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.
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.
- Title: GAG
the Graphical Boot Loader
- Company: Raster Software
- Product URL: http://gag.sourceforge.net/
- Price: Freeware
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.
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
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.
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.