Friday Freeware Fest Elmar Hanlhofer Plop Boot Managers are a small family of tiny tools for booting from media that a computer usually cannot boot from.

Before pointing out that all modern computers box boot from USB – boot managers also work well in virtual machines, where USB boot support is still much rarer. Yes, of course, you can virtually “insert” an ISO file into your VM’s virtual CD-ROM, but if you want to boot a VM from a real physical USB stick, it’s not that easy.

The programs are tiny: they fit on a single floppy disk (even a 720 kB floppy) and the ISO image is about half a megabyte.

Plop Boot Manager 5: Ok, the font and starfield are a bit 1980s, but the functionality can be very handy.

Boot PBM5, and it presents a menu, allowing you to boot the actual target operating system on the machine from a floppy disk, CD-ROM, or USB drive. None of this uses the PC’s BIOS, so it doesn’t matter if the firmware is blissfully unaware of the existence of these brackets.

As an option, the boot manager can be installed directly on your PC’s hard drive, in which case it presents a list of partitions and boots their contents. The still unfinished PBM6 supports both UEFI and BIOS systems. Curiously, the separate Plop VHD charger can also boot some operating systems directly from MS hypervisors HDV virtual disk files, without using a hypervisor or booting another operating system first.

As an example of what you could use it for: you can install a Linux distro directly onto a USB drive and then have a universal bootable drive that will work on almost any PC. It’s easier and safer to create this inside a virtual machine, and you don’t run the risk of accidentally writing the bootloader to your primary drive and ending up with a PC that will only boot if the USB key is present. But most hypervisors still default to legacy BIOS, and most of the time they can’t boot from real physical USB drives on the host. With PBM, they can.

This makes it easy to create the bootable drive in the first place, without having to assign that device as the VM’s drive with the VBoxManage ordered createrawvmdk option, which as VirtualBox manual illustrious, it’s quite complicated and needs root permissions.

Just hypothetically, of course, if you were expecting to spend much of this winter at your local library because you couldn’t afford to heat your house anymore, that might be a handy way to get around the time limits on library PCs.

Important Getting Started Note

The original Plop Boot Manager, currently at version 5.15, and the new, still in development, PBM6 are freeware, but they are not Open source. That said, however, both are free to use for personal and commercial purposes. They also have a Linux-only parent, PlopKexecwhich is fully open source.