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Installing System Commander

Now that all the operating systems are installed, you're almost finished. The next step is to set up the dual-boot menu so that you can choose which OS to boot. The program that enables dual-boot is called System Commander. It needs to be installed on the MS-DOS partition. In order to install System Commander on the MS-DOS partition, we first need to make the MS-DOS partition active so that we can boot to it.

  1. Insert the MS-DOS 6.22 Boot Disk or the Windows 98 Boot Disk into the floppy drive and reboot the machine so that you end up at a DOS prompt.

  2. Remove the boot disk and insert the Partition Magic 5 disk.

  3. Type a:pqmagic to start PM5.

    When the main screen appears, you'll see your DOS/FAT partition on the left, followed by the NT/NTFS partition, followed by the Win98/FAT32 partition, followed by the Win2K/NTFS partition.

  4. To set the MS-DOS partition active again, right-click the DOS/FAT partition on the left, select Advanced and click Set Active.

  5. Click the Apply button to actually make the change, then remove the floppy disk from the drive and click OK as prompted to reboot the system.

    If everything went well, the system should automatically boot into DOS and dump you out at a C:\ prompt.

  6. Insert your Windows 98 Boot Disk and reboot the system. Make sure that you boot with CD-ROM support.

  7. When you're back at a DOS prompt, insert the System Commander Installation Disk into your CD-ROM drive.

    Before you can start the installation, you need to know which drive letter was assigned to your CD-ROM drive. Look at the last lines on your monitor before the DOS prompt. The drive letter for your CD-ROM drive should be displayed there. Depending on what type of Windows 98 Boot Disk you used, it will be either D:\ or E:\ - for this example, let's assume the CD-ROM drive is D:\.

  8. Type D: and press Enter.

    This should change the DOS prompt to D:\>.

  9. Type cd install and press Enter.

    This should change the DOS prompt to D:\Install>.

  10. Type scin install and press Enter.

    This should start the System Commander Installation program.

  11. Follow the instructions on the screen as they are pretty self-explanatory.

  12. When prompted about boot disks, select Yes, I have a boot diskette.

  13. Accept the default installation path of C:\SC.

    Skip making the utility disks for now.

  14. Exit from the main menu when the installation is complete.

  15. Remove the installation CD and the floppy disk from the drive and reboot the system.

    You'll get some info from System Commander, press a key to continue, you won't see this screen again.

  16. If everything went well, you should now see a menu with the following options:

    A - MS-DOS 6.22
    B - WindowsNT4
    C - Windows98SE
    D - Windows2000
    E - Boot from drive A:

    If option B reads Windows 2000, it means that System Commander picked up NT4 as Win2K, since Win2K saw the NTFS file system on the NT4 partition during installation (even though Partition Magic 5 supposedly hid it) and upgraded it to NTFS5. (It doesn't mean that you have two Win2K installations or lost your Windows NT4 installation. NT4 is still there.)

  17. If option B reads Windows 2000, change the description of option by highlighting option B, then pressing Alt-S on your keyboard (hold down the Alt key and press the key for the letter S) to get to the setup menu.

  18. Select Description and Icon menu, then manually change the description to WindowsNT4.

  19. Press Esc until you're back to the main menu. The change should already be visible.

Understanding How System Commander Works

You now have four primary partitions on your hard drive, each one containing a different operating system. In order to boot from any OS, the partition it is on must be primary (for Windows OS) and set to active. However, you can only have one partition set active at a time. Here's why.

When you boot your machine and the initial POST (Power On Self Test) is done, the BIOS will look for the Master Boot Record (MBR), which is usually located in the first sector of the physical hard drive. This sector contains the partition table information, e.g. how many partitions there are, their size, which one is active, etc. It also contains a small program that is loaded to continue the boot process. It checks the primary active partition and loads the boot sector for that partition (the first sector of that partition), which contains the boot code specific to that operating system. As you can see, if there were multiple primary active partitions, this could never work, as it would confuse the boot code in the MBR.

To boot from different operating systems, you would have to use Partition Magic each time to set another partition active - very annoying. This is where a boot manager program like System Commander (SC) comes in. SC is installed into its own primary active partition (the DOS partition we created first) and modifies the MBR to make sure that when the system is turned on, it always loads SC first. During installation, SC also searches all partitions and identifies by the information in the boot sector of each partition what OS is installed and bootable on it. That's how you get the boot menu every time. Once you make your selection, SC will then take the selected primary partition, set it active, hide the unneeded partitions, and proceed to boot the selected OS.

Warning! As explained before, SC modifies the MBR to ensure that SC is always loaded on bootup. However, if you run the command fdisk /mbr from DOS it replaces the custom MBR boot code with a default/generic one and it breaks the boot menu. If this ever happens to you, it is easily fixable. Boot with your MS-DOS Boot Disk. Once you're at the DOS prompt, type C: and press Enter, then type cd sc and press Enter. Now type scin and press Enter. This will start System Commander. Select Enable/Update System Commander from the menu, then choose Enable System Commander from the next menu. This will restore the System Commander setup including the custom MBR. Exit and reboot.

Customizing System Commander

After installing System Commander (SC) and rebooting, it pretty much configures itself and works fine right away. But you can customize it bit to accommodate your needs better. You always start at the main SC screen with the OS Selection Menu. Here you press Alt-S on your keyboard (hold down the Alt key and press the key for the letter S) to get to the setup menu.

System Commander offers the following menus/options:

  1. Timeouts and default OS lets you choose the option to time out and boot automatically to a default OS, how long to wait and what the default OS is, choose a custom alert sound, and set a screen saver. This is a matter of personal preference.

  2. Global Special Options contains some advanced custom options that normally don't need to be changed.

  3. Local Special Options has one important option, Primary partitions visible on drive x. This option is tied to the OS that was highlighted in the main menu when you entered the setup menu. This option lets you choose which other partitions besides the one the OS selection boots to will be visible at that time. For safest operation and the least chance of confusion, I recommend hiding all other partitions and making only the currently booted partition visible for each version of Windows. For the MS-DOS option you need to display all partitions, otherwise the multi-boot wouldn't work. This table shows our recommendation for this option.

    OS\Partitions Partition 1
    Partition 2
    Windows NT4
    Partition 3
    Windows 98
    Partition 4
    Windows 2000
    MS-DOS 6.22 Visible Visible Visible Visible
    Windows NT 4 Hidden Visible Hidden Hidden
    Windows 98 Hidden Hidden Visible Hidden
    Windows 2000 Hidden Hidden Hidden Visible

    The first row means that all partitions must be visible to DOS since that's where System Commander is installed (and System Commander needs to be able to see all the options).

    The second row means that the only partition visible when you boot to NT 4 will be the NT 4 partition, nothing else etc.

  4. Password control allows you to password-protect System Commander. Normally this is not required; only use it if you have a good reason.

  5. File management is only used when you install multiple OSs into your FAT partition. It doesn't apply to us here.

  6. Order, add, and removal lets you change the order of choices on your multi-boot menu as well as add and remove items.

  7. Description and icon allows you to customize (to a certain extent) the descriptions and icons for each multi-boot menu choice.

While it's great to have these options, System Commander works pretty well with the default options and setups.

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