Monday, January 16, 2006

Windows XP - Reinstall and Network

Last weekend, I reinstalled the Windows XP OS on my wife's laptop. I have pretty much given up using Windows since about Windows 2000, when my employer allowed me to switch to a Linux desktop. My laptop had already been converted to Redhat 9.0 a few months before that, and now runs Fedora Core 2. I do have a secondary Windows XP Professional PC at work, although all I use it for is tp rdesktop to it about once a month to check if some Javascript code works on Microsoft Internet Explorer. At home, too, we used to be a more of a Linux than a Windows household, with 2 Linux and 1 Windows box, which changed recently with the purchase of a Dell Windows desktop recently for the kids to play games.

Well, anyway, back to the re-install. The laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1100, purchased new in 2002 for my wife when she decided to go back to school to get her business degree. Dell provided a 1 year trial subscription for McAfee's anti-virus, which I did not renew at the end of that time. So by the time I got to reinstalling the OS in 2005, it was pretty much dripping with viruses, adware and spyware. Fortunately, we did not use this computer (ever) to do financial or other internet transactions, so the most the spyware picked up were google links that my wife went to while doing her research.

Which brings me to a philosophical question. I understand how spyware can create zombie networks out of random computers on the internet and launch denial of service attacks or break cryptos for malicious purposes, and I am sure that this computer participated unknowingly in these, but what of the adware that pops up with "helpful" information to refinance your home and fix your bad credit? Over the last few months, the computer would routinely automatically open 20 or more Internet explorer windows, and slowing the computer down to a crawl. Not surprisingly, my feelings are not too favorable towards the companies marketing to me in this manner, and I am sure that was not the company's intent when they signed up for service with the adware vendor.

The last time I tried to re-install Windows 95 on my old IBM Aptiva, the restore disk did not work. The machine was out of warranty by the time I got around to doing the restore, and I had added RAM and disk to it, so I ended up installing Linux Redhat 9.0 on it. My first attempt in this case was to try to restore using the Dell application software CD, which did not boot. I then found that Dell provides a way to burn an operating system bootable CD using software preloaded on the PC. Not as good an idea as it sounds, especially when your PC is so infected that even pulling up your browser and going to a specific website is a 10 minute project of itself. Thankfully, I finally found the Windows CD that Dell had supplied with this PC. I had specifically requested this disk at additional cost when ordering the PC. I think that companies should provide the Windows CD by default, its the honest thing to do, after all, we are paying extra for the operating system, so we should get it. Supplying non-working restore disks and/or making the whole process of making one so complicated is one reason why customers end up dumping PCs which can be restored to their previous working state. Not so good for hardware/software manufacturers and arguably for the economy, but probably better for the environment and customer's pocketbooks.

Booting with the Windows OS disk and the installation was fairly painless, its just a matter of repartitioning the hard drive to one big NTFS filesystem (the Dell folks had a 9MB FAT partition which I blew away), and installing the drivers for the various peripherals (a Lexmark Z25 printer and a Netgear wireless card). The first thing I did this time was to install the McAfee anti-virus, firewall and privacy manager. These are free (or built into the price of monthly high speed internet access) for Comcast customers, so I did not have to shell out for these. I only wish I had known about the free offer sooner, then I wouldn't have had to reinstall in the first place.

Re-installing the Netgear wireless card involved having to set the SSID of my Belkin 802.11b wireless access point that hangs off on of the ports on my Netgear 4-port router. Since I use WEP, I also had to set the network key. I also use MAC address authentication, but that was not an issue since I was using the same PCI card that I had before. Fortunately, I had all the SSID and WEP key written down in my Belkin user manual, I would have a hard time figuring out the WEP encryption key otherwise.

Installing the Lexmark Z25 printer was a little more involved, I had to download the driver from the internet since I had misplaced the driver disk that came with the printer. Google was my friend in this case, and I finally found the version I required from the good folks at

Other software I had to reinstall was Microsoft Office. I took this opportunity to not install the free stuff that came preinstalled with the original PC, such as Microsoft Money (I use GnuCash on my Linux box), and AOL and Earthlink free offers. I also installed Firefox, my wife is quite dependent on its tabbed browsing feature, and only goes back to MSIE for sites which require it, such as her university website.

My wife had pretty much given up working on the laptop for the past few weeks, which meant that I either had to copy over all the files she had created on the kid's desktop during this time, or just set up networking between the two Windows XP machines. I did the latter, since that was on my list of things to do, and now was as good a time as any.

To do this, I had to create a network connection on the laptop using the control panel and build the netsetup disk. I found this page from the geekgirls site very helpful in doing this. I then installed the netsetup disk on the Windows XP desktop machine. The share on the desktop appeared on the list of network shares available on the laptop automatically. However, I could not access the share. Turns out that Windows XP creates a bridge network between the two machines, which effectively turns off any network access. Deleting the bridge device and manually mapping a remote drive to the network share allowed me to access the files on the desktop from the laptop. Its important to remember to not have the mapping happen on login, since the desktop will not always be on, and the boot process will hang or have errors.

Next steps? Get my linux laptop talking to the windows boxes, and resurrect my old IBM Aptiva running Redhat 9.0 into a headless Debian desktop, and make it a Samba print and file server accessible from both my Linux and Windows boxes. Not going to happen for a while though, got too much going on at the moment, but I will write about it when I do.

Be the first to comment. Comments are moderated to prevent spam.