Vista Hands On #5: Edit boot menus and more

Vista Hands On #5: Edit boot menus and more

Summary: In Windows Vista, Boot.ini is gone. So how do you control options for a multi-boot system? You can use Microsoft's command-line tool, Bcdedit.exe. But a free third-party tool, VistaBoot Pro, is a much better choice.

TOPICS: Windows

Anyone who wants to run multiple versions of Windows (and other operating systems) on a single PC needs to learn about the changes in Windows Vista's boot process. Carl Siechert, Craig Stinson, and I explain the process in detail in Chapter 2 of Windows Vista Inside Out; here's the short version.

On a volume containing Windows Vista, the Windows Boot Manager program (Bootmgr.exe) resides on the active partition. At startup, it reads details about the current startup configuration and displays a startup menu, if necessary. If the default volume contains Windows Vista, or if you choose an installation of Vista from the boot menu, it runs the OS loader (Winload.exe) on that volume. These steps essentially replace functions performed by Ntldr.exe in all previous Windows NT-based operating systems. (In Vista, Ntldr is identified as tbe Legacy OS Boot Loader and runs only on a multiboot system when you choose the Earlier Version Of Windows option from the boot menu.)

Information about the startup environment on a machine that uses the Vista Boot Manager is included in the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store. Information about bootable operating systems is contained here, replacing the Boot.ini file found in older members of the Windows NT family (Boot.ini and Ntldr.exe are still used in a secondary role when you use Windows XP, Windows 2000, or Windows Server 2003 in a multiboot configuration with Windows Vista).

Vista includes a command-line tool you can use to edit the BCD; not surprisingly, it's called Bcdedit. Bcdedit isn’t an interactive program; instead, you perform tasks by appending switches and parameters to the Bcdedit command line. To display the complete syntax for this tool, open an elevated Command Prompt window (using the Run As Administrator option) and enter the command Bcdedit -?

The syntax of the Bcdedit command is daunting, to say the least. It’s also something you’re unlikely to use often enough to memorize. Those facts are enough to strongly recommend using a graphical editor for the BCD store instead. I recommend a third-party tool, VistaBootPRO, which adds a graphical interface to handle every function you can accomplish using Bcdedit and then some.


VistaBoot Pro is due to be updated to a final build "shortly," according to developer PRONetworks. Meanwhile, in my limited testing it has lived up to the promise that it's "fully compatible with Windows Vista RTM."

Topic: Windows

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  • Is there a way

    to make a boot floppy or boot CD by copying system files over, like you can with XP and all previous versions of Windows? That's a handy tool to have.
    Michael Kelly
  • Vista sure is expensive

    Up here in Canada I checked out Vista a few shops. I was shocked at the prices. $299 for Vista Home Premium. The Upgrade was $179. They didn't even put a price out for the Ultimate version, probably figured it was scare people away.

    I think I'm just going to buy it OEM with a new PC. Either that or try pirating it to see if I pay US dollars to Microsoft directly via a credit card like the WGA offers with XP. Assuming this can be done of course.
  • Linux boot???

    How do you boot to my Linux partition???
    • Security risk

      [i]How do you boot to my Linux partition???[/i]

      Hopefully there is [b]no[/b] way for Ed to boot into [b]your[/b] Linux partition!! ;)
  • Gotta go 3rd party???

    Wow. By itself, this new Windows would make a user rely on the command line. How old school. How beyond the every-day user. How will it ever gain traction on the desktop? Sounds like the arguments people often cite against Linux. Oh...there are 3rd party tools for both to add GUIs that perform the equivalent command line functions? What's the difference? Oh, I see...the Linux ones don't cost additional $$ to do the same function the OS is provides just in an easier interface. Hmmm...wonder which feels friendlier to the user...maybe the one that I don't have to keep shelling out more $$ for?

    I'll never understand those who situate Linux as "too hard for the average user", despite instances like this in Windows!!
    • This is an expert feature

      If you set up a dual-boot system, Windows handles all the configuration and menu options automatically. You can set the default from a GUI. Advanced options require use of a command line or a third-party utility. Which is as it should be.

      The average user will never need to go near this tool. I assume that ZDNet readers are different, though.
      Ed Bott
      • So...

        You're making a recommendation to expert users that the Vista boot edit tool is too advanced for them? That's sure what it sounds like. And btw...its not just for "experts"...I have more than one friend who configure their own machines to dual boot...and these aren't people in the IT industry. One is a musician, the other is a delivery guy. Not exactly technical experts. People *are* doing these things and the tools should be commensurate for an average user to get the job done, not just an expert.
        • You're missing the point

          An average user can set up a dual boot system without ever going to a command line. It just works. You can go to the GUI to set your preferred OS. Again, no command line required.

