I have always enjoyed working with Windows.
I started back with Windows 286 and, almost without fail, each new version
I have used has presented a more stable platform to run my applications.
I have still not blue-screened Win2K in over two years of running it on
But each new version of Windows brought
with it challenges that made fixing problems more … well, challenging.
With Windows 95, I could no longer fix a driver problem by simply booting
to DOS and editing ystem.ini. Now I had to deal with the registry,
which required special tools to access. Windows NT brought the additional
stability of a robust, journaling file system – NTFS – along with the headache
of not being able to access it from a DOS boot disk, should something prevent
NT from loading.
Microsoft always throws you a few bones
that help. For example, the Recovery Console will get you to a command
prompt if Windows 2000 won’t load and Resource Kit utilities allow you
to access the registry from a command prompt. About the kindest thing I
can say about Microsoft’s recovery tools is that they generally do what
they say they will do. But they are awkward to use and limited in their
To fill in the gaps, you need to go elsewhere.
I have found one of the best places to go – Winternals Software. Started
by Bryce Cogswell and Mark Russinovich, their first big product was NTFSDOS,
a very nifty program that allows you to access an NTFS partition from a
DOS boot disk. From there, they went on to create a number of very useful
utilities for Windows users. I recently had a chance to look at their Administrator’s
Pak v3.0, which is a collection of five of their programs. This month,
I will look at the flagship product – ERD Commander 2002. In the next couple
of months, I will look at the other components.
Anyone who supports users on Windows NT,
2000, or XP really should have ERDCommander in their toolkit. If you ever
have a problem booting into Windows NT/2K/XP, ERD Commander is probably
the best chance you have of recovering that system. And it is so simple;
it is really a joy to use.
You start by booting from the ERD Commander
CD-ROM. It brings up a modified version of Windows XP. Big deal, right?
If you have multiple partitions, it is a really simple matter of installing
multiple instances of any NT-kernel-based Windows. You can then boot the
system into the alternate instance of Windows. Ah, but it’s what you can
do after ERD Commander is loaded that makes the difference.
When ERD Commander loads, it finds a DHCP
server and configures the network components so that you can access other
machines on the network. If you don’t have a DHCP server, you can manually
configure the TCP/IP settings. It then finds all installed copies of Windows
on the local machine and lets you choose which one you want to repair.
The full graphical interface loads and ERD Commander provides some customized
tools that will help you repair the broken copy of Windows.
Say the problem is a driver that is causing
Windows XP to crash on loading. No problem. Just click the Start button
and load up the Service and Driver Manager. Up pops a list – not of the
currently loaded Windows set of services and drivers – but those of the
copy of Windows you are trying to repair. You can change the configuration
of the problem driver to not load on startup.
What if some setting in the registry is
causing problems? Again, no problem. Fire up ERD Commander’s RegEdit
and you will have complete access to the registry of the broken Windows.
Browse the registry and make any changes you need.
Don’t know where the problem is that’s
preventing Windows from loading? Run the Event Viewer, which loads the
logs from the broken Windows. Browse through them looking for clues as
to what is causing problems. Then, go fix.
What if you forget the password to get
into Windows? With Win9x, this is no big deal. Press Esc when prompted
to logon and Windows will continue loading. Not so with the NT kernel.
A scenario all too common in the Windows NT/2K/XP world; you install Windows
and assign some memorable password to the Administrator account. You then
join a domain. A few months later, you decide to rename your computer.
Well, you can’t do that while you are part of the domain. So, you
leave the domain and join a
workgroup, which requires a reboot. When
Windows comes back up, you are prompted to log onto the local machine.
Now what was that memorable local Administrator account password?
I have known more than one person who
was forced to re-install Windows at this point. If they had ERD Commander
2002, it would have been a simple matter or loading it up, selecting the
Locksmith application, and resetting the password on any of the local accounts,
including Administrator. Very slick!
For those of you who think this is a big
security hole, rest assured. If you have physical access to any machine
running any operating system, security bets are pretty much off.
Another thing that happens all too frequently
is people shoot themselves in the foot by tightening permissions on files
and directories too much. All of a sudden, they find that no usershave
any rights to critical files and Windows won’t even boot any more. With
ERD Commander, you can use the modified Explorer application to reset permissions
anywhere on the file system.
If you support a large number of Windows
NT/2K/Xp machines, run, don’t walk, and get
yourself a copy of ERD Commander 2002.
What would a trouble-shooting environment
be without a command prompt? Of course, ERD Commander provides a Console
Shell that allows you to do things in character mode. Along with the standard
built-in commands such as attrib, type, del, etc., it includes clones of
xcopy, chkdsk and a service control manager.
You can run non-ERD Commander applications
from within the program – sometimes. Officially unsupported because Winternals
can never be sure of the effect of an unknown program, I was able to run
many relatively simple Windows applications, such as Windows Commander
(a wonderful shareware replacement for Explorer) and Windows Paint. When
I tried to run Word 2000, it loaded up the starting screen fine, but then
popped up an error “Microsoft Word has not been installed for the current
user. Please run setup to install the application.” And promptly shut down.
(Once again, Microsoft, where the heck is the “Not OK” button?)
Having access to network resources means
you can get any files you need from other computers. In the worst-case
scenario, if you find you simply can’t fix the broken copy of Windows,
you can at least copy all your data to another machine before you reformat
and start over. Another excuse why I don’t need to do backups … just kidding.
ERD Commander does have a few, very minor, rough spots.
The PDF documentation did not explain the
simple step you needed to take to see workgroups/domains on the network
other than the default “Workgroup”. A quick communication with tech support
straightened it out. It turns out the on-line help had the required info.
In the words of Homer Simpson, “D’Oh!” On the positive side, the PDF file
is being revised to add the instructions.
The registry editor does not support security,
so if your problems stem from registry keys that have security settings
that are too restrictive, you are going to have to delete the existing
keys and recreate them. As you cannot export and import registry keys,
this is a completely manual process. I suspect very few people will
be affected by this.
The final problem I had really left me
scratching my head for a while. I started up ERD Commander on one
machine, and for whatever reason, the mouse didn’t work. I didn’t even
get a mouse pointer. I figured no problem; I’ll just use the keyboard.
Well, Ctrl-Esc didn’t work to bring up the Start menu. Tab didn’t move
the focus around the desktop. I later found out that the Windows key will
bring up the Start menu and it is possible to use the keyboard to operate
All in all, pretty minor issues with a
really terrific trouble-shooting product.
Is ERD Commander 2002 a panacea? Not at
all. If you are unfamiliar with trouble-shooting Windows, ERD Commander
is just going to provide you with the gun with which to shoot yourself.
In most cases, you really have to have considerable experience before ERD
Commander will help. But if you are skilled at troubleshooting, ERD Commander
does a fantastic job of providing you with access to a dead Windows installation
so you stand a fighting chance of fixing it without resorting to “format
c:”. If you support a large number of Windows NT/2K/XP machines, run, don’t
walk, and get yourself a copy of ERD Commander 2002.
The licensing for ERD Commander
is a breath of fresh air
In these days of strange licensing such
as Executive Software requiring a license for DiskAlert for each physical
disk in your computer, Microsoft not permitting you to transfer an OEM
license to a new machine, and Oracle requiring you to pay by the MHz and
number of CPUs in the server, the licensing for ERD Commander is a breath
of fresh air. It is licensed to the user. You are free to use it on any
number of computers you support. Well done, Winternals!
Next month, I will continue my review of
other components of Administrator’s Pak v3.0 and let you know how they
can help you trouble-shoot Windows problems.
Administrator’s Pak v3.0 price US$699
ERD Commander 2002 price US$399
- 233MHz x86
- Windows NT, 2000, or XP
- 64MB RAM
- Must be able to boot from CD-ROM
See the Winternals web site at www.winternals.com
ERD Commander 2002
from Winternals Software
Web site: http://www.winternals.com
Originally published: April, 2002