Software // Enterprise Applications
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8/6/2003
04:13 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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The Explorer: Save Your Butt With DOS: Part 2

Make a custom boot disk -- while you still can!

A Truly Useful Emergency Boot Disk
A true Emergency Boot Disk is a bootable floppy that contains a number of carefully-chosen low-level utilities that can help you repair things that may have gone wrong with your system or hard drive -- and maybe restore your system to health. It can be a lifesaver. Here's how to make one:

[Note to Win 2000 users: Win 2000's Backup applet has an option to create something called an "Emergency Repair Disk," and that sounds promising -- but don't be fooled: All it contains is a copy of "autoexec.nt," "config.nt" and (optionally) a copy of your setup log and registry information. Athough you can use it to effect very limited repairs on a Win 2000 setup (simply by overwriting the autoexec, config and registry files), you can't boot to the floppy, nor can you use it to perform general diagnostics or major repairs.

Thus, a Win9x-style emergency disk can still be a very good thing to have: It will let you boot your system without starting any part of Win 2000, and it will give you access to any files not protected or encrypted by Win 2000's own file system, such as standard files stored on FAT-based partitions.]

These instructions are specific for Win98SE, but other members of the Win9x family follow either identical or very similar steps: Insert a blank floppy in a drive. In Explorer, right-click on the drive with the blank floppy, and select Format. Click "Full" format, type CUSTOM BOOT or some similar name in the Label area, and check "display summary" and "copy system files." Then click Start. When the format is done, check the "Format Results dialog that appears; make sure there are "0 bytes in bad sectors." If the number isn't zero, get a different floppy and start over. When you have a perfect floppy with the system files on it, copy the following files to the floppy from your \windows, and/or \windows\system and/or \windows\command directories:

Attrib.exe
Chkdsk.exe
Deltree.exe
Edit.com
Emm386.exe
Fdisk.exe
Format.com
Himem.sys
Mscdex.exe
Smartdrv.exe
Sys.com
Scandisk.exe
Xcopy.exe
Xcopy32.exe
Xcopy32.mod

These files comprise a very handy tool set: Attrib lets you access and remove even system or "hidden" files if you need to do so; Chkdsk and Scandisk give you, respectively, a fast and thorough way to check the basic integrity of your hard drive; Deltree gives you a way to wipe out entire branches of your directory structure at lightning speed; Edit lets you edit text files such as your autoexec or config files, from DOS; Himem and Emm386 are useful memory managers; Fdisk, Format, and Sys are the trio of apps you need to rebuild a bootable hard drive (or floppy) from the ground up; Mscdex is one of the two files you'll probably need to access your CD from DOS; the Xcopy files speed and simplify operations such as copying your Windows CAB files from CD to your hard drive; Smartdrv is a disk cache that can enormously speed Deltree and Xcopy operations. If you don't know how to use any of these tools, boot to DOS and type the tool name followed by a space, a forward slash and a question mark: For example, typing DELTREE /? Will give you a brief description of what Deltree does and how to use it.

Next, if you wish to access your CD from your boot floppy, you also need at least one other file -- a CD ROM driver. Windows provides two generic CD-ROM drivers -- Oakcdrom.sys on newer versions of Windows and Nec_ide.sys on some older versions. One of these will probably work with your CD-ROM: search for those files on your system (or on one of the other types of boot floppies mentioned earlier) and copy it to the new boot floppy.

I also toss couple of old DOS utilities on the floppy, and you may wish to, too: MSD.EXE is the Microsoft System Diagnostics, which can be useful for tracking down memory or IRQ conflicts, and for ensuring that your basic hardware is healthy. MEM is a tiny utility that can tell you exactly what's going on with your system's memory usage; it can show you exactly which apps and drivers are being loaded, and where they reside in memory. You can copy MSD and MEM to your floppy from the \tools\oldmsdos directory on your Win98SE CD.

I also copy LLPRO.EXE to the diskette: It's a 10-year-old, DOS-based version of "LapLink Pro" that takes just a couple hundred KB of space. It's too clunky, slow and obsolete for routine use nowadays (I have a copy of LapLink 2000 for that), but the old, DOS-based LLPRO lets me do simple, pseudo-network file transfers (from DOS) through a serial- or parallel port cable (cost for the cable: about $6). Because LLPRO runs from DOS, it lets me easily add or restore files to any PC I'm working on, even if Windows is dead and unbootable; and without requiring any network card or drivers at all; and without having to copy everything by floppy or burn special CDs.

I came by my copy of LLPRO the straightforward way: I got a retail copy 10 years ago, and simply have kept it ever since. But the National Federation of the Blind has a public BBS that currently offers a copy of LLPRO that they say was donated by the developer of LLPRO. As far as I know, it's a legitimate, and free, download. But don't worry if you don't have these optional files -- they're what I use, but the salient point here is that you can add whatever other files you want, up to the capacity of the floppy.

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