          The only reason you need a command line or third party tool is if you want to directly edit the boot configuration store and set advanced options. That would not be necessary in the configuration you describe. For them, Vista would automatically configure itself just fine.
          Ed Bott
        • Reading 101

          "If you set up a dual-boot system, Windows handles all the configuration and menu options automatically." Techboy, it looks to me like Vista will do what these friends of yours have done...AUTOMATICALLY. It sounds to me like this is set up perfectly for the average user. AUTOMATICALLY sounds to me like just what your musician and delivery guy will want. If not, if they WANT to do some major tweaking, the command line tool is there; or, if they want a GUI, they can shell out for it. It seems that HOWEVER Microsoft had done this, if, for instance, they had included a GUI tool, you would have been complaining that this put too much power in the hands of inexperienced users. This is too much like the "He wouldn't be happy if they hung him with a new rope" camp.
          • re: Reading 101

            "If you set up a dual-boot system, Windows handles all the configuration and menu options automatically." Techboy, it looks to me like Vista will do what these friends of yours have done...AUTOMATICALLY. It sounds to me like this is set up perfectly for the average user."

            Oh yes, it most certainly will! And I found this out completely by accident.

            I just installed Vista Business on my machine. My original intent was to install it on the drive where my XP MCE installation was, and have Vista move the XP installation into a "windows.old" folder, where I could pick and choose the data and settings I wanted to copy and migrate over to Vista. But due to a combination of my not knowing *exactly* which of my identical (250 gig WD) drives the XP installation lived on, and not knowing *which* of those drives actually had more free space, Business got installed on the second hard drive. Rather, on what I had been thinking of as the second drive. (Later, I renamed both volumes, one as "Business" and one as "XP MCE", then booted the setup disc. Yup. I had installed Vista on what was actually HDD 0. My bad.) Apparently, not all SATA ports are "numbered" correctly.

            It's actually been more of a blessing in disguise, as I've been able to reboot in XP to compare and contrast where each OS stores user data, and how it's accessed. (Not to mention that Vista wouldn't allow me to access my Opera setting files on the other HDD.)

            The Vista installation hasn't been activated yet, so I have time to make sure that all of my apps and utilities will work--I've already found a couple that needed upgrading. And when I'm satisfied and finished moving stuff around, I can activate Vista and reformat what is actually HDD 1, and use it as I had originally intended, as extra storage and for backup purposes.

            Live and learn...
            M.R. Kennedy
      • Yup, the Microsoft philosophy:

        "Use anything but OUR EXPENSIVE products, and we're gonna make it tougher on ya than chewin' a dinosaur's fossilized jerky!"

        Open Source philosophy: "Can't we all just get along, easier?"
        • Hmmm

          For Windows Vista, a community organization wrote this excellent third-party tool to supplement the built-in capabilities. Even though it wasn't open source. Shocking.
          Ed Bott
          • Yeah, "Hmmmmm"

            And this product, which is in Beta right now, is going to be a free download, right? No cost to do the things the OS should allow you to do right out of the box, right?
          • Sigh

            Yes, it will be a free download.

            And you can already do all of those things, which as I point out in the original post most people will do vary rarely.

            It seems to me this is a case of the community doing a great job of helping each other out. But the ABM crowd wants to spin this into a typical MS-sucks story.
            Ed Bott
          • Hey, I thought one of the big deals about Vista ...

            ...was the great new GUI XPerience?!?

            From the Microsoft Vista "100 reasons" promo site:

            "Bring more clarity to your tasks with the spectacular Windows Aero user experience"

            "4. See your world in a whole new light
            The breakthrough design of the Windows Aero user interface brings new clarity to your PC experience."

            "83. It makes your desktop come alive
            Windows DreamScene transforms your PC desktop beyond simple static wallpaper images, by enabling you to showcase full-motion visuals like home movies or other video clips."

            So, it's great for everybody but the poor SysAdmin, who has to play "find the tool" on one hand and resort to the command line on the other to do basic stuff like configure the darn boot menu!

            I'll finish with a paraphrase of Kipling:

            "For it's GUI this, an' GUI that, an' 'BASH is out, the brute!' But it's 'Savior of 'is console' when the mouse begins to poop."
          • whoa

            I bet you still have to install Vista before Linux otherwise Vista will trash Linux as all other iterations of Windows cannot deal with another OS on the disk.
      • Advanced button...

        I think the point they are trying to make is that it wouldn't have killed Microsoft to give us an "Advanced..." button on a control panel tab somewhere to change the advanced settings. You shouldn't have to rely on a command line or a third party tool for any OS setting that can be changed by a user.

        But anyway, thanks for the info on the advanced settings and the tool. Good to know.
        • It wouldn't have killed them

          But it wasn't a priority for Microsoft, which kinda had its hands full getting the product out the door. So the community stepped in to provide an excellent tool. I see that as a success story.
          Ed Bott
          • 100% correct, Ed!

            " wasn't a priority for Microsoft..."

            Including the SysAdmin in the mix as far as usability goes has NEVER been a priority for MS. Which is why, to this day, users of Windows products have a standard alias: Beta+ Testers.

            This just confirms that users of Vista will be no different.
          • Unlimited resources?

            Sounds like you believe Microsoft has unlimited resources. Sorry, but there will ALWAYS be always be a list of priorities that will affect the list of features and implementations.

            If you think that Sysadmins are being ignored by Vista developers, b=you haven't looked at the product. News flash: real sysadmins want scriptability, not pretty GUIs.
            Ed Bott