Microsoft

Boot multiple operating systems with OSL2000--but prepare for a complicated setup

The OSL2000 Boot Manager is designed to let you run multiple operating systems on a single PC. See how to acquire and install the application, and read about one unsuccessful attempt to create a Windows/Linux dual-boot PC using this tool.


The OSL2000 Boot Manager from OSLoader.com is designed to be small, efficient, and easy to use. According to the manufacturer, it can also handle up to a hundred operating systems on a single PC, including Windows, DOS, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, and BeOS. I wanted to create a test machine that could dual-boot Red Hat Linux 9.0 and Windows 2000, so I decided to give OSL2000 a try.

Acquiring and installing OSL2000
I downloaded the free trial version of OSL2000 from OSLoader.com. The downloadable ZIP file was a mere 135 KB, and although the software was a trial version, no features were disabled. I extracted the OSL2000 files to a folder on my hard drive and was pleased that the entire folder was only 338 KB.

According to the License.txt file included in the OSL2000 archive file, OSL2000 can be "freely distributed in its original form, and you can make as many copies as you want." But the OSL2000 download Web page says that if you want to use it on a regular basis, you must register the software. The registration fee is $25 per copy for nine or fewer copies, and the price goes down with the more copies you register.

With the ZIP extracted, I was ready to install OSL2000. Even though OSL2000 supports many operating systems, the installer requires that your machine start off as a Windows machine. From my Windows 2000 machine, I launched the installation wizard by double-clicking the Setup.exe file and was presented with the OSL2000 Boot Manager screen, shown in Figure A. I was glad to see OSL2000 provide an Uninstall button. The last boot manager I tried lacked an uninstall option and eventually trashed one of my systems.

Figure A


I clicked the Install button, and the installer asked whether I wanted to create an uninstall disk. I clicked Yes and was prompted to insert a blank, formatted floppy disk. The installer spent the next 30 or 40 seconds creating my uninstall disk. When it finished, I ejected the disk and clicked OK. Almost as fast as I could blink, a message appeared indicating that the installation was complete.

Using OSL2000
After I exited the installer, I was please to see that my computer was still running. However, the installer hadn't placed any icons on my desktop or shortcuts on my Start menu. Windows seemed completely unaffected by the change. With some apprehension, I decided to reboot the machine to see what would happen.

Windows shut down normally, but when the machine rebooted, I was presented with the Boot Manager screen. I can't show you an image of this screen because it was running outside of the PC's operating system, but several screenshots of OSL2000 in action are available on OSLoader.com.

As I examined OSL2000 more closely, I found both positives and negatives. On the plus side, OSL2000 allows you to boot from any partition on your system (including from those found on removable media). You can also configure a partition as the default and set a timer that will autoload the default operating system after a predetermined amount of time. There are also options for renaming, hiding, and removing existing partitions. Another nice feature is the ability to lock the boot manager to prevent accidental changes to the partition table.

On the negative side, I was disappointed that OSL2000 provided no mechanism for creating new partitions, resizing existing partitions, or installing an alternate operating system. When building a multiboot machine, you must create partitions outside of OSL2000 and manually install operating systems onto them.

Not much luck with Linux or Windows
I decided to take the plunge and try the software out on my Linux machine. Initially, I formatted the hard drive, created a small partition, and installed Windows 2000 Professional. I then installed OSL2000 and Linux.

Although both operating systems worked, the Linux boot manager overwrote the OSL2000 Boot Manager. The OSL2000 README file explained that this is a frequent problem and that to get around it, I would need to reinstall OSL2000. I reinstalled but didn't have any luck. The Linux boot manager was still dominant.

I did a little more digging and found a reference that said Linux requires you to modify a couple of lines in the /etc/lilo.conf file before OSL2000 will work—these modifications are also outlined on the OSL2000 Support Web page.

I made the necessary modifications, rebooted into Windows, reinstalled OSL2000, and rebooted yet again. To my delight, OSL2000 was active. Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived: OSL2000 recognized the Linux partitions but gave me an error message stating that it could not boot Linux because the Linux operating system was missing. I tried several tweaks of the /etc/lilo.conf file but to no avail, and I was unable to locate any additional troubleshooting information on the OSLoader.com Web site or in OSL2000's README file.

TechRepublic senior editor Bill Detwiler also tried to make the application work with Linux, but failed. His test machine has two hard drives in removable hard drive bays: one with Windows XP Pro and one with Red Hat Linux 7.0. He normally has both hard drives set to primary master and uses only one drive at a time. OSL2000 would allow him to keep both hard drives in the machine simultaneously—one set as master and one as slave—and he could then choose which drive to boot from using OSL2000. But Bill had no better luck than I did. OSL2000 refused to boot the Linux drive, returning the error message that the operating system could not be found. Even after multiple edits to the /etc/lilo.conf file, OSL2000 failed to boot Linux. If he removed the Windows XP Pro drive, which OSL2000 was installed on, and used just the Linux drive set as master, Linux booted fine.

Bill did have limited success getting OSL2000 to dual-boot both Windows XP Pro and Windows 98, again using two hard drives—the primary drive using Windows XP Pro and the slave using Windows 98. OSL2000 detected and booted both operating systems. Unfortunately, after successfully booting Windows 98, he was unable to boot Windows XP Pro.

I had slightly better luck, as I was able to boot my Windows 2000 installation with no problem. I was also able to easily remove OSL2000 by running the OSL2000 Setup.exe file and choosing the Uninstall option. The installer asked me to insert the uninstall disk, and after a couple of seconds, I received a message stating that OSL2000 had been uninstalled. I rebooted once more just to make sure. OSL2000 had indeed uninstalled itself, and Windows booted normally.

The verdict
OSL2000 is definitely not for the PC novice. Although it installed quickly and easily, neither Bill nor I could make it work properly on a multiboot system. This doesn't mean OSL2000 is a bad product or won't work for you, but our experience illustrates that you should be prepared to spend some time configuring your system after installing it, and you should make backups when possible. I'm going to continue tinkering with OSL2000 because I think it has potential. If you've used OSL2000 successfully or had problems similar to ours, we would love to hear about them. Post a comment to this article and share your experiences.

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