V-com System Commander 7.0 review: V-com System Commander 7.0

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MSRP: $69.99

The Good Supports practically every PC-based OS; slick Windows-style interface; can be installed on NTFS partition; excellent manual.

The Bad Limited; no after-hours phone technical support.

The Bottom Line Only savvy users, software developers, or IT administrators will need this heavy-duty partitioning software.

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7.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Support 6

Few tasks are more daunting and treacherous than juggling multiple operating systems on a single PC. V-com System Commander 7.0 helps you configure a single PC to run many different operating systems and prepare your PC for installation by automatically partitioning your hard disk, then it lets you choose an operating system to run when you boot. Its slick graphical interface makes up for the fact that it doesn't fully integrate with Windows under the hood. At around $60, System Commander makes sense for the savvy user, software developers, or IT administrators who needs to run a wide variety of OSs on a single PC. But, if you want to try out only two or three operating systems, stick with freeware utilities (often bundled with Linux and Unix installations), PartitionMagic, or Windows' own partitioning tools. When you install System Commander, you'll see a typical Windows setup program--but this is no Windows-based application. In fact, System Commander is a self-contained utility that runs on boot up before any OS loads, so you can actually run it from your hard drive even before you install any operating system. The installer's Windows-based utility program merely lets you set a few options, such as changing the look of the user interface or selecting which OS to boot into. For more complicated functions, such as preparing your system to install a new OS or setting usernames or passwords to restrict access, you must restart your system and access System Commander before an OS boots, which is actually a bit of a bother.

System Commander can be installed on any Windows system running 95/96/Me/NT/2000/XP and even DOS.

Once you reboot, you'll do a double take: the software's user interface mimics the Windows desktop almost exactly. Including mouse support, full-color icons, and pull-down menus, this slick interface makes navigation easy and very straightforward. To launch a particular operating system, you simply click the icons that, by default, look like the box art of the operating system in question. You can configure the software to automatically launch a particular OS at a specified time, and you can restrict access to specific OSs via password. Version 7.0 of System Commander includes a few improvements over the previous version, System Commander 2000. In addition to its slick new user interface and support for Windows XP, System Commander also includes native support for NT File System (NTFS). Competing utilities such as PartitionMagic 8.0 require a file allocation table (FAT) partition to launch their boot utility, but System Commander can install directly into an NTFS partition running Windows NT or XP. The software supports practically every OS that will run on a PC, including all versions of Windows and DOS, common varieties of Linux and Unix, and NetWare. As a bonus, System Commander includes the DOS-utility Partition Commander, which lets you manually create, delete, and convert partitions without having to format your hard disk.

When your system boots up, System Commander's Windows-style interface uses colorful icons to let you select which OS to start.

To test System Commander, we added Windows XP Pro to a PC with Windows XP Home already installed. System Commander made the process straightforward. We rebooted our system to launch System Commander and followed its wizard for installing a new operating system. System Commander automatically created a new partition out of the free space on our hard drive and hid our old system partition. When we rebooted, we were able to successfully install Windows XP Pro in the new partition. However, the Windows installation rewrote the master boot record (MBR), which then hid both System Commander and our original XP installation. We had to reinstall System Commander from the boot floppy included with the package to resolve this issue. Though the System Commander documentation explained this procedure, it underscores an important point: System Commander simplifies the process of installing multiple operating systems, but it by no means automates it.

The included Partition Commander lets you manually manipulate the partition structure of your hard disk.

System Commander ships with a 203-page printed manual that offers a semitechnical overview on how the software works, extensive information on compatibility issues arising from running specific OSs together, and excellent troubleshooting help. The company's Web site offers a helpful searchable database of FAQs, and the software itself includes detailed online help. You can get nontoll-free telephone support (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT) or e-mail support for 90 days after the first support contact, but additional support costs $39.95 for 30 more days of help. After that, you're on your own.

V-com's Web site includes a searchable database of FAQs.