This weekend I got a call from one of my clients. Her computer was broken and would not boot up. I took a drive over (yes, I do make house calls) and looked the machine over.
After turning the machine on it would try to boot into Windows XP, flash a blue screen and reboot. Using a cell phone camera I grabbed a picture of the blue screen in the nano-second of which it remained on screen.
The error message pointed me in the direction of a hard disk failure so she sent her son out to buy a new hard drive. I asked her for her XP disk so I could boot up the recovery console but this was an HP machine and you know what that means.
All of the recovery data is on the hard disk in a hidden partition and on seven CD-ROMs. There is no XP install disk. The XP recovery console is designed to load from the hard drive, which is currently out of my reach.
I loaded up Knoppix intending to download an XP recovery CD or floppies but her computer used a USB wi-fi adapter, something that Linux requires you to use ndiswrapper with to work.
I drove home (should have brought the computer with me) and spent a few hours making some recovery floppies (every third floppy I used was good). Once I had my XP recovery floppies all made I drove back. I put the first floppy in and wham, I/O error. Yeah, the floppies failed.
All the copies of XP I have at home are OEM disks. This means that if I took a Gateway OEM XP disk and put it in the HP machine it would start to boot and then send me an error message telling me that I can not use the disk in a non-Gateway machine. Yeah, the original machine I got that OEM disk with is now dead but I can not re-use the software in another computer.
We now had a 160GB hard drive to put in her machine to replace the flaky one that I still could not access. According to the box it came with some disk tools including a disk cloning tool. The instruction manual said I could boot from the CD if the machine did not have Windows installed so I did, and failed.
Every application I tried to run from the hard drive's bootable CD told me I needed Windows to run it. WTF? The software on the CD should be OS independent!
Having had enough of this I packed up the computer and took it home to work on (which I should have done from the start). When I got home I put the bad drive into my one XP machine (my newer machines do not have IDE) and turned it on. After running scandisk and fixing a bunch of errors and marking other sectors as bad I had the drive in a bootable state.
I put the drive back into her machine and it came right up. I loaded the drive cloning software and moved all 45GB of data onto the new drive. Several hours later everything was copied and the machine was fixed.
What really had me mad is that I knew exactly what programs I needed to get the machine working and the XP recovery console would have fixed the problems and gotten me to a point where I could copy the old files to the new drive. The problem was that all those OEM disks either did not have the recovery console because they were of the "idiot disk" type or they were vender-locked. That is why I hate OEM disks.