Do you want to run multiple operating systems from a single USB stick? Maybe boot into a live environment or even install the operating system? Booting from USB is easier than you think!
Multiboot USB drives can host live Linux distributions and installation media for Windows. These are small operating systems that are explicitly designed to maintain a computer from outside the computer's operating system.
This article introduces some free Windows programs that can be used to create dual-boot and multiboot USB media. Be sure to use a good quality USB drive, preferably one that is larger than 8 GB!
WinSetupFromUSB is a highly recommended option for installing Windows from USB and multiboot USBs. It's an intuitive multiboot software option. WinSetupFromUSB is only compatible with Windows 2000 / XP and higher as well as with Linux and BSD.
Using WinSetupFromUSB is easy. Open the software and select your USB drive from the drop-down menu.
Next, enable the button next to your preferred operating systems.
You then need to navigate to the volume that contains the operating system that you want to install on your multiboot USB. When you're done, click Go Button.
If you are interested, check the option of show protocol to get detailed information about what's going on.
When the installation is complete, you will see a Job done Embassy.
Overall, WinSetupFromUSB is quite easy to use and offers a fast write time. It also has a QEMU mode and is a small, portable app.
Download: WinSetupFromUSB (free)
MultiBootUSB is quite a popular program for just this type of task. The software is also a portable application. It runs from your USB drive and does not need to be installed. This gives you a great deal of flexibility in case you want to make changes but are away from your home or office computer.
Adding multiple bootable operating system distributions is easy choose picture and choose your ISO. Note that while MutiBootUSB will run on Windows and Linux, you can only create Linux Live USB systems.
When you have clicked your picture, choose the persistence you want if you want to save files to the partition and click Install the distribution.
A great feature of MultiBootUSB is the QEMU virtualization software that allows you to test both individual Linux ISOs and your USB stick without restarting the computer.
For an easy way to get multiple Linux distributions onto a USB stick, MultiBootUSB is a great, lightweight option.
Download: MultiBootUSB (free)
XBoot has a lot more documentation than MultiBootUSB, but neither program requires much guidance. XBoot offers a similar experience and is also a portable medium that makes it convenient to use on the go.
Installing XBoot is pretty straightforward. Double click on the executable file and it will open in seconds. From there it's really easy to add your ISOs – drag and drop them into the main panel.
Then click on Create USB Button. The program will ask you to select the USB drive you want to install the ISOs on and choose the boot loader you want to use. If your USB stick is formatted with FAT32, XBoot recommends Syslinux. If the USB stick is formatted with NTFS, Grub4DOS is recommended. You can also choose Do not install a boot loader, but since you want the USB stick to be bootable, you will likely ignore that.
click OK and we are on the way!
Xboot also has the same QEMU functions with which you can start a Live CD ISO or the USB stick you just created.
Although XBoot is a somewhat more extensive program, it works a little faster than MultiBootUSB. Another nice touch is the ability to download ISO files directly through the XBoot downloader.
Download: Xboot (free)
YUMI is a well-respected tool that isn't as feature-rich as others on this list, but it's a good choice for creating multiple booting USB drives.
YUMI has a slightly different workflow. You select from the list which distribution you want before you navigate to the ISO on your hard drive or follow the link provided to the homepage of the distribution you have selected.
Choose your distribution, in this case Lubuntu, and find the ISO on your hard drive.
When you're done, click Create. It will take a few minutes. You can then repeat the process to add more operating system images to your drive.
In addition, YUMI does not have the QEMU tools from MultiBootUSB or XBoot. What it has is the support of countless network administrators and technicians who use it in their daily work lives!
Download: YUMI (free)
One USB for all your operating systems
In order to use the USB drives you have created, you should know how to change the boot order on your PC so that you can choose which one to boot from each time.
Multi-operating system pen drives may be too much of a good thing for many users, and you may be better off with a simple Windows bootable pen drive.
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About the author
(185 articles published)
Ian Buckley is a freelance journalist, musician, performer and video producer and lives in Berlin. When he's not writing or on stage, he's tinkering with DIY electronics or code in hopes of becoming a mad scientist.
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