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A Multiboot USB utility that beats the rest

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Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Veteran in computer systems, malware removal and ransomware topics.  I have been working in the field since 1985.
I have written articles previously comparing SARDU and YUMI.  I also included a couple of lines about Easy2boot (easy2boot.com).  I have now been using, and enjoying easy2boot as my sole multiboot utility for some years and realize that it deserves an article all it's own.

Why use a multiboot utility to begin with?


The real question is why not?  With a multiboot USB, you can carry virtually everything you may ever need with you.  If you are anything like me, you may get many requests for different problems everyday.  These requests may involve new software installs, OS installs, malware problems, or the "I don't want to turn my computer on because ..." requests.  With a multiboot USB, you are ready for any of these, whether they are initiated by Windows, MAC or Linux users.


I made a partial list of the items on my E2B multiboot 128gb USB, for a friend.  His first reaction was, "WOW!"  Here is the list:

Category
Sub-Category
Image Name
Antivirus

Acronis   Antinalware Scan
AnviRescue
AOSS
avg_arl_cdi_all_120_140203a7055
BitDefender-rescue   CD
Comodo   Rescue CD
DE   Cleaner RettungsCD 351
Dr.   Web live Disk 900
ESET   sysrescue 1090
GDATA   bootCD
KAV   rescue 10
MRT   UBUNTU v1-2
PandaSafeCD
Rescue   System Common
Rescue   CD 3.16.63801
VBA   Rescue
ZLive
Backup

Acronis   True Image 11
Acronis   True Image Echo
Allwaysync   12.2.3
CrashPlan   x64 3.6.4 (windows)
DriveImageXML   (windows)
Dropbox   (windows)
inSync   (wiindows)
Paragon   14 (windows)
Paragon   15 (windows)
Paragon   16 (windows)
Paragon   HDM
Paragon   Retention Mamager
SyncBack   V7
TeraCopy   2B4
DOS

              FreeDOS288
Installs

AntiRansomware
Adobe   Creative Cloud
F-Secure   BL
GMER
Office
Panda   AV/ AntiRootKit (PAVARK)
RADIX
RootAnalyzer
Root   Revealer
Sophos   Anti-Rootkit
TDSS   Killer
Zotero   setup for windows
LINUX

Austrumi
CENTOS   7.0 1406 x86/x64
Damn   Small Linux
Fedora   18
Fedora   Live Robotics
Fedora   Live SoaS
Kali   Linux 1.1.0a
Kali   linux 2017.1
KNOPPIX   v7.0.5 boot only 2012-12-21
KUBUNTU   14.04.2
LIMP
LINUXMINT   14 Mate (x32)
LUBUNTU   15.10 desktop
Makulu   Linux 10-Aero
pS-Toolkit   4.0.1 Centos7 fullinstall 2017 08 15
puppy   precise 5.4.2
StartOS   5.1 liveCD
Syslinux   3.5.1
TAILS   i386 0.17.2
UBUNTU   14.04.1
UBUNTU   16.04.1
XUBUNTU   14.04
Utilities

AOMEI   backupper
Bootrepair   disk for 32 bit machines
Bootrepair   disk for 64 bit machines
Clonezilla   Saucy Live 20140114
Clonezilla   live 1.2.12-67-i686-pae
Clonezilla   live 2.2.2-37-i486
Clonezilla   Live 2.2.2-37-i686-pae
clonezilla-live-2.3.1-18-i686-pae
clonezilla-live-2.4.2-10-amd64
clonezilla-live-2.4.2-10-i586
clonezilla-live-20140415-saucy-i386
clonezilla-live-20141208-utopic-amd64
clonezilla-live-20141208-utopic-i386
Dariks   Boot and Nuke v228
Easeus   Disk Copy
Ghost   4 Linux
GParted   Live 486
GParted   Live 586
GParted   Live 686
GParted   Live AMD 64
Inside   Security Rescue Toolkit
MSSTool32   (exe)
MSSTool64   (exe)
NT   Password
Open   Diagnostics
Ophtcrack   for Vista
Ophtcrack   for XP
Partition   Magic i686
Partition   Wizard 7
PING   3.02
Power   Suite Golden Full
Redo   Backup
Rescatux   32/64
RIPLinux
System   Rescue Cd x86
Trinity   Rescue Kit 3.4
UBCD   Live
UFSX   Boot Cd
Ultimate   Boot CD 4 Windows
Ultimate   Boot CD 511
WDO_Media   (32)
WDO_Media   (64)
Win7Rescue   (Spotmau 2012)
Windows   98 SE
ZGRUB   USB 046
Windows
2003
Windows   server 2003 disk 1
Windows   server 2003 disk 2

Server 2008 R2



Why Use E2B


There are many multiboot utilities out there, so one would think that the end products would be about the same, they aren't.  More importantly, making and using the utilities are vastly different.  Whether it is ease of use you are looking for, or functionality, easy2boot fits the bill!  Adding items to a basic install of easy2boot is as simple as dragging the image/payload file (ISOs are generally easiest) into the correct directory, using the utilities provided for creating a new menu item and it is done.  I have gone further in using the utility provided to create text files describing each image (otherwise they appear in the boot menu as just the image name (e.g. "avg_arl_cdi_all_120_140203a7055.iso" instead of "AVG Anti Malware boot Disk").  I prefer the more readable version.  This becomes especially important when you have images with similar or the same name.  It was also especially important for my images of paragon software ISOs.  the ISOs have names like Paragon-233-BSE_WinInstallSNU_10.1.19.16299_000.  This happens to be a fairly old version of Paragon Hard Disk Manager (2014), so the text file that goes along with it reads that the title of the image is "Paragon HDM 14."



How to install


Installing E2B is fairly easy to do and there is a great guide on the easy2boot website.  The basics are download the software, run the utility on a relatively fast USB that is no more than 137gb (I use 128gb sticks).  Once installed to the USB, copy the image/payload files to the correct directories (you can make your own directories as well using the utility that somes with the software to create "Submenus"). There are 2 main files in the root directory that will make the USB contiguous for you and boot to the device almost as if you had booted from it directly.  


Creating menu items


As mentioned this is fairly easy.  to create menu items for established submenus, like Windows, put the image/payload file in the windows directory, use the E2B MNU maker.cmd file in the ./_ISO/docs/E2B utilities directory.  Simply drag your images onto this file and answer the questions, the utility will create a .mnu item for each of the items you do this with.  In the same directory there is a Submenu maker and a TXT maker file.  Drag each item onto the txt maker to create appropriate text files for them.  To create I submenus, I find it easiest to create the folder first, with the files I want in it, and then drag that folder onto the submenu maker file and answer the questions.



Editing the menu


Although the website has excellent instructions, some things I have found.  

1. It is fairly easy to use the menu editor that comes with the software in the _ISO\docs directory called E2B_editor.exe.  The default menu looks like this:


I updated the background so it looks like this:


This image is what E2B actually looks like when you boot to it (at least mine does).  I apologize for the skew.



This is what the emulated main menu looks like:


The emulated Linux submenu displays like this:


If I actually boot to the stick there are close to 40 choices in this menu (19 per page).


Updating


Probably the best part of this utility is the ease with which you can update it.  Want to put a new image on it, update the text for an old one, create a new submenu? No problem!  Drag the new fileinto the directory and perform the steps to make it a menu item (see above).  Drag the old item to the txt creator (or just edit the text file in notepad) and you are done.  or create a new folder and then drag it to the submenu creator utility (see above).


But what if the software is updated (think a new version of E2B)?  in the main directory there is a utility called UPDATE_E2B_DRIVE.cmd.  It is easy to run and may even fix problems on your stick.  It is probably best to run this whenever you make changes.


I decided to test the update instructions for the most recent version of E2B myself by updating the stick with a more recent version of UBUNTU (17.xx).  I did this by: 

  • downloading the ISO from the UBUNTU page
  • copying the ISO to the LINUX directory on the stick
  • using the E2B MNU maker.cmd file in the ./_ISO/docs/E2B utilities directory (see creating menu items section above)
  • using the UPDATE_E2B_DRIVE.cmd flel as indicated above

When I now use the stick's QEMU_MENU_TEST (run as admin).cmd I still don't see the updated file in the list (it is not one of the first 15 items), but if I boot to the USB stick, it is there.


Ability to see end product without booting to the stick


One of the nice things about Easy2Boot, is that you can run the QEMU_MENU_TEST (run as admin).cmd file and it will show you a pretty close approximation of what you will see if you boot from the stick.  It is only close because some images won't perform exactly in the same way, or may not even boot when run in this mode.  Sometimes the stick will generate this message:

Not to worry, I have seen this and then booted to the device without a problem.  Sometimes either running the update script, or simply rebooting your machine will solve this issue.  The image of my E2B above was taken after I received this message on my Windows 10 Creators edition machine, then just rebooted another machine with the same USB as the boot device.


The Takeaway


I hope I have convinced you that using a multiboot USB is a boon.  It has been a godsend to me.  I carry to USB sticks with me at all times, the multiboot USB and another USB with virtually everything I use when I don't need to reboot a computer (pretty much everything on the multiboot USB along with various other installs that don't need to be separately booted).


This is really a decision between USB multiboot utilities or purchasing the external drives which do most of this for you just by copying an ISO file onto the drive.  I like the control of the former.


UPDATE:  After writing this article, Something out of the ordinary happened.  Usually, I use this stick infrequently, although it always comes in handy.  Then, out of the blue, one of my colleagues asked if I could help with a user's home computer hard drive that was not booting.  I helped him out by attaching the drive in question to extra machine I had and using my easy2boot USB stick to boot.  After running one of the utility images I had one the USB, the disk become bootable again.  


If you have enjoyed this article or found it helpful, let me know by leaving a comment below, giving me a thumbs up, or both.  In this way I can better tailor my future articles to what exactly people are most interested in.

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Comment
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by:dbrunton
Impressive.

How big is your USB stick?
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
dbrunton,

I use the recommended max size of 128gb.  The author of e2b says that you can put it on one as small as 16gb.  Of the 128gb (~115 usable) I have ~25gb free.  So you could get this on a 64gb stick by just getting rid of older versions (Ubuntu prior to 17.xx, Windows 10 prior to the last 2 versions, any other software with previous versions).  Just getting rid of old win10 versions would free up about 10-20gb.  Old praragon versions might take up an additional couple of gb.

I personally would not put e2b on anything less than 64gb, I prefer the extra room on a 128gb stick.
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