2011-01-10

Review: MultiSystem (a USB Multiboot Script)

A couple days ago, I saw featured on Linux Today an article in PCPlus about a new USB multiboot creation script called MultiSystem. It's a GUI tool, which is nice for newbies like myself, and it automates the creation of a multiboot live USB from multiple live ISO files.
Now, as many readers know, I've tried a not once, not twice, but three times to make a multiboot setup. The recurring issues I had each time were that each ISO file was written to a different partition and there was no unified boot menu to select a live session among the different partitions. There are other ways to do this, mainly using the command prompt and extraction tools, but I was too lazy/pressed for time to try such things. I had read about other GUI extraction tools, but they seemed a bit too limited in the distributions they could handle. Then, I saw this.
This tool seems to be the holy grail of multiboot live USB creation. You can read more about it in the original article and on the project's website (in French, but can be translated via Google Translate), but this tool seems to support almost every distribution listed on DistroWatch (currently running at around 650 distributions listed) and then some (e.g. Fuduntu). Plus, it doesn't seem to have any of the caveats of other tools, like not being able to multiboot Ubuntu and Linux Mint at the same time (as Linux Mint is too similar to Ubuntu). It even allows for testing the final multiboot system in a virtual machine. I'm not going to fully review the application, as that's in the original PCPlus article, but I will share a couple experiences I had with it.
One issue with many distributions today is that they aren't fully supported by UnetBootin, so they can't be written to a partition of a USB stick without destroying all other data present on the stick. MultiSystem seems to get around that issue, as it was able to write on the first of my four partitions of my 8 GB Sandisk Cruzer Micro USB drive without destroying the other three; the distribution I tried (it can make "multiboot" systems with just one distribution as well) was CrunchBang 10 "Statler", which no longer works with UnetBootin and typically requires the "dd" command (which destroys all other data present on a USB stick) to be written to a USB stick. This is exciting for me, as I can now also test other distributions like Mandriva and openSUSE (which similarly can only use the "dd" command to be written to a USB stick) on my computer without the need for a virtual machine. I can confirm that my CrunchBang live USB worked, so keep your eyes open for a review of that very soon.
Preparing the USB was a little tedious but wasn't too big an issue. It was a little odd when I picked the ISO files for writing; I expected to only select one file at a time in the file dialog, but when I only selected CrunchBang, that somehow became my final selection, and I couldn't pick anything else for writing onto the USB stick. I guess I need to be more careful when selecting multiple ISO files.
It's nice that the script also offers the ability to test the new system in QEMU or VirtualBox, but unfortunately, neither worked for me. That doesn't matter much, as I don't really lose anything by actually trying out the live USB on my computer (i.e. changing the BIOS and all that jazz). However, I do hope for the sake of the application itself that this gets fixed soon.
It isn't possible to create separate multiboot systems on different partitions, but because GRUB is installed in the USB stick's master boot record (MBR) I suppose I shouldn't expect anything different.
Otherwise, I am extraordinarily pleased with this application. I don't have any real reason to try new multiboot setups; this is what I'll be using from now on. Along with a new CrunchBang review, you can also look forward to second looks at Mandriva and openSUSE now that I can see how well they might play with my computer's hardware.
(UPDATE: As it turns out, MultiSystem installs KVM (or something like that) which somehow modifies the Linux kernel slightly, and this is why its built-in VirtualBox application doesn't work properly. Actually, its "built-in" VirtualBox program uses my installed VirtualBox program to run, meaning my already-installed VirtualBox no longer functions correctly. Now, if I want to use my virtual machines, I'll need to boot into a live USB (like Pinguy OS) which, ironically, may be created with MultiSystem. Oh well.)

7 comments:

  1. Can you put a BART PE Windows ISO as one of the bootable OS's?

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  2. @njmurarka: It appears that BartPE is part of the GRUB4DOS menu already included with every installation of a MultiSystem setup. For other distributions, you can look on the project page. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. I use Multiboot for some six months now, and it is perfect. It is well written, complete, full of usefull options, adds persistence automagically, frequently updated, supports a lot of distros, and mostly WORK!!!
    It wont boot in some systems with weird BIOSes, but it is a minor problem. My main system (Mint 10) was installed from flash using multiboot, which is WAY faster than LiveCD.

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  4. @Helton Moraes: I'm going to test distributions like Mandriva, openSUSE, and Pardus on live USB soon, so this'll be a great test of that. It's good to hear that your experiences have been very positive. Also, my BIOS hasn't had any problem with MultiSystem, so that's not likely to present an issue later on. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. As good as this is, and it is very good,there are unfortunately a few issues with it.
    Firstly, it is far to reliant on Gnome libs. Those of us that don't run gnome can struggle.
    Secondly it seems to be based around Ubuntu, which again not everyone uses.
    Now if it were Distro agnostic, it would be simply unbeatable.
    Finally, it could do with better English language support, both on the website and within the script files, and good instructions on installing from source.

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  6. @Captain Pugwash: I agree with you on the issues of English language support and overdependence on GNOME libraries. However, with regard to Ubuntu, I guess what I would do is have a live CD/another live USB on hand with Ubuntu on it and install MultiSystem in the live session and then go from there. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. does anyone know how to install multisystem in slackware 14?
    i use it a lot from ubuntu based os4 but couldn't install add it to my slackware apps like unetbootin.

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