Category: Boot utility
Name of tool: ERD Commander 2000
Company name: Winternals Software
Price: $349
URL: www.winternals.com
Windows platforms supported: NT, 2000
Quick description:

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A utility that allows you to boot Windows NT or 2000 from a set of floppies or a bootable CD-ROM, so you can access and repair your PC.

Strom-meter:
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.

Key features:

Pros:
Recovery of non-working NT and 2000 systems.

Cons:
You still need to know how to fix problems that make your PC unbootable. This is not a tool for NT or W2k novices. Somewhat confusing installation and operation and a limited range of commands.

Description:

One of the worst nightmares any corporate computer support person has is coming into work, only to find that someone's PC won't boot. Short of reinstalling Windows, what can you do?

Windows, particularly NT and 2000, come with Emergency Repair Disks, but these have their limitations and don't always fix common problems such as someone forgetting their login password or unintentionally deleting a key operating system file.

One potential solution is to use ERD Commander 2000 from Winternals Software. This utility will allow you to boot from a non-working hard disk partition, even one that doesn't even have many operating system files on it.

To operate this tool, you first need a working Windows machine to set it up. You actually use this machine to create your boot disks. You have three choices: a series of bootable floppy diskettes, a bootable CD ROM, or a special startup mode on your hard disk. Each of these is somewhat cumbersome, however.

Though they are slow to load, choosing floppies probably makes the most sense and has the widest application, since corporate support can use them in a pinch to TRY AND resurrect a dead machine. A bootable CD is somewhat more convenient, but preparing the CD will take some work because many PC systems can't boot from CDs. (Some need to have their BIOS startup options adjusted, while others--especially older systems-- won't work at all.) One work around would be to remove your disk drive from a non-working system, and install it in a working machine and boot from the ERD disks. Then you can view the non-bootable disk drive and make any necessary corrections. Finally, as a preventative move, you can add the ERD Commander to the startup options of all the working PCs in your enterprise.

Once you boot from ERD Commander, you have a command prompt like the DOS command lines of the old days, and you have a few limited options, including making copies of files to your hard disk, changing user passwords, and editing registry keys.

So let's say you are a faced with a dead machine, and can boot into ERD Commander. Now what do you do? That is the challenge. Unless you understand the reason for the problem, you might do more harm than good with this tool.

For example, say you need to remove a problematic Registry key. Editing the Registry is a tedious process, involving a very tortured command syntax, with one command line required per each key that you want to change. You don't have a graphical registry editor like you do in normal Windows. Everything must be done on the command line.

More useful is being able to stop various Windows services, especially if these services are preventing your machine from booting. Again, to change more than one service requires multiple command lines. But with ERD Commander you can also change user passwords quickly and easily. THEN once you finish making changes, you can reboot and hopefully NT or 2000 will load properly.

Any files that are hidden won't show up using the DIR command prompt like they do in ordinary DOS DIR command. This is because the ERD Commander's command line may look like a regular DOS command line, but it isn't. Instead, you need to use ATTRIB to list your hidden files. You can also use ATTRIB to unhide these files, typically used by the operating system, delete them, and make a copy of a fresh one from the NT OR WIN2K CDs, in case the system files are corrupted. If you don't know what I am talking about here, it is worth your while to learn the syntax of this command before you are in the heat of the battle to get a PC bootable and working.

ERD Commander is not going to solve all your NT/2000 boot problems, and Winternals Software sells several other recovery and rescue tools that ALSO are worth checking into. But it does solve some big ones, and ones that can prevent your users from accessing corporate data that they have stored on their hard disks. It is worth the insurance to have a copy in your support kit, and to work through a few scenarios with working NT OR WIN2K installations just to understand its limitations and uses.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

Bio: David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant, and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at david@strom.com.


This was first published in March 2001

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