Wise words indeed and in hindsight (it’s always clearer in hindsight, isn’t it?) ones I probably ought to have heeded. In reality I’m as guilty as the next of the “ooh, I wonder what will happen if I…” mentality. I recently bought a NetBook. This was two weeks ago (not even that, 10 days ago) and everything was going well until I thought I’d try Linux on it (again). I’ve been using it for the last couple of years and have slowly grown to favour it over windows. I do use both though. That was where the problem started.
The problem really started with Samsung and the seventeen (give or take thirteen (and I’d rather you took them)) partitions they put on. I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to merge the non-windows ones and end up with three. A windows one, a Linux one and a shared one for music and photo type stuff.
What actually happened was the computer crashed mid way through sorting partitions and lost/destroyed/scribbled over the file tables. Unsurprisingly Windows wasn’t a fan of this and threw up untold error messages and a tantrum.
Linux didn’t work either.
Deciding that this wasn’t problem enough, the conniving entity of Samsung, along with its allies fate and Sod’s law, conspired against me to give a triple headed assault on my endeavours. Firstly, the Linux live image that I had, had corrupted along with the Windows partition and wouldn’t let me start the installation from scratch. Secondly Samsung, as kind as they are, had supplied me with a complimentary Windows restore disk for such occasions as this, however, being a netbook, DVD drives are few and far between and made this act of generosity seem like quite a futile gesture. Thirdly and finally, my laptop that had served me so admirably for so long until now had been left at work for the weekend on the basis that I couldn’t possibly need two with me at home.
I now had a dead netbook, a laptop borrowed from the parents and a phone with which to do battle with Microsoft and the ostensibly lovely people who make Linux Mint.
I set about making an installable copy of Windows 7. This shouldn’t have been too challenging. I had a fully legal copy and the whole of the internet for inspiration. First things first I found a promising looking program that purported to make .iso copies of DVDs. When this threw an error back and collapsed I found another. This happened a few more times before I finally discovered one that actually gave me an .iso file out the end. I had no way of telling at this stage whether it was a usable one, I only knew that it had to be healthier than the 25kb one the previous program had tried to fob me off with.
With this in hand I turned to the next problem – getting it out of one computer and into the next. I hadn’t really thought about this step and when I did I quickly realised the 1Gb USB stick I’d been using for the linux installation wasn’t going to be quite up to scratch for the 4Gb behemoth that was Windows 7. I looked around for a bit and turned out my drawers and my pockets. I even looked under the seat cushions but when no suitable drive was forthcoming I went for the next best thing. I had in a dark corner of some man-draw an unused USB adaptor for microSD cards. Thinking this was better than nothing I returned to the internet and wandered from website to website with an iso and a makeshift flash drive trying to find a suitable tool to combine the two. Trying the obvious things first I visited Microsoft to see if they were prepared for people in such a position as myself.
Much to my surprise they had. I was shocked. Thinking I was out of the woods and on the sunny road to recovery I downloaded and ran it. Just when I was relaxing and chuckling to myself about the remarkable turn of events, I heard the unmistakable DING of an angry computer.
“you need to following two drivers/programs to continue with the installation – click here to download them”
“Oh bother” I thought. Just as I was getting my hopes up. “Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to click there”. So click there I did. And find the required download I didn’t. The link took me to a rather pleasant 404 on the Microsoft site though. So that was nice.
At least I had the names though, right? “I’ll just find them myself”. Oh how naive I can be sometimes. A search on the Microsoft download site later and I had a page with a promising looking link. Except, what was that? I needed to download this ‘validity check’ program? Oh very well. It’s lucky I do rather enjoy jumping through hoops. I would enjoy it a lot more though if they didn’t keep moving. It was the “this validity check is not supported on this version of Windows” that got me.
“Right, you’ve had your fun” Back to the wider internet. “Anyone feeling helpful?” That’s another thing, type any computer related question into Google and you can be sure of a plethora of responses, each on a different out of date forum with a selection of dead links that were last updated in 2005. I even braved the second page of results of a Google search but to no avail.
I eventually came across a site that offered one of the required packages and to give it its due. The next time I tried to install the first program I only had one dependency missing. Giving up for a while in my search for the other one, I put the iso in its raw, single file form onto the ‘USB stick’ and booted the netbook from the real USB stick into a live version of Linux in the hope that I might be able to boot from it from there somehow. I was told it might work by a friend and I was up for trying anything at that stage. In my innocence I thought Linux live images loaded themselves into memory and ran from there. Imagine my surprise and frustration then when I unplugged the drive and found that it didn’t.
Since I was failing even before it died, I went back to the borrowed laptop and its missing requirements and continued the search. Much toing and froing later I had it, the final hurdle between me and success. The Microsoft WindowsUSBTool (or whatever it’s called) installed and opened and gave me a main screen like anything. I pointed it at the iso file and at the microSD-adaptor-stick and stood back and watched in awe as it… gave me an error message and shut down. “This is not a valid Windows ISO”. I could have cried.
Back to the drawing board I went. After countless combinations of the words Windows, 7, USB and ISO in Google, I came across a forum with a post that wasn’t submitted pre-broadband directing me to a program (I have no idea which, let’s call it C) that offered to copy a CD/DVD directly to a bootable USB stick. Ideal. I installed this one and stood back with baited breath as this too gave me an error and shut down. “No usable USB device found”. How dare it discriminate against my creation? I shut the computer down in protest and went to have a cup of tea.
I returned and was disappointed to find my computer in much the same way as I had left it. I thought it might have grown bored of playing silly games and sorted itself out by then. I sat and pondered the problem for a bit while absent-mindedly trying various iso burning programs and being repeatedly told that my device was inadequate and that the ISO had no boot sector. I copied the ISO again just to be sure but it still couldn’t find one.
Enquiring among some of the more computer literate people I could think of, I was told that the Linux ISO/bootloader programs, that I had previously discounted as a non-viable solution, would in fact work. Excellent. Excellent, that is, until then didn’t. There are only so many times you can be told you have an inappropriate drive and no bootsector before you start taking it to heart.
It was sometime around then that I decided that despite its valiant attempts, the microSD just wasn’t going to cut the mustard with these unkind Windows chaps so set it out to pasture and went on a new quest to find more suitable candidates. Having asked various people and rummaged through their belongings I did finally acquire the key to my success. A USB stick with a whopping 4Gb of space. I had to lie down for a while to get over my good fortune.
I then had the humbling task of going back to each of the programs I’d previously shouted at and asking if they’d mind ever so much trying again. Most of them did. I still got told I had no boot sector and that it was an invalid version of Windows.
Finally I got back around to that delightful program, C. Discarding the iso in favour of this new way of thinking I put the DVD in and stood back waiting for the return of that dreaded DING “Objection!” from the computer. After 30 seconds or so I felt brave enough to open my eyes and uncross my various extremities. There on the screen in front of me was a progress bar. Lo and behold, this program was getting somewhere. I wasn’t yet sure where but I was going to go with it. Who knew what riches my come at the end?
Ten minutes or anxious anticipation later I got a success notification. I almost fell of my seat. I plugged it in to the netbook and almost fell off again as the Windows setup screen appeared. I would like to apologise now to anyone disturbed by the sigh of relief or delighted cheers as yet another progress bar meandered its way across the screen.
Then (by this point I’d given up on trying to stay off the floor) it worked. Just like that I was back into a fresh installation of Windows. No matter how many times I see one, a clean desktop and untouched file system