Many of this UPDATE's readers are small Value Added Reseller (VAR) and Value Added Dealer (VAD) shops, often with only one or two employees, who need the tips and tricks we provide to help them work more efficiently. I've come to know a few of these readers, and even before I started writing this column, I had friends in the computer-reseller business. Last week, one of these friends called me in a minor panic. As are many small shops, his is in a rural area; his customers are small businesses, and in most cases, the computer store nearest to his customers is a drive of an hour or two. My friend often needs to travel 100 miles to service a client's network, so not having to make such trips too often is an important part of his business model.

He was in a panic because he had recently upgraded a client's computers, spending a day on site to make sure everything was working correctly. The next day, the client called to tell my friend that both servers whose hardware he had just upgraded had crashed—both giving the same error message. Trying to diagnose dead computers over the phone with a nontechnical person can be quite a headache, but my friend managed to figure out the problem. Each server needed to have its BIOS upgraded—a step my friend had prepared for by bringing floppies with the updated BIOS to the customer site. However, in the press of the day, he had forgotten to upgrade the BIOS. He was confident that he could walk the customer through the BIOS upgrade process over the phone, but a major hurdle appeared—booting the Windows 2000 Servers to upgrade the BIOS required an MS-DOS boot floppy, and the client had only the Win2K CD-ROM. My friend's contract guarantees a 4-hour response time. He hoped I had a solution so that he wouldn't need to spend a day driving out to the client's site just because of a DOS floppy.

My first suggestion was a tool Web site ( http://www.bootdisk.com ) that includes links to boot images for a number of different OSs, including MS-DOS and DR-DOS, both of which my friend could use for the BIOS upgrade boot. The only problem with this idea was that one of the dead servers was the client's edge machine; without that server, the client didn't have Internet access.

Fortunately, I recalled that one of the third-party tools on the Win2K CD-ROM actually makes an MS-DOS boot floppy as part of its setup. With a little searching, I discovered that the Computer Associates (CA) not antivirus software in the \ValueAdd\3rdParty\CA_ANTIV folder on the Win2K CD-ROM contains a makedisk.bat file that creates a bootable DOS floppy with the antivirus software. By running the batch file on a client system, my friend's client could take the floppy that the file creates, delete all the antivirus software, and end up with a boot disk that would perform the necessary BIOS upgrade.

Rather than being down for the day, the client's systems were up and running within 3 hours of the client reporting the problem to my friend. All problems aren't this easy to solve, but it's nice to know that you can handle some problems fairly simply. And it's also a good reminder to keep at least one bootable MS-DOS floppy handy.