BartPE (Bart’s Preinstalled Environment) is a lightweight variant of Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 32bit operating systems, similar to a Windows Preinstallation Environment, which can be run from a Live CD or Live USB drive.
A BartPE system image is created using PE Builder, a freeware program created by Bart Lagerweij. It requires a legal copy of Windows XP or Windows Server 2003. Additional applications can be included in the image using plugins.
As a Live CD or USB, BartPE allows a user to boot Windows, even if a hardware or software fault has disabled the installed operating systems on the internal hard drive — for instance, to recover files. It can also be used to scan for and remove rootkits, viruses and spyware (that have infected boot files), or to reset a lost administrator password.
As with Windows Preinstallation Environment, BartPE operates by loading system registry files into RAM, and not writing any registry changes back to boot media. Thus, both operating systems require no hard drive or network access. This also allows them to be run from non-writable media such as a CD-ROM.
Since each instance of BartPE is a new installation, the BartPE “boot” disk needs original Windows setup files in order to operate. The Bart PE Builder application interprets and condenses files from a Windows setup CD to create the BartPE installation. It can build from a Windows XP Pro or Home Edition CD, or from a preinstalled Windows XP version (without a CD).
Additional applications can be included in the BartPE setup through the use of “plugins”. A plugin contains setup information for a specific application, so that it can be included on the media and installed along with Windows at each BartPE boot. Currently there are a few hundred plugins available in addition to the dozen-odd that are included by default with BartPE. Since BartPE represents a totally independent operating environment, the most obvious application examples involve backup, restoration, diagnosis and error-correction of systems with malfunctioning primary storage drives. Plugin programs can nominally be added to the capacity of the BartPE media.
BartPE is known to have certain incompatibilities with the Windows XP CDs shipped with most Dell PCs. The Dell versions include changes to the Windows setup files that can cause the BartPE build process to fail. Two patches are currently available to correct the known problems.
BartPE cannot create Vista Live DVDs.