w3.1 - 95 - 98 - ME - 2K - XP - 6 - 7

Using Dr. Web for Multiboot Advice

Generally a rather tedious and convoluted process.

There's a lot of info on the magic web about multi-booting Windows 98, mostly with later versions of Windows.

Multi-booting Windows 9x with a later Windows versions such as XP, Vista and 7 is a breeze, as these later OS's are multi-boot aware.

Solutions that outline multi-booting different Windows on multiple hard disks are also fairly straightforward.

However, for this exercise I was initially only interested in multi-booting multiple versions of Windows 98 using one hard disk and without using a 3rd party boot manager - although after that experience I'm now exploring the boot manager option and I've found it to offer some advantages.

Most of the proposed solutions Dr. Web provided for multi-booting w9x (by w9x I include Windows 95 / 98 / ME) without using a boot manager were tested - and some suggestions I found were a little off the mark.

Some of the info I discovered on the magic web may help you avoid the pitfalls of multi-booting w9x installs.

Again, these comments only relate to multi-booting Windows 9x done without using a 3rd party boot manager.

As to how boot managers can overcome a lot of the restrictions listed below, please see my related page with comments on some of the quirks of multibooting with and without boot managers (I've only tested OSL2000, XOSL and BootitNG so far).

Some proposed solutions I found on the magic web for multibooting w9x were:
  • Install w95/98/ME on partition 1 then w95/98/ME on partition 2 and they'll both work just fine
No, the second install will over-write the first install's boot files in C:\ so only the last installed OS can boot.
  • When you install more than 1 w9x OS you'll get the Windows OS select menu when Windows boots
No, the OS select feature is only available in OS aware installers such as XP, Vista, w7, etc. - w9x versions only display an OS specific list of options for the individual OS being started if either the F8 key is pressed (Normal boot, Safe boot, exit to DOS, etc.) or BootMenu=1 is set in MSDOS.sys - this is not a real "Select OS to boot" menu.

The options menu does allow you to start in DOS only, but all this is doing is stopping the Windows GUI from loading (equivalent to BootGUI=0 in MSdos.sys).
  • Just create a partition (2, 3, etc.) and drop the files from a previous w98 install onto it - works fine.
No, any drag'n'drop OS on partition 2, 3, etc. will not work, as the current OS on C knows nothing about any other partition's boot files using this method and will always load the OS that's listed in MSDOS.sys on C:\ and this will never reference any partition other than 1 - unless the OS was installed on partition 2 using the Windows 98 installer process (which then over-wrote the other OS's boot files on C:\).

A similar situation applies if you drag'n'drop a windows 98 install onto partition 1 on a different disk - you'll get an error asking you to remove the disk and reboot or a similar WTH error.

  • Just hide partition 1, create partition 2 and set it active and then install w98 onto partition 2 - works fine
No, as you'll get the SU0013 error at the beginning of the w98 install process.

This method is probably the most promoted method to get a w98 multi-boot install, and one I tried more than once, without success (error SU0013 every time).

Simple partition hiding (as opposed to true partition hiding) i.e., flagging partition 1 as "hidden" using a partition tool, won't cut it with 9x installers.

The windows installer knows you're not installing w98 to partition 1 and the installer insists on having partition 1 available for it's boot files.

On a native Windows 98 install the installer will spit the dummy if the first partition is not available for it's boot files - and if you have partition 1 available, you'll end up with a single boot system by default as Windows 98 will over-write any existing boot files on partition 1.

The fact that the Windows 98 installer does not ask you to select a partition for the install, should indicate it doesn't care what you think - it's going to default to partition 1 and spit the dummy if it can't access it.

Try it in VirtualBox or VMware.

Note: OSL2000 (for w9x only) and Bootit NG (for w9x and later) boot managers can work around this restriction.

  • Use a boot loader such as XOSL, PLOP, GAG, and so on
My experience with OSL2000, XOSL and Bootit NG boot managers is:
  • OSL2000 can work around the partition 1 restriction for w9x, but not for Windows 2000 and later (these installers are smarter and dismiss OSL2000's attempts to hide partitions). Not a big issue if the installs are Windows 2000 and later - but in that case a boot manager is largely redundant.
  • XOSL is very similar to OSL2000 in terms of function (and restriction for Windows 2000 and later) but has a much nicer Windows 98 look to the GUI and is easier to navigate than OSL2000. 
  • Bootit NG gets around the partition 1 restriction for w9x and later as it true hides partitions so the installers for Windows 9x, 2000 and later see no partition other than the install partition. All up. it's a very polished piece of software and the most capable I've found (although shareware).
I've had a brief look at PLOP and GAG but not tested them and so I can't comment on their capabilities.

I've also recently found a few other boot managers that I might get around to testing (one day):
    zBoot Manager  (claims up to 32 primary partitions)
  (claims up to 36 primary partitions)
    Partition Boot Manager (claims up to 256 partitions)

If you're interested, all the boot managers I've found are on my FTP server (login as anonymous) in the Boot_Managers folder in the 000_Freeware_DLs folder.

I've also reviewed 50 DOS and Windows boot managers on this site . . . click here to view that page.

  • And last but not least, endless variations of pseudo-technical mumbo jumbo:
Edit mdjfff.dll and insert mother's maiden name, triple toss odd numbered dll's, spudge the widget api, rename MSDOS.sys to abracadabra, hash the total of the .sys files then copy and zip all uneven registry items and drop all files onto partition 7.  Works fine.

What can I say ?

The bottom line to all this that Windows 9x are a reflection of the times when it's development occurred, i.e., a time when PC's and their OS were an expensive option, and the thought of people buying and installing multiple OS versions probably rated up there with a colour TV in every room and 4 cars in the driveway (and I'm not going to take a cheap shot at Bill G or anyone else for the lack of a crystal ball).

But it's still a pain in the proverbial for multi-booting, but a boot manager such as OSL2000 and Bootit NG can remove a lot of this pain.

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Updated  20 April 2023