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What if we said you could turn any disk into a multi-boot OS installer for free without touching a single config file?
Friday FOSS Fest Ventoy is a free tool that turns any USB key into a multi-boot wonder.
Even if you're not a distro-hopping FOSS fundie, having a few bootable USB keys around is handy. You can often revive a sickly PC by just booting Windows and running
CHKDSK /F on it, or boot Linux to retrieve some files off a computer if a PEBCAK error occurred and someone's forgotten their password.
If you have a few PCs knocking around, it's quicker to mount the latest Windows 10 disk image and run
setup.exe than it is to let Windows Upgrade chug through the download on each one.
Ventoy isn't unique or unprecedented. There are some gadgets for this – for example, if you can find one, Zalman has made a few external hard disk enclosures which let you pick an ISO file with physical buttons, then the box emulates a USB CD drive with that disk inserted. There are also tools such as DriveDroid to make an Android phone do it too. But why carry a cable around?
Ventoy makes this quicker and easier than anything else we've seen, though. All you need is a spare USB key with enough space for a few ISOs; eight gigs will work and 16 is plenty. Download either the Linux or Windows version, whichever's more convenient – it's only 18 meg, about a quarter of the size of BalenaEtcher, for instance – and run it.
It partitions and formats your key with a small boot partition and a bigger empty one. Just copy some ISO files into the big partition, shove the stick into any PC or Intel Mac, and boot from it. Ventoy generates a menu of all the ISO files on the fly and lets you pick one, then the computer boots from it.
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It's quicker than writing a file, especially with Windows tools such as Rufus. You don't need a key-writing tool at all. It will boot Linux, BSD, Windows, or any standard ISO, whatever you want, and works on both BIOS and UEFI machines.
You can have as many ISOs as the key will hold, and unlike a DIY solution with GRUB4DOS, there's no need to manually edit config files, add the ISO filename into a list or anything. It just works. If you want persistent storage for a Linux live image, it can do that too. It's not limited to USB either; it supports pretty much any kind of removable disk.
In fact about the only thing we've found that it can't handle are non-standard ISOs: exotica such as AROS, A2, or old DOS BIOS-flashing images. Often these need to be written to an actual optical disk anyway. Want to look under the hood? It's all on GitHub. ®