Originally Published: Friday, 29 September 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Install Hell

I quickly ran through the remainder of the install. Having done a year of tech support at an ISP, I thought I would be qualified enough to get dial up networking going the first try. Why I was optimistic at this point, I still don't know.

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Until today, my computer was 100% free of Microsoft software. Today however, several pals threw down enough peer pressure on me that I caved in and bought Diablo II.

Unfortunately, Loki doesn't have a Linux port available (nor does Blizzard seem amicable to the idea). Doom on me. Having inherited something of a stubborn streak, I decided that instead of repartitioning my perfectly functioning Linux box and neutering it with a dual-boot setup, I would swap in an old hard drive and dedicate it as a Windows/Gaming load.

This seemed reasonable enough to me. I've had enough experience swapping hardware and installing operating systems, that I didn't think the whole process would take me any longer than half an hour. In perspective, I seemed to underestimate how difficult it would be.

The first step I took was to format the drive as FAT16. I've seen plenty DLL hell and broken dependencies from my pre-Linux days; hence, I would install everything fresh. Optimistically, I inserted my OSR2 CD into the drive and rebooted. After the boot process finished, and no comforting setup screen was on my monitor I began to experience that funny feeling in my gut.

For whatever brilliant reason, my OEM decided not to make their installation CD bootable. Now I was stuck with a unbootable CD-ROM, and an unbootable hard drive. It had been over a year since I'd had any Windows/DOS bootdisks, even longer since I've bothered to have one setup with ATAPI/MSCDEX.

Now what? I could try to track down a friend and make a boot disk at their place, but if it didn't work the first time I would have wasted not only my time, but theirs. Feeling helpless without my Linux tools, I hastily replaced my Linux hard drive.

Somehow I found an old DOS boot image I had made while trying to get dosemu working. So I did a "reverse rawrite", and wrote it sector by sector onto a floppy using the dd util. Now I had a bootable DOS disk, but it still didn't have any of the utils I would need to get the Windows hard drive ready.

I found an older ATAPI DOS driver, and also found mscdex.exe on an FTP site somewhere in Europe. I felt as though the program had been sitting there lonely for several years, just waiting for someone to download it. Unfortunately, I had to go through several iterations of this, because I had to get all of the programs to match the DOS version I was using. After going through several reboots, I had a workable DOS boot disk with the correct versions of format, fdisk, and CD-ROM drivers. Luckily, I remembered enough of my config.sys/autoexec.bat voodoo to get it all setup.

After all of that, setup finally runs from the Windows 95 CD-ROM. Two seconds later, it exits with a message saying it can't find the primary partition. At this point, I begin to feel frustrated. My first step had been to format the drive FAT16. Well, I had thought ahead and had fdisk.exe on my boot-disk. I figured I'd just fix up the partitions and be on my way.

Ten minutes later, I gave up on Microsoft's util. Even BSD (not always known to be newbie friendly) has easier to use partitioning software. I will skip the details, but I had a third party partitioning program that fixed it up.

The setup program finally started to copy files onto my system. I selected the minimal install, with only dialup networking as an option. Twenty minutes of grinding my hard drive had passed before setup asked me to remove the floppy and reboot.

I quickly ran through the remainder of the install. Having done a year of tech support at an ISP, I thought I would be qualified enough to get dial up networking going the first try. Why I was optimistic at this point, I still don't know.

Seems though I'd decided to install dial-up networking, Windows neglected to install TCP/IP. If you know the Microsoft mind-set, you know that you'll find TCP/IP under Microsoft's protocols. For some reason they think they invented it.

Several more reboots through, I could begin to install the game itself. First though, I had to install the latest DirectX drivers. Two more reboots. Then I had to download and install the latest drivers for my video card.

Reboot, reboot, reboot. I had long ago lost all patience and was just staring blankly at the screen. Somehow seeing fluffy white clouds floating on boot up didn't seem to calm my nerves. At this point, I had wasted two hours before I could play the blasted game.

Next, the game had to download the latest patch. Everything seemed to actually be working! Then, the video pallet decided to randomly swap around the colors (even though I was running in 32-bit mode). The game was completely unusable. I did some trouble-shooting and decided to downgrade the video driver. Another reboot, and I had the problem fixed.

Before you flame me, yes, I was using an older version of Windows. Can you honestly tell me that all of these problems have been fixed in Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows NT, Windows 2000, or Windows ME? If so, which one am I supposed to "upgrade" to?

My DOS/Windows skills have atrophied at the expense of my Linux skills. I had forgotten just how much I had trained myself to work within the limitations of Windows. Does Linux solve all of these problems? Not necessarily, but if I'm going to spend time configuring and tweaking, I might as well use a free operating system to do it with. An operating system that gives me the most powerful software tools, and doesn't treat me as a child with safety locks everywhere.

I can safely say that I've probably bought my last Windows game today. Loki forever!

Matt Michie exists in the New Mexican desert. Please visit his web site at http://daimyo.org.

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