Do you want to run multiple operating systems from a single USB stick, or other flash RAM? Perhaps boot into a live environment, or even install the operating system?
It’s tricky, but it can be done. First, you would be breaking some licensing agreements with Microsoft, unless you had some sort of site-licensing deal with them. Second, it would be a painfully slow installation process.
Where it becomes practical is if the different operating systems are Live CDs. That is, small operating systems designed specifically to provide maintenance to a computer from outside of the computer’s own operating system. Linux live CDs or Windows live discs are extremely useful in many scenarios. For instance, if a computer’s own operating system is corrupted through misuse, poor maintenance, or worse, malware.
There are a few nice programs that will help you create your multiboot USB stick. Today, we’ll take a brief look at four of them: WinSetupFromUSB, XBoot, MultiBootUSB, and YUMI. Prior to using each of the different multiboot creation programs, I formatted my Kingston DataTraveler 101 16GB USB 2.0 flash drive, to ensure there would be no issues from the flash drive itself.
A highly recommended pick for installing Windows from a USB and multiboot USBs is WinSetupFromUSB. It’s an intuitive multiboot software option. However, WinSetupFromUSB is only compatible with Windows 2000/XP and later, as well as Linux and BSD. Plus, it’s compatible with loads of Windows, DOS, and Linux applications. Any version after 1.1 functions with UEFI and Legacy BIOS modes.
Grab a download from the official WinSetupFromUSB site. With WinSetupFromUSB installed, simply click the drop down and select your USB disk.
Next, check the button next to your preferred operating systems.
Then you’ll need to browse to the volume containing the operating system you wish to install on your multiboot USB. When you’re ready, click the Go button.
If you’re interested, check the option by Show Log to view detailed information on what’s going on.
Finally, when installation is complete, you’ll see a Job Done message.
Overall, WinSetupFromUSB is pretty simple to use and features a quick write time. It’s also got a QEMU mode, and it’s a small, portable app.
MultiBootUSB is a pretty popular program for just this kind of task. The MultiBootUSB software is also a portable application, meaning you simply put the appropriate MultiBootUSB download file onto your USB drive and run it all from the USB drive. No need to mess around installing it on your computer. This gives you a great deal of flexibility, should you want to change things up but you aren’t at your home or office computer.
It is limited to allowing installations of Linux-based Live distributions, however, most of the best Live CDs are Linux-based anyway. You can even roll your own distro. I decided to push on and just try adding the Kaspersky Rescue CD 10 ISO. The Kaspersky Rescue CD pretty small, so there is plenty of room for it on my 16 GB drive.
The second ISO I added was the Ultimate Boot CD ISO. Now, I have two different bootable operating systems on one USB flash drive.
At this point, you’re able to click on the QEMU tab and test the installations without having to reboot the system. QEMU is a machine emulator and virtualizer, meaning it’s an operating system that will run in the Windows environment, but completely independent of Windows. It can even run Raspbian in Windows!
Ultimately, I was able to boot my computer from the USB stick into both Kaspersky and Ultimate Boot CD. So, overall, the mission was accomplished.
One thing that I immediately noticed is that XBoot has a lot more documentation than MultiBootUSB, which is to say that it has some documentation. Both programs don’t really require a lot of instruction to use. But it’s nice to have in case something happens.
Installation of XBoot is pretty easy. Double-click the executable file and it opens in seconds. From there it’s quite simple to add your ISOs – just drag and drop them into the main box.
Next, click on the Create USB button. The program will prompt you to select the USB drive that you wish to install the ISOs on and to select the kind of bootloader that you want to use. If your USB stick is formatted to FAT32, XBoot recommends Syslinux. If the USB stick is formatted to NTFS, Grub4DOS is recommended. You could also select Do not install any Bootloader, but since you want the USB stick to be bootable, you’ll probably ignore that.
Click OK and we’re on the way!
Xboot also has the same QEMU features, where you can boot a live CD ISO or boot the USB that you just made.
With the USB stick, I was able to boot my computer into both Kaspersky and the Ultimate Boot CD. So once again, mission accomplished, and with a faster installation time!
There seemed to be a lot of recommendations for YUMI around the web, so I added it to the crop to be tested. On PenDriveLinux.com I downloaded and installed YUMI.
Once you get to the part where you are adding distributions to your USB stick, YUMI lays out exactly which ones are known to work, as well as where to download the distributions from. I thought this was pretty professional. This way you won’t waste time trying to make something work that simply would never function! There are dozens of Linux operating systems and other Linux-based live CDs listed. At least one of them is likely to meet your needs.
I started with loading the Kaspersky Live CD.
Fortunately, Ultimate Boot CD was on the list. So I added that as well. For whatever reason, adding the UBCD ISO only took a minute or two.
Additionally, YUMI doesn’t have the QEMU tools of MultiBootUSB or XBoot. But then again, those tools don’t seem terribly necessary. Using the YUMI-created bootable USB drive, I was able to boot into both images without any issues. So, yes, YUMI does work.
Any of these tools will help you create a USB stick that you can boot one of several operating systems with. Overall, I would recommend WinSetupFromUSB over Xboot, MultiBootUSB, and YUMI. That’s because of the sheer speed with which I was able to create a multi-OS bootable thumb drive. It’s a small portable app which is incredibly intuitive to use.
This program will be staying on my computer; the others need to go. Once you’ve figured out which program you’d like to use for creating a multiboot USB, check out the newest niche Linux operating systems. Alternately, try out these five innovative Linux operating systems or 15 weird Linux distros. If you’re switching to Linux, learn what Linux OSes will make you feel at home. While you can run a multiboot PC, you can also run multiple operating systems on your PC.
Which multiboot USB creation tools do you prefer, and what OSes are you booting?