October 2005 Reader Challenge Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our October 2005 Reader Challenge. First prize, a copy of "Windows Server 2003 Network Administration" goes to Ed Seith of Utah, US. Second prize, a copy of "Windows XP Annoyances for Geeks Second Edition," goes to Aaron Gill of Washington DC, US. Both books are from O’Reilly & Associates Publishing.

November 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 November 23, 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 on November 28, 2005.

IT directors who use the Reader Challenge as a trivia game in their IT department have written to ask me for old Reader Challenge questions (this column has appeared in print and in UPDATE newsletters for many years). I don’t keep them, but you can search the Windowsitpro.com site, which archives columns.

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The Challenge

I love USB stick drives and have one on every computer on my network. I use USB cable extenders to put all the drives on my desk (each drive and cable is labeled so I know which computer it’s attached to). At the end of the day, after backing up the local documents on each computer (via batch files), I remove the drives and move them out of the office in case the network takes a hit or I have a flood or fire.

I have clients who back up accounting software data files, and I’ve warned them that they must never back up over a good backup. They use USB stick drives for nightly backups and burn a CD-ROM every week, taking the disk offsite.

To make sure they don’t back up over the last backup, I created folders on the USB drives as follows: Even (for even dates), Odd (for odd dates), and EOM (for End-Of-Month dates). Some clients like to use the Send To command to copy the data file to the USB drive, and some prefer to use batch files (one for even, one for odd, one for EOM).

To make the backups easy, especially from the Send To command, I created a drive letter for each folder. When I suggested this to a colleague who faced a similar problem with his clients, his response was, “Drive letters? Do you mean install three USB drives?”

No, I meant create a drive letter for each folder. Creating drive letters for folders was one of the DOS tricks we used in the “old days” to maintain computers and networks. How did I create drive letters for folders?

The Answer

To create drive letters for any folder on any local drive, use the Subst command. The syntax is:

subst X: Y\<foldername>
where X is the drive letter you want to use, and Y is the drive letter of the local drive that contains the folder. Use quote marks if <foldername> contains spaces.

Subst drives don’t survive a reboot, so I write a batch file and add it to the Startup folder on the Programs menu. Assuming the USB drive is F, the batch file commands are:

subst r: f:\odd
subst s: f:\even
subst t: f:\eom
exit

Drive letters for folders are a great way to copy files to a specific folder, especially if you have one folder that is automatically copied to a server every night (and the server is backed up). It’s much easier for users to point and click with the Send To command, and adding these drive letters to the SendTo folder makes it so easy to back up files that even the laziest users run out of excuses.

To see the current subst drives, enter subst without parameters at the command line. To make sure a drive letter is available for a subst command, also enter net use at the command line to see the drive letters being used for mapped drives.