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Briefly, a bootloader is the first software program that runs when a computer starts. It is responsible for loading and transferring control to the operating system kernel software (such as the Hurd or the Linux). The kernel, in turn, initializes the rest of the operating system (e.g. GNU).

List of bootloaders

Bootloaders x86 (IA32) ARM / XScale MIPS PowerPC SuperH remarks
U-Boot no yes yes yes yes allows networked setup
RedBoot yes yes yes yes yes allows networked setup
Lilo yes - - - - x86 only, requires nasm to build
Grub yes - - yes -
Syslinux yes - - - - variants (including) isolinux are very flexible for booting x86
coreboot, formerly known as LinuxBIOS yes - - - - Conference talk by Peter Stuge at Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2008, video
APEX - yes - - -
Blob - yes - - -
YAMON - - yes - -
Yaboot - - - yes -

A dash '-' means: not researched...

A lot more exhaustive list is available at Wikipedia