Rebooting with Windows 95 can be a frustrating game of gotcha

Personal Computers

July 22, 1996|By STEPHEN MANES

CATCH 95, the pretzel logic that occasionally trips up users of America's best-selling operating system, continues to blossom in unexpected ways. One of the least amusing involves the question of what may happen if your hard drive or Windows 95 itself fails catastrophically.

Even the fastidious are not immune. Make the admittedly unlikely assumption that you have dutifully backed up your hard drive with a backup utility for Windows 95. When your machine goes down for the count, you congratulate yourself on your foresight and thoroughness.

But then you recognize one teeny problem: Since the backup software runs from Windows 95, you will need to reinstall the operating system and the backup software before you can begin restoring your backup files.

No problem. Your childhood years as a scout have paid off. You are prepared. The Windows 95 CD-ROM and the disks for your backup program are at your fingertips.

Better still, you have the "start-up disk" you made months ago when Windows 95 prompted you for a floppy and informed you that "If you have trouble starting Windows, you can use a start-up disk to start your computer, run diagnostic program, and fix any problems." You are confident that you will prevail.

Or will you? When you boot your machine with the start-up disk, you discover another problem: The machine will not recognize the CD-ROM drive from which you installed Windows 95. Catch 95 strikes again!

First, some good news: Many manufacturers supply or prompt you to make an emergency boot disk that really works in emergencies, often in conjunction with a CD-ROM that comes with the computer. An increasing number, including IBM and Compaq, sell models that can be resurrected directly from CD-ROMs.

Many new computers ask you to supply 30 floppy disks and make your own backup of Windows 95 or order a set for about $50. Do not fail to do one or the other: Restoration from floppies will be tedious, but it should get the computer running again from a standing start. Be sure you also make backup copies of essential driver files; the Windows 95 reinstallation may not include them. Some computers come with utilities that do the copying.

But particularly on systems that have been upgraded from a CD-ROM, the start-up disk is likely to be incomplete. Windows 95 newcomers may be pardoned for not realizing what is missing from the start-up floppy, but grizzled veterans of DOS and Windows may figure it out.

First comes a file called MSCDEX.EXE typically found in the /WINDOWS/COMMAND folder. Next is a file known as the CD-ROM "real mode device driver," which may be called almost anything with a .SYS extension and found almost anywhere on your hard drive. (Mine is NECIDE.SYS.) Then, you need two start-up text files from the darkest days of DOS that may or may not exist in the root directory of the drive from which you boot your Windows 95 machine: AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS. Finally, you need one line in each file to invoke the software in the proper way.

If you still have a DOS disk with this stuff on it, you can use it instead of your start-up disk to boot your machine and reinstall Windows 95 from there. If not, and you happen to have an old DOS directory hanging around and understand extremely arcane and unforgiving command syntax, the old DOS Help facility may help you figure out what you need to do to make your start-up disk genuinely useful. Unfortunately, DOS help has disappeared from Windows 95, so if you have erased the old version, a call to your computer maker's support line or Microsoft's may be in order.

Do not depend on a Windows 95 program called the Emergency Recovery Utility. According to the text file that accompanies it, "Microsoft recommends that you use the utility to create a backup each time you make any significant system changes, such as adding new hardware or software."

On the CD-ROM, it is buried in the folder /OTHER/MISC/ERU, presumably because it is not much help except in minor emergencies, and maybe not even then. The program is supposed to copy important system configuration files from Windows 95 to a floppy disk or elsewhere and restore some settings in some cases, but Microsoft's web site admits that it does not always work correctly.

If you upgraded your machine to Windows 95 from an earlier version, be prepared for yet another surprise. Sometime during the installation process, the program will insist upon seeing a disk from your old edition of Windows before proceeding.

Additional gotchas arise in other situations. The problem is potentially more acute, for example, if you have upgraded a laptop computer by using a CD-ROM drive that connects to a PC Card slot. If the system needs to be restored from CD, the real-mode device drivers for both the card and the CD-ROM will need to reside on the emergency disk and be mentioned properly in the CONFIG.SYS file.

And once you get all this done, you have the painstaking job of reinstalling all your applications and data, either from scratch or from backups that you hope the backup hardware and software can restore. What is really needed is a foolproof method of restoring the state of one's machine quickly and simply. Ease of use is certainly a very nice thing, but when your machine dies, what you really long for is ease of reuse.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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