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Tools for Boot Images, LiveCDs and Windows PEs

The following are some bootable Windows (WinPE) environments & builders/utilities, Linux-based recovery/utility LiveCD/LiveUSB images and some general purpose multiple image boot stick tools I have come across and want to come back to when I have the time but (for the most part) have not tested yet - so before using any of them be sure to perform due diligence. I have not and have no idea how trustworthy or effective any of the following projects, sites and executables are; do not consider this list to be an endorsement. As such this list doesn't belong on my Favourite Windows Software page so I'm putting it here for our (my) benefit. I will come back to update this page once I have something educated to say. Feel free to let us know your experience - once I finish programming the comments thing. Some day. Never. Maybe. Gesundheit.

  • According to the Wikipedia article on WinBuilder this package used to be available at https://winbuilder.net but at the time of this writing the domain redirects to https://reboot.pro probably the result of expired domain sniping. Which may be for the best: it appears to be a relatively active mutual support community that hosts downloads for numerous delicious looking utils and some member-rolled bootable images. No idea as to the safety of this site or its downloads, you may prefer to find the official home pages for those utilities before downloading - but as far as WinBuilder is concerned this seems (at present) to be the best place to get it at a glance. The wiki handily links to a bunch of bootable images that were created with WinBuilder.
  • At present writing if you navigate to http://wimbuilder.world you are redirected to http://hello.wimbuilder.world/hello/ which is... uh... hella SEO. >.> anyway in turn it links to the ostensibly official github source repo at https://github.com/slorelee/wimbuilder2, the Issues section of which indicates a healthy userbase. That's right, WIM Builder:

    WimBuilder2 is an open source lightweight editor for wim file. but be powerful, fully customizable and easy to use.

    That's a new one for me. https://fileinfo.com/extension/wim:

    What is a WIM file?

    A WIM file is saved in a file-based imaging format that was introduced with Windows Vista. It allows a single disk image to be deployed to multiple computer platforms. WIM files are used to manage files such as drivers, updates, and components without booting the operating system image.

    Ahhh. So that's how the wind0ze buggers do "slipstreaming". https://theoven.org/ seems strongly correlated with support for this utility.

    NOTE: funnily enough, about a week after writing this I ended up doing much of the above by hand when faced with a USB 3.0-only machine that needed drivers slipstreamed to install Windows 7. I documented the effort in detail at Add Missing Hardware Support (Drivers) to Windows Install Media (DVDs, USB Sticks).

  • RMPrepUSB at https://rmprepusb.com/:

    RMPrepUSB is a Windows 32-bit utility to partition and format a drive (especially USB drives).

    • Install/repair boot code
    • Clear write-protect\read-only drive flags
    • Sector editor
    • SD cards can be up to 10% faster (when formatted as FAT32)
    • Test for ‘Fake’ size drives
    • Fix various USB boot issues
    • Run a 32-bit MBR Emulator to boot from a USB drive (QEMU) with full write access
    • Includes the command line utility RMPartUSB.exe

  • Easy2Boot at https://easy2boot.xyz/:

    E2B – the free USB multiboot solution for professionals

    • Boot to (almost) anything (Legacy/UEFI64/UEFI32/Secure Boot) from just one USB drive for free!
    • E2B includes three menu systems – E2B grub4dos, agFM/grubfm and Ventoy for the best chance of booting any payload!
    • E2B and agFM use a generic method of booting Linux ISOs. This means it is often more successful than Ventoy.
    • Over 1 million downloads – E2B is used by techs, repair shops, schools and Universities all over the world.

  • Ventoy at https://www.ventoy.net/ is included as part of E2B above.

    Ventoy is an open source tool to create bootable USB drive for ISO/WIM/IMG/VHD(x)/EFI files.
    With ventoy, you don't need to format the disk over and over, you just need to copy the ISO/WIM/IMG/VHD(x)/EFI files to the USB drive and boot them directly.
    You can copy many files at a time and ventoy will give you a boot menu to select them (screenshot).
    x86 Legacy BIOS, IA32 UEFI, x86_64 UEFI, ARM64 UEFI and MIPS64EL UEFI are supported in the same way.
    Most type of OS supported (Windows/WinPE/Linux/ChromeOS/Unix/VMware/Xen...)

    [attachment-xpK9rA]
    Dang. I need the hell out of this...

    I would make the observation that you will want to include version numbers for your isos in the boot menu.

  • Gandalf’s Windows 10PE x64 seems active, well-liked and comes with a ridonkulous list of installed utilities.
  • MediCat USB - A Multiboot Linux USB for PC Repair A glorious ~25 gig multiboot usb stick formulation with frequent, rolling updates.

While I haven't tried some of these options personally and/or very seldomly use them, I think you can reasonably take their safety for granted:

  • SystemRescue is a conventional system recovery linux LiveCD distro that has been around forever and remains up-to-date.

    ...a Linux system rescue toolkit available as a bootable medium for administrating or repairing your system and data after a crash. It aims to provide an easy way to carry out admin tasks on your computer, such as creating and editing the hard disk partitions. It comes with a lot of Linux system utilities such as GParted, fsarchiver, filesystem tools and basic tools...

    What I think they should mention up front is that it includes PhotoRec which makes this the ISO I'll be reaching for next time a grampa drive dies.

  • UNetbootin runs on Windows, Linux and MacOS. The official project page at https://unetbootin.github.io/ describes:

    UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for Ubuntu and other Linux distributions without burning a CD.

    You can either let UNetbootin download one of the many distributions supported out-of-the-box for you, or supply your own Linux .iso file.

  • Clonezilla is a modern, open-source and more fully featured disk imaging/cloning suite than the long-defunct Norton Ghost which I used to see running in the shop at all hours in my youth. It is included as part of Diskless Remote Boot in Linux (DRBL) https://drbl.org/ for turn-key network booting
  • ophcrack has a livecd!!! Get it from https://ophcrack.sourceforge.io/download.php and be sure to select the correct image for your target version of Windows to ensure it comes with the correct rainbow tables or download the table-less image and choose a specific table from https://ophcrack.sourceforge.io/tables.php for better coverage (many will not fit on smaller media/drives).
    NOTE If you already have NT or LM hashes extracted and ready to crack you can quickly just plug them into the rainbow tables live via their site at https://www.objectif-securite.ch/en/ophcrack!
  • If you don't care to crack Windows account passwords you can simply disable them; this feature is widely available on distributions like Hiren's but since that hasn't been officially maintained in years and it doesn't look like a supported feature of SystemRescue (above) I feel I should include https://www.supergrubdisk.org/rescatux/ and https://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/.
  • The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) "is available as an additional subscription for Software Assurance customers" which means you have to pay for it. Apparently. Anyway it comes with the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolkit (DaRT) which is a bootable image full of recovery tools. However, I am way more interested in the virtualization features...
  • Another official Microsoft offering was the Windows to Go Live USB functionality available from Windows 8 Enterprise through Windows 10 Enterprise until the May 2020 update

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