Software // Enterprise Applications
10:58 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: The Perfect Rescue Tool

Fred Langa explains how to make a custom, bootable CD containing the right tools to fix just about any system trouble

Build Your Own Boot-CD Toolkit
There are three major steps to the process of creating your own custom boot-CD toolkit. Working backwards: The last step is actually burning everything onto a CD, and making it bootable: We'll cover that in the next column, paying special attention to one way of creating the boot CD that helps ensure it can work properly even on older PCs that were among the first to support "boot from CD."

The middle step is to gather the diagnostic/repair and other tools you want to put on the CD. We'll get to that later in this column.

But the first step, and the one we'll spend the most time on now, is picking the right kind of boot files, and making them perfectly suit your needs. We'll focus on DOS-based boot setups because they'll allow low-level access to the hardware on any standard PC, running any operating system; and because DOS-based boot floppies are frankly simpler and easier to create and use than Linux floppies. (But if you wish, you can also build Linux-based boot disks, using similar general principles.)

The easiest way to gather the files you need for your boot CD is to start by making a customized boot floppy from whichever version of Windows you have available. We'll cover Win98, WinME, Windows 2000 and XP in the following pages, but no matter which operating system you have access to, please read the Win98 section, as it contains significant foundation information that will be useful even in the discussions of other versions of Windows.

Win98's Three "Classic" Boot Floppies
We originally covered Win98's boot floppies in 1999--before there was a Windows ME, Windows 2000, or Windows XP; when Win95 was still going strong; and Linux was in its infancy. Clearly, a lot has changed since then, so let's start by refreshing and updating that info:

Win98, like most versions of Windows, offers three distinct types of boot disk. One type ships inside the retail box along with the setup CD. In Win98's case, it was called the "Windows 98 Boot Disk," and it contained The following factory-installed files:


Although the label says "boot disk," it's actually an install or setup disk: It's optimized for the purpose of installing the operating system from the CD to your hard disk. It's not--repeat, not--optimal for trying to repair an installation of Windows that's gone bad, or that you want to alter. (Other versions of Windows have slightly different, but conceptually similar, installation/setup floppies.)

None of these setup floppies is a good starting point for making a bootable CD. In fact, I find this kind of boot disk all but useless because it's so limited in its intent and focus.

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