Anyone got a floppy I could borrow ?


I’ve been tasked with building a demo that will translate into an article for MSDN, this requires that I build a custom Windows XP Embedded operating system image and boot the image on a PC provided by MSDN, it would appear that someone has already been playing with the MSDN PC hardware because the PC boots directly into an XP Embedded image that doesn’t have a shell (no control panel, no explorer), doesn’t have any useful tools, but I can get to a command prompt.

I know that the PC has two physical drives, the first drive has a copy of Windows XP Professional, the second drive has the Windows XP Embedded image – the PC boot sequence is of course controlled by a BOOT.INI file located on the root of the C:\ drive – from the command prompt I can see the existing boot.ini file on the root of the C:\ drive, this means that I can copy the file to appropriate storage media (nope, there aren’t any USB drivers in the image, so I can’t use a USB drive), the only hardware media device that could be used from the command prompt is A:\ – the 1.4MB floppy drive. The cunning plan is to copy the existing boot.ini file to a floppy disk (disc or disk?), edit using notepad on my Vista desktop, and then copy the file back to the MSDN PC.

But wait, there’s a problem… when was the last time you actually needed a floppy disk ?

A search of the buildings stationary rooms (I guess they are called stationary rooms because they don’t move) didn’t turn up anything (everything is on the network, right? – you can even PXE boot and image a new machine over the network, so why do you need a CD-Rom or Floppy ?) – thankfully one of my colleagues had a secret stash of floppies in his office.

A few minutes later I had copied, modified, and copied back the boot.ini and could finally boot into the Windows XP Pro image – my demo image is now built and copying over to the MSDN PC hardware.

What an interesting morning.

– Mike

Comments (12)

  1. two options:

    1) c:>copy con boot.ini

    You hit control-z, [enter] to close and save the file.  You probably want to build your boot.ini in a temp file to make sure not to gnarf the whole system.

    2) c:>WINDOWSnotepad.exe boot.ini

    notepad.exe may run with no problem.  You may also be able to run Explorer.exe from C:WINDOWS also.

  2. mikehall says:

    ah yes, now there’s the thing…

    I tried running Notepad from the command prompt by switching over to c:windowssystem32, but some of the required dependencies were not in the XPE image, so not even notepad would run!

    I thought about using "copy con:" but decided against that, if I had mis-typed something then I would need to start from scratch, and if I made a mistake then I would be hunting for a floppy anyway…

    :O)

    – Mike

  3. Andrew McGrath says:

    we use a floppy drive (externally attached via USB) all the time to fdisk, format, bootprep etc our Hard Disks for running XPe. A very very useful piece of hardware – in 2007.

    The other very useful one we have is the USB to IDE (2.5 and 3.5 inch HDD) adapter which is great for transferring the OS image provided you remember to put NTLDR down absolutely first, then NTDETECT, then BOOT.INI, and after that the rest of your OS.

  4. Jon Daley says:

    I was also going to suggest copy con.

    It is too bad edit.exe (or was it a .com?) was removed a while back.  I only recently discovered that qbasic was also removed, but I guess since I only noticed six months ago, I can’t complain much.

    I would buy the ntldr needing to be written first, but I don’t think the rest matters, does it?  It also appears that windows knows to write ntldr in the right place, no matter when you copy it.  ie. I can take a win2000 or winxp system, format a drive, put a bunch of files on it, later put on the ntldr, use dd to copy my own MBR that boots the partition, but knows absolutely nothing about what is on the partition, and windows will boot perfectly fine.  When I am asked to explain how the process works, I say "magic".  Of course, the downside is that occasionally strange things happen and I can’t explain those either.

  5. Jon Daley says:

    Oh – I forgot – I have a stack of floppies stored for those occasional times when I need them for something.

    But, I am in Pittsburgh, so you probably don’t want me to mail them…

  6. Gerard van der Land says:

    Some months ago I needed a floppy disk to do something similar. I had several boxes of old 3.5 HD disks in the closet that I hadn’t used for at least ten years. Just to be sure they were still usable, I tried to format them, but I could throw most of them in the trashcan because they had errors or could not be formatted anymore at all. Great storage medium! Many of these disks came with "Limited lifetime warranty", which of course does not include deterioration from ordinary use, or aging.. 🙂

    By the way, the room you were referring to is called "stationery room" (with an "e"). Stationery is the general name for things used for writing (pens, paper) and other office supplies (envelopes, notepads, paperclips, staples, etc).

  7. mikehall says:

    Booting devices really can feel like magic sometimes, especially when it doesn’t work quite the way you were expecting.

    BTW, when was the last time you saw or actually used a 5 1/2" floppy or an 8" floppy ?

    – Mike

  8. Jon Daley says:

    Magic: I was hoping you might shed some light on the NTLDR getting placed at the beginning…

    I used an 5.25" floppy a couple years ago – I have a nifty Dungeons and Dragons game on a set of 5.25" floppies – I should copy the data off of them.

    I haven’t ever used an 8" floppy – my roommate in college was excited when he found a box being thrown away (imagine that…) in the CS building.

  9. mikehall says:

    the order of getting bits onto the drive is not important, once you have prepared the drive (using ufdprep or bootprep) then you can copy the o/s bits onto the drive followed by NTLDR or copy NTLDR and then copy the o/s bits – it’s up to you.

    The following article explains the typical boot process – http://www.dewassoc.com/kbase/hard_drives/master_boot_record.htm

    Note that the MBR will look at the root folder of the file system of the boot drive to determine if NTLDR is there, it doesn’t need to be on specific sectors of the drive.

    – Mike

  10. Erling Paulsen says:

    "But wait, there’s a problem… when was the last time you actually needed a floppy disk ?"

    …we use’m all the time over in building 118.  We need them to boot up the CEPC.  Stop by if you need some.

  11. Late November 2006 we had a snow storm that pretty much brought the Bellevue/Redmond area to a stand-still.

  12. Andrew McGrath says:

    ….interesting, I have a Fabia FX5503 and the only way I can get it to boot is to put NTLDR down first, any other file or folder first and it don’t work.

    Thanks for the MBR link though 🙂