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.
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 disk.
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.