The whole computer will become dependent on OSS and any casual cloning or moving around of partitions or drives can cause serious problems and leave you with broken OSes with missing system files – I had a high instance of missing boot.ini files. I've found you have to completely uninstall the whole of Disk Director Suite and hope it rolls the system back perfectly before you can use anything other than OSS itself to make even the simplest of changes. On top of all that it is buggy and unreliable and always has been since I first encountered it in version 5 back in 2001. My own experience is that any more than two hard drives and a few OSes and it becomes seriously untrustworthy. During my testing for Vista the initial install failed on 3 out of 5 test rigs and left me with unbootable machines, one of which on the first reboot locked on a black screen and constant bios beep!
Acronis OS Selector is extremely intrusive and has an unusual and complex method of operation. It can be made to work with Vista but it is a hit or miss affair and if you are not one of the lucky ones then it will be a high learning curve to put things right. So unless you have a very simple set up, or you are familiar with this bootmanager's limitations and have already mastered its quirks and bugs, or you are up for a challenge, then I would advise you to give it a wide berth. Not Recommended.
Update Jan 2011 - I have not re-tested OSS since this review but I get enough feedback on it to tell me it is still trashing peoples' computers. Several folks have referred to it as being worse than a virus!! This piece of wreckage has been giving multibooting a bad reputation for 10 years now. Avoid it like the plague.
BING 1.83a – Jan 2008 (Versions as early as at least 1.74 can be used if set correctly).
Can be installed inside an existing OS or to its own small dedicated partition, which in both cases has to be a FAT primary partition, but this can be on any connected drive. Can be installed from CD, floppy or USB flash drive. Replaces the IPL and also keeps a small part of itself there. Auto detects bootable OSes and adds them all to the second of two boot menus it is possible to use, but you do have to manually configure the primary bootmenu to set many of the required options for correct booting, which can become a chore if you have many OSes or make regular system configuration changes. It does drive-swap correctly for Vista and also sets active partitions as required and so can completely take care of the BCD hibernation issue for Vista on any hard drive or logical partition. For Vista on second plus drives you have to make sure ‘Swap’ is checked. For logicals the active partition is pretty much taken care of automatically, but you have to uncheck the option in settings “Make HDO Active” if booting Vista from a logical on the first drive.
Has the added ability to emulate more than 4 primary partitions per hard drive, but I am not an advocate of such things and have not tested this side of it, but I would have little doubt that it has been made compatible with Vista. You should fully understand how such a system works and be aware of the resulting limitations that using it can impose. With multiple hard drives now common, along with virtualization and the direct booting of logical partitions, it is possible to have all the OSes you could ever want without having to resort to such measures.
Of course BootIT is more than just a bootmanager as it also has the ability to partition and clone and create and restore images, but I have never personally used any of these functions, preferring the greater speed of working from inside a booted OS. I’ve had no issues of consequence with Vista and the bootmanager part of BootIT and I would not question its ability in the other areas. As just a bootmanager it is competent and infinitely configurable, but this also makes it unreasonably complex with a lot of manual settings that make for a high learning curve for those new to such things. Important to read the instructions before you install.