Software

Review: GAG the Graphical Boot Loader

If you are looking for a reliable and simple graphical boot menu, GAG might have something to offer if your hardware is of a certain vintage.

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For the most part, given the incredible amounts of processing power, disk space, and memory we can throw at a modern PC, virtual machine products are the weapon of choice when experimenting with multiple operating systems within their own respective sandboxes. Sometimes though, depending on your requirements, dual or triple booting operating systems loaded directly on real hardware is more advantageous, either for performance or hardware compatibility reasons. In order to easily pick your poison every time you fire up your PC, including a solid boot menu is a good idea.

Although you might be able to get away with the likes of GRUB or the Windows Boot Loader, editing said menu might not be the easiest or the most user-friendly process. With that in mind, GAG the Graphical Boot Loader is a freeware boot menu replacement utility that might have what it takes to work as the solid boot loader option, at least for pre-EFI based systems.

Graphical

GAG is fully open source and delivers a graphical menu as opposed to a text-mode selector that comes standard with a Windows or Linux based boot menu.

GAG_1.png

Product Information

After a visit to the GAG project website and a quick download later, I unpacked the ISO file contained within the ZIP archive, burned it to disc and rebooted. The GAG menu appears waiting to be configured after selecting a keyboard layout and default language. At this stage, you are left with two options. Booting from disk or setting up the menu. In GAG's case, you can configure up to nine selectable choices, which is typically more than enough for most users.

Features

Getting started was pretty easy. After entering in the setup area, you press the A key to add a boot item, select the partition the entry will point to, type in the description for the OS selection, and an optional password if you want to lock that OS option away from guests. For the finishing touch, you can choose the icon that best matches the OS you added. Once you have made all the selections you like, you can then commit GAG to the MBR of the primary hard drive to save changes.

Going back a bit, GAG offers an interesting basic password protection feature, which grants you the ability to prevent a particular OS from booting up without providing the correct password. This can be useful in a kiosk situation, where you can lock the actual hardware away and prevent users from casually dropping into an environment they don't belong in. I just wouldn't recommend this feature if you are looking for anything beyond token security, since the password can easily be circumvented using another GAG boot disk.

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Also, if you have a particularly old office PC that still uses a trusty floppy disk drive, GAG can even install the boot loader directly to a blank floppy disk. Honestly though, the utility of this feature is rather limited for boot loader backup purposes, in the unfortunate event that your Master Boot Record is destroyed on the main hard drive. Alternatively, you can simply use the bootable ISO (albeit without a customized menu on disc) or write GAG to a bootable USB flash drive.

Really, the only downside I've noticed is the lack of support for machines with the next generation Extensible Firmware Architecture setup and GPT volumes. Because GAG is GPT-unaware, GAG won't be able to detect volumes set up in that layout mode. Your best option at this point is to consider using GRUB instead. Fortunately, some motherboards can be set to boot in a "Legacy mode" which disables the EFI, though at the cost of a slower PC start up.

Bottom line

If you are looking for boot menu software that goes beyond a basic text interface and is also easy to set up, GAG might be worth considering on less than bleeding edge hardware. It's not perfect and it does show its age, but GAG is still quite serviceable and useful for multi-boot systems.


About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

5 comments
abonnema
abonnema

About the sentence:

"Really, the only downside I've noticed is the lack of support for machines with the next generation Extensible Firmware Architecture setup and GPT volumes. Because GAG is GPT-unaware, GAG won't be able to detect volumes set up in that layout mode."

How do I know whether I have a GPT volume? Is it a hardware option ie is it a choice I make when installing Linux or Windows? Or is it a hardware given of the disk? how do I recognize it?

abonnema
abonnema

About the password remark.

"I just wouldn't recommend this feature if you are looking for anything beyond token security, since the password can easily be circumvented using another GAG boot disk."

Any machine where you can access the hardware is vulnerable, no matter what security you install. Having said that, you could prevent hardware access by protecting the machine in a closed space (cupboard or such) but still provide keyboard and monitor access to the machine for guests or customers.

abonnema
abonnema

Please don't confuse free software with freeware as you do in the sentence:


" With that in mind, GAG the Graphical Boot Loader is a freeware boot menu replacement utility".

The software has a license of GPL version 2, which makes it free software, not freeware.

n2add
n2add

I have used NeoSmart EasyBCD on just about all my systems since Win 7 came out. It is a text mode boot loader but it works well with DOS, Windows, and Linux.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Have you used GAG before? What did you think? Do you prefer a different boot menu application?

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