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Admin's best friend? The next-generation rescue program.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED WITH COMPUTERS IN DEPTH? WELL, HERE'S A little quiz. Do you remember keeping a bootable floppy on hand for those times when SOMETHING would go wrong with the system? You might or might not know what the problem was but, whatever the problem, it was preventing your computer from starting. With your magical floppy, you could boot your computer and use the hand utilities on it to diagnose and correct the cause, so that you could get back to work. Well, in case you hadn't noticed, those days are long gone. It's hard enough to find any useful utility for working with Windows that will fit on a standard diskette, let alone the 360 Kbyte 'behemoths' we used to deal with. And forget trying to include an operating system on there!

However, some things do indeed stay the same, no matter how much everything else changes. In this case, the constant is the continuing need to have some way to boot up a system that is having issues, while at the same time providing the necessary utilities to determine the nature of and to correct the problem. Microsoft has provided an approach to this with their Windows Pre-installation Environment (Windows PE) tool. This is a bootable CD that provides tools to allow access to a variety of Windows resources. While one difficulty with this tool is that it is designed for running with Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP, the biggest problem is the accompanying end-user license agreement (EULA), which severely restricts the list of people with the fight to use it, basically limiting it to OEM and enterprise customers.

However, this is not cause to give up hope, for the monolith does not always conquer all. In this case, the shining light comes from BartPE, or Bart's Pre-installed Environment, created by Bart Lagerweij. Inspired by Windows PE, but appalled by their EULA, Bart set out on a quest to build his own version of the tool. After a number of iterations of BartPE, currently at version 3.1.10a, and a few run-ins with Microsoft's lawyers, he is now distributing a tool that goes far beyond what Windows PE provides.

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two tools is their motivating philosophy. According to Bart, Microsoft sees Windows PE as an installation platform, while he sees BartPE as the 'next-generation rescue platform.' From here, there is a rapid divergence in capabilities and approaches. Among the contrasts are:

* BartPE provides an easy-to-use graphic interface, where Windows PE provides only a command-line interface.

* BartPE provides a variety of network tools, which allow you to dynamically manipulate a variety of TCP/IP settings, including dynamic/static IP-addresses, default gateways, DNS-server computer names, and workgroup names on the fly. Windows PE, in contrast, only supports DHCP or fixed settings.

* BartPE also includes file sharing support, so you can connect to the system through a share.

The actual distributed program is pebulder.exe. It is available in a number of different formats, perhaps the most common being pebulder3110a.exe. This program can be run on a Windows 2000/XP/2003/BartPE system to generate a bootable CD or DVD. To successfully complete this generation, you must have access to the files from your Windows installation CD, whether via the CD itself or on your hard drive. BartPE itself does not include a license to MS Windows, to legally generate and use BartPE, you must already have a license to the target operating system.

Even in the most cutting-edge corporation, you are likely to find a surprisingly high number of systems that have older versions of the operating system. Unfortunately in this case, that means you are somewhat limited in the usefulness of this utility. The supported target versions of Windows are:

* XP, Home and Professional

* Server 2003, Web, Standard and Enterprise

This is truly a flexible tool, supporting over 20 languages. Plus, you are not limited to its native functionality, as it is designed to accept numerous drivers and plug-ins so that you can customize it to fit your needs. A truncated list of plug-ins includes:

* Ad-Aware SE

* McAfee Virus Scanner

* UltraVNC

* BitTorrent PLUGIN

* Citrix ICA Client 7.0

* Data Recovery Software-File System Utilities

* iRecover-BartPE Plugin Edition

While this utility can be used for burning in systems with no OS, recovering files to network shares, and for performing dean boot virus scans, its usefulness extends far beyond that. As with the emergency floppies of old, this tool allows you to boot up machines that were otherwise dead, and to provide at least the opportunity to correct the configuration or file corruption problem that was keeping the system from running.

Admittedly, despite the potential usefulness of this product, it is not going to appeal to everyone. However, for many of those people, I think browsing through the documentation and references might prove even more interesting. Dirk Loss' Web page, with his 'Windows-Tools on CD-ROM, is particularly useful for those searching for useful, free utilities. Classes range from desktop utilities through file analysis, management, recovery and transfer, network sniffers, scanners and other tools, to a variety of GUI and command-line tools. We'll likely take a closer look at some of them in future columns.

John Joyce is the LIMS manager for Virginia's State Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services. He may be contacted at
* Boot Utility Resources

Dirk-Loss Windows Tools www.dirk tools.htm

John Joyce, Ph.D.
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Author:Joyce, John
Publication:Scientific Computing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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