Review: Das Boot – Free Drive Utility With Some Caveats

Let me start out by saying that Das Boot is an act of kindness by SubRosasoft. It’s a free utility that lets you turn any USB flash drive or firewire drive including older iPods into a bootable diagnostic tool. It works with many of the leading 3rd party diagnostic applications like TechTool Pro, DiskWarrior, FileSalvage, DriveGenius and others. By inserting your original CD, Das Boot can copy the application itself along with the files required for booting to your flash drive, creating a single device that stores a variety of 3rd party diagnostic programs. Not only do they boot faster from a flash drive, but it’s more convenient as well. When you need to boot a mac from your flash drive, you simply insert the flash drive, reboot and hold down the option key. Choose the flash drive as the boot volume and finally, choose the app you’d like to launch via Das Boot. Pretty cool.
In addition, Das Boot can also find many programs in your Applications folder like Apple’s own Disk Utility app, System Profiler, Terminal, etc. and ad those on your flash drive as well. From the main screen, you simply have to choose a source disk (your application CD), a destination device (your USB flash drive or firewire drive) and check or uncheck which of your additional applications you’d like copied to the device as well. Once you press the start button, that’s it. Das Boot does the rest. Unfortunately, there are a couple of limitations which keep this program from being a complete home run.

Boot Mac from USB

The first is that most PowerPC-based Macs cannot boot from a USB Device. I say most because there have been rumors of some later model macs having the ability. Still, for the vast majority of older models, they require a firewire device instead. Luckily, Das Boot will also work with firewire hard drives and older iPods as well, so older macs aren’t left completely out in the cold. Still, this is unfortunate because a flash drive is really the ultimate in convenience and portability.

The second limitation is a bit more serious. Right now, Das Boot does not fully support OS X 10.5. I’ve been told SubRosa is working on this, but for now, it’s OS X Tiger only. So if you have a new intel Mac and you’re running OS X 10.5 Leopard, you’re out of luck for the time being.

The final caveat is more of an annoyance, but did crop up in my testing of the application and that is once a CD has been added to your flash drive, the application will not let go of the CD. Trying to eject it will give you the “this CD is in use by an application” message. Ultimately, you’ll have to reboot your Mac to eject the disk. SubRosaSoft is aware of this and is working on a fix that will debut around the time they start supporting OS X 10.5.

So, here you have a free app that does a very cool thing and makes the process of creating a bootable volume very very easy. SubRosa even offers tech support for it, despite the fact that its freeware. That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is that there are limitations, at least for now.

I hope SubRosa continues to work on Das Boot. I’d even suggest they make it shareware with a modest fee to help defray development costs. I’d gladly pay to support an app with this kind of functionality that works across a broader range of devices.

FINAL VERDICT: worth investigating