July 2005 Reader Challenge Winners

Congratulations to Laura Watts of California, who wins a copy of "Windows Server Hacks," and to Jeff Albert of British Columbia, Canada, who wins a copy of "Windows Server Cookbook for Windows Server 2003 & Windows 2000." Both of these terrific books are from O’Reilly Publishing, and both winners presented correct and amusing answers.

August 2005 Reader Challenge

Solve this month's Windows Client challenge, and you might win a prize! Email your solution (don't use an attachment) to challenge@windowsitpro.com by August 17, 2005. You must include your full name, and street mailing address (without that information, we can't send you a prize if you win, so your answer is eliminated, even if it’s correct). I choose winners at random from the pool of correct entries. I’m a sucker for humor and originality, and a cleverly written correct answer gets an extra chance. Because I receive so many entries each month, I can't reply to respondents, and I never respond to a request for a receipt. Look for the solutions to this month's problem here on August 18. 2005.

The Challenge

I was visiting a friend who administers the Help desk crew at a large company. One of the support technicians came into his office with a problem. The technician had created a bootable 3.5", disk for Windows XP computers running NTFS so that he could fix computers that wouldn’t boot. The disk didn’t work this day, and he couldn’t figure out why. My friend asked him a question, and the technician had the right answer (and subsequently repaired the computer that was crashing). Do you know the answer to this question: Under what circumstances does a boot disk not work?

The Answer

A boot disk works to repair corruption or missing boot files on the computer’s hard disk. Boot disks work for a damaged boot sector, a damaged Master Boot Record (MBR), viruses that attack boot files, and missing or damaged Ntldr or Ntdetect.com files.

There are two common boot failure scenarios in which a boot disk won’t work. The first scenario is when the problem is a bad device driver that was installed into the system folder. In this case, you can usually solve the problem by booting into Safe Mode and replacing the driver or by using the Last Known Good Configuration feature.

The second scenario is when the failure to boot occurs later in the Windows boot process, after you see the Windows XP startup screen (most boot failures occur before you see this screen). In this case you have to determine probable cause (usually a user error such as deleting system files or registry entries, but sometimes a serious and widespread virus infection). The solution depends on the error, and with luck, you can just replace files from an XP CD-ROM, but sometimes you must reinstall Windows to fix the error.