NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
MasterBooter V2.4
A Review by Ed Maxey, May 98
edmaxey@pol.net (click to email author)

Let's suppose that you have just got a new 3.2 gigabyte hard drive for your old, reliable, considerably updated, DX2-486. This computer is an old friend, quite dependable and you're happy with it. Imagine that the new hard drive was intended to replace an old 540 megabyte drive which had some bad sectors.

How does one best make use of so much hard drive space?

The new D: hard drive will hold more than six times the data than previously was the case with a 540 megabyte drive. Could one reasonably install second and third operating systems? Such a question led to a search of our BBS for appropriate shareware utilities. When queried under the term "boot" the search program turned up MRBOOT24.ZIP" Bill Shook was contacted and he put this file on the BBS. The program was downloaded into the MRBOOT directory. When unzipped it contained a number of files including MRBOOTER.TXT, MRBOOTER.EXE, MRESCUE.COM, EFDISK.TXT, EFDISK.EXE and a couple MRBTHUN files. These latter turned out to be written in Hungarian, the author himself being a 24 year old hungarian technical student. Emailings to and from him quickly revealed that MRBOOT24.ZIP was now available and it was downloaded from the internet.

MRBOOTER.TXT is well and charmingly written. It explains that MRBOOTER works by rewriting the master boot record (mbr). Upon rebooting after installation there is a beep, a pause and a small window. This window presents up to three boot up options (six in the registered version) allowing one to select the operating system (OS) he wishes from any of those installed. Sound interesting? You bet. Sound terrifying? Indeed yes!

MRBOOTER.TXT provides information on how MasterBooter works and how it may be safely installed. The first step is to run MRESCUE.COM which makes a copy of your present mbr. If you encounter trouble during an installation MRESCUE can restore your original mbr. The second step is to be sure you have all important files thoroughly backed up. No prudent person will proceed without having first completed these two important tasks.

One may then run MRBOOTER.EXE. It may be run from within Windows, from a shell to DOS or from a pure DOS mode. The program examines the computer system and presents up to three options in the shareware version (six in the registered version) for your selection . Yes, that's right, you could run Windows 3.11, Windows95, Windows NT, OS/2 and a couple others if you had them installed. You select the OSes you wish and are given further options as to naming them and password protection. Password protection ought to be great for families where children use the family computer. There is also an option for hiding non-active partitions. Upon rebooting the selections take effect and there is a beep, a short pause for your keyboard selection and boot up follows. The number one selection boots automatically unless you press the 2 or 3 key during the pause. Then the other OSes boot.

Does it work? Yes, and very nicely too. Does it operate any differently than similar programs, say SYSTEM COMMANDER (by V. Communications) or PQ Boot (by Powerquest)? Yes again. MRBOOTER allows one to select an OS by intercepting the bootup process before an OS commitment is made. It accomplishes this from the mbr istelf. SYSTEM COMMANDER, in contrast, places its files in the C:\SC directory which must be accessed before OS options are presented. PQ Boot requires a rebooting after the OS selection is made.

Are there dangers while installing MasterBooter? Yes. Plenty of them. One can easily crash a hard disk. This is why having a rescue disk and good backups is so vital. Partitions may be set up using EFDISK but one really must know what he/she is doing here. MRBOOTER.TXT provides a succinct recipe for installing several OSes and this is very helpful in planning how one sets up partitions. Disaster looms if partition boundaries are inadvertently overlapped. Partition Magic (by Powerquest) may also be used to set up the partitions one wishes. It is a safe way to proceed for the novice since it provides clear graphic images of various partitions and will not permit fatal partition boundary errors. It also allows one to hide and set active whatever partitions one wishes. One may also use Partition Magic to adjust a partition's size even if it already contains data.

Drive letter assignment problems may appear when one runs several OSes. Imagine that you have most of your applications files in the third partition whose volume is DATA on the master drive. You also Windows95 on the first partition and Windows 3.11 on the second. The second partition is hidden. MasterBooter may be set up with Windows95 as the first option and Windows 3.11 as the second.

With an automatic boot one would see Windows95 booted. A mouse click on My Computer would show DATA as drive E:. With a Windows 3.11 selection on boot up DATA would be on drive F:. This is due entirely to the way in which DOS assigns drive letters. One must adjust all paths to the applications files accordingly. If one has JUNO located among the applications the shortcut in Windows95 would be E:JUNO.EXE while in Windows 3.11 the proper path would be F:JUNO.EXE.

An alternative is to create an extended partition and put a logical drive in it. If DATA were installed on the first logical drive it would appear as drive E: under both the Windows95 bootup and that of Windows 3.11 as well. This approach was implemented and the old reliable 486 will now boot Windows95, Windows95B or Windows3.11 at the press of a key during bootup.

Technical support is available via the internet and is both prompt and quite good. Here's an example:

Nagy Daniel <nagyd@almos.vien.hu>
> Please tell me whether or not MRBOOTER is able to select from all
> three primary bootable partitions on the master drive. If so, what
> does one do to cause these options to appear? Is there something in
> the registered version which would overcome these problems?
The shareware version doesn't support OSR2 and doesn't show it.
The registered MasterBooter works perfectly with all versions of
Windows. However you can try OSR2 with the shareware by changing
the 'MSWIN4.x' signature in the boot sectors to 'MSWIN4.x'. It is
easy and safe with DiskEdit from Norton Utilities.
Nagy Daniel
(x inserted in place of numerical value to protect proprietary aspect)

MRBOOTER is a concise and very useful bootup utility. It has functioned very nicely for a month or so with only one minor flaw. EFDISK.EXE can not write to a hard drive when one is shelled to DOS under Windows95B. It does work properly if one has exited Windows95B to DOS. Nagy Daniel has indicated that this minor flaw will be repaired.

If you are contemplating installation of a bootup utility, MasterBooter is highly recommended.

The author may be contacted in Hungary at: nagyd@almos.vien.hu OR masterbooter@cyberjunkie.com

The registered version costs $20.00 and may be obtained electronically from: Albert's Ambry at http://www.alberts.com

The latest shareware version may be downloaded from: ftp://ftp.simtel.net/pub/simtelnet/msdos/bootutil/mrboot24.zip

{Webmaster comment: Both AltaVista and Yahoo when given a search on "MRBOOTER" will point you to the site and you may download using Netscape or other browsers"

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