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30 August 2009, 12:24

Multi-booting over the internet

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Many operating systems can already be booted over the net, especially so for the installation systems of the major Linux distributions, but the web service offers a universal boot loader which presents them all in one menu. The boot loader can be installed on a USB stick, burned onto CD, or on a floppy disk. This allows users to start an always current selection of operating systems over the internet using one single boot medium. uses the open source gPXE boot loader. It retrieves the current menu of operating systems from and subsequently offers to start the selected system. The current selection includes the Tiny Core Linux 2.2 and Micro Core Linux 2.2 live systems, installers for FreeBSD 7.2, Debian Lenny, Debian Testing, Fedora 11, openSUSE 11.1, Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10, and several diagnostic, partitioning and rescue tools.

A minor drawback though it that it seems the menu program hasn't reached full maturity yet. In a short test with four randomly selected computers at c't, The H's associates in Germany found that it only worked with one of them. With the others, it switched the graphics card to an unusual video mode and apparently crashed afterwards. However, this doesn't render the boot medium completely useless. Using Ctrl+B opens the gPXE command line, where the required operating system can be entered manually if the necessary chainload URL is known. Chainload URLs can be retrieved from; the one for Tiny Core Linux 2.2, for instance, is To start the live Linux system, enter autoboot and chain

It is also possible to store custom configurations at and use chainload URLs to start them with the boot loader. To do this, a user just needs to simply submit the URLs of kernel and initrd together with any required parameters. Those who have built a boot configuration that is interesting for a wider audience are asked to inform the operators so they can include it in the boot menu and make it accessible to all.


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