Back in the days when I was using Windows 95 and 98 a DOS boot disk was my knight in shining armor. Always saving the day from my haphazard blunders and general windows screw-ups.
Unfortunately these days most computers don’t come with the standard DOS boot disk, yet alone a 3.5′ floppy drive to put it in.
We’re left with CDs, which generally hold a lot more data – about 486 times as much – but are much more difficult to make a boot disk for. Or so the story goes.
The truth is it’s easy to make a bootable CD. You just need an image file (.ISO). And therein lies the problem. Most people don’t know how to make a bootable ISO file, and the tutorials I’ve found online aren’t easy to follow. Getting them to work – that’s the trick.
The thing is you don’t need to make an ISO file. You don’t need to struggle with getting the right files and burning hundreds of CDs testing it to see if it works. You don’t need to do any of this because there are plenty of people online who have already done this for you. And they keep doing it. Moreover I can guarantee their ISO files are better than yours.
I had upgraded to XP for a couple of months when I screwed up my boot files. Try as I might, I couldn’t fix the problem, and I realized that though I had upgraded my operating system many of the old problems remained. Namely that I still made stupid mistakes now and then that cost me a lot of time and data to fix. In the end I had to reinstall windows completely and came to the sudden realization that I needed a boot disk.
So I went to bootdisk.org to see if they had an ISO of DOS. And wouldn’t you know it, they did. Unfortunately the bootdisk I made couldn’t detect the hard drive. I had an utterly useless boot disk. What good is it if I can get on DOS but can’t access the files I need to fix?
I’ll tell you, it’s no good. But there is another alternative. A better alternative. Technology has come a long way since the days of Windows 9x and quite frankly DOS is rather dated. It was my knight in shining armor, but that armor was getting pretty rusty. I had found the new hotness.
So without further ado may I introduce you to the ultimate boot disk. Linux!
You’ve heard of that, you say? Of course you have, and where DOS was the knight in shining armor, Linux is an unbeatable fortress of saving your (and my) butt. It is a sysadmin’s dream. Corrupted boot files? Not a problem. Need to recover data? Ok!
All you need is a Linux Live CD. It is an entire operating system that boots from CD. Just pop it in and it’ll work, regardless of what went wrong in Windows. If it doesn’t then you have a hardware problem.
I have tried GoblinX and Knoppix and they both look nice and work well, but by far my favorite is Kubuntu. Get the Live CD image, burn it to a CD, and you will have a boot disk that puts DOS to all sorts of shame.
Kubuntu comes with a browser (Konquerer) so you can get info on your problem, as well as a media player, text editor, graphics software and just about everything else you could possibly want. The downside is that like my old DOS boot disk you can’t access the hard drive. At least, not right away, and this is the catch that got me at first.
I kept thinking it was useless if I couldn’t fix the problem, although at least I could still get online. But the catch is you have to mount the hard drive. Don’t worry, it won’t do anything to the files, and in future releases of Live CDs this should be completely automatic.
For now though, you have to do it manually through the terminal. In Kubuntu it is a program called Konsole, which resembles DOS quite a bit. In fact it is a shell terminal (SSH) and if you’re familiar with SSH or Telnet on a linux server then this should be a piece of cake, but I’ll tell you how to do this anyway. In SSH many of the commands are the same as DOS.
To mount your drive in Kubuntu open up Konsole and type:
If you get a response that no such directory exists then you can go ahead as follows, but if it exists you may have to use a different directory (one that doesn’t exist yet) because we’re about to make it. To make this directory type:
sudo mkdir /media/windows
This will make the directory /media/windows. It will be created within the RAM of your computer where Kubuntu is running and not on your hard drive. Now you need to mount your hard drive.
Normally the hard drive can be found at /dev/hda1 on Linux, but you can’t access that. It’s off limits because it needs to be mounted. But before you can mount it you have to know what type of file system it is. Mine is NTFS so I typed the following:
sudo mount /dev/hda1 /media/windows/ -t ntfs -o nls=utf8,umask=0222
For a VAT32 system you would type something like this:
sudo mount /dev/hda1 /media/windows/ -t vfat -o iocharset=utf8,umask=000
And poof, it’s done. You can now go into Konquerer and type /media/windows to view your Windows partition.
For more information on working with Ubuntu (and Kubuntu) visit the guide.