Sunday, October 24, 2004

Reviving Windows

I've been deep into computers for decades, and with the Mac or any flavor of Unix, I can handle just about all the necessary tasks. However, because the Motosat software was Windows only, I reluctantly acquired a windows box about two and a half years ago. As a simple utility, it was okay. I rarily used it for anything other than a network bridge. The deepest I got into the operating system was to learn how to do the windows updates.

But when it died, I had to learn a whole lot more.

The repair people gave me very limited options. Since Windows didn't boot after the new mother board was installed, they offered to copy all my files to another place and then reformat the hard disk and put the files back. I was horrified. The satellite software requires a set-up procedure by the installers, some 1800 miles away. I wanted to just fix the operating system and bring everything back up like it was. The repair guy gave me no hope. "There's a repair option, but it doesn't work." he said.

Still, rather than give up and pay them the $120 price to erase my hard disk, I took it as-is and began exploring the options.

Understand that I was off in the wilderness. There weren't even any bookstores to hunt down reference manuals. I was still without internet, so no googling. And my experience with Windows was limited.

But I did have the installation disk. After several attempts to copy critical files to floppy (dinky little things) using Dos command line mode using the installer disk repair mode option, I finally began the install.

Surprise, surprise, there was an option to repair the damaged Windows image. Was this the repair that the tech guy mentioned, or was it the other repair mode that gave me a Dos prompt?

Anyway, I attempted to repair the damage windows installation. And it booted up. I was even able to run the satellite software and get internet. But there were still many problems. Internet sharing, which was how we used the system, would not work. Every attempt to turn it on failed. It looked like I would have to erase the disk and start over, but at least I had a nearly live system to run my backups.

The original satellite installers, who had put together this probably overpriced box, had included a lot of software that I had never used. One was a CD burner called Nero. I bought a bundle of blank disks and started making copies.

I have been spoiled. Burning a CD on windows was nothing like on a Mac. When a piece of software has to give you coaching hints ("The burn icon is the seventh one from the left") then you know it's got problems. After the first few times to make a back up, I got totally frustrated and was looking forward to the idea of erasing that hard disk.

By that time we had left Michigan and had stopped at Mall of America in Minneapolis. I knew there was an Apple Store there, so we went in and I bought an external hard disk that would work via USB. Now I had a real back up plan.

Unfortunately, I plugged it in, and the drive didn't appear. Always ready to think the worst of Windows, I assumed that USB had not installed correctly ( there were warnings with the motherboard). So I took a look at the windows installer again.

The menu allows you to install the system other than in C:\WINDOWS so I put it in WINDOWS2. It installed, and as I applied the motherboard drivers I was especially careful about the USB. Still no external hard drive.

Then, on a hunch, I plugged the drive into my Mac and reformatted it as MSDOS, which is actually FAT32. The drive sold in the Apple Store obviously had been formatted in HFS+, and Windows has limited abilities to recognize drive formats other than their own. Now it came up under Windows2, and Windows as well.

So now I burned gigabytes of backups. I wasn't about to lose anything if I could help it.

But there was still one bad problem. WINDOWS2 ran the satellite steering software just fine, but the DIRECWAY internet connection didn't work at all. WINDOWS could get the internet, but it was getting increasingly fragile. I took a dive into regedit and after a long hunt, I located the Hughes Satelite entries. I exported them from WINDOWS and when I imported them into WINDOWS2, the network worked!

So the time had come. With lots of backups and an install disk, I erased the hard disk, installed a clean copy of the operaing system, restored just those parts of the backups that ran the satellite and soon had a working system again.

Now, I had often thought that my dislike of Windows probably had a component of prejudice in it. If I just got my feet wet, I would find that it wasn't that bad after all.

No. I wouldn't say so. I have to use Windows for certain tasks, but it certainly takes much more effort than I want to spend. I'll stick to my Mac, thank you.

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