Bits & P.C.s: Windows XP

Bits & P.C.s: Windows XP

By Richard Heller

Ah, the joys of Microsoft Windows XP. Since its introduction a little more than a year ago, millions of computers have been sold with it installed at the factory. Since Microsoft is no longer certifying drivers for Windows 95 or 98, it’s about your only choice for an operating system for home use.

XP has some nice features: it looks better with gradient colors and an uncluttered desktop, it has wizards that simplify many tasks such as setting up an Internet connection or a connection to a home network, and it can even tell you if a network cable has come unplugged.

But beneath that pretty exterior a lot of other things are going on. Since the amount of support for “legacy” programs and hardware is limited, more system resources can be dedicated to keeping the system running smoothly, which means it is more difficult to crash the computer.

The hard drive in your computer has to be prepared or formatted for it to store programs or data. In the past, the drive was set up as a FAT 16 or FAT 32 system; this determined how large a drive could be installed and how efficiently the data could be stored. A drive installed using one of these two systems could be accessed from a floppy disk if the hard drive would lose the files necessary for it to start by itself.

Windows XP uses a file system named NTFS. Under this scheme, data is stored much more efficiently and it will handle a much larger hard drive. The only problem is you cannot access the drive from a boot floppy disk.

If your system crashes you have to either load in a series of floppies or a CD that will place enough of XP in memory so that you can access the drive. Without this procedure, most programs such as Norton Utilities or System Suite will report that the drive either doesn’t exist or that there is no data on it.

At present, the utility programs that will let you access an XP drive are few and far between. XP does offer some recovery utilities but they are very limited as to their function. If it cannot repair the error, it will allow you to re-install XP either as a new installation or on top

of the original.

What you are not informed of is that in certain re-installs XP may assign a random password to your user account. Without the password, you will not be able to start Windows. Even if the Administrator password is set to null, you may not be able to access your files. If this happens and you have a NTFS hard drive you are pretty well up a creek. Your only choice may be to erase the hard drive and re-install XP and your data and programs from a backup. There may be programs that will enable you to access the drive, but after spending more than two hours on the phone with Microsoft tech support either they are not aware of the programs or they aren’t yet available. Bottom line, be sure that you back up your data if you have an XP system.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

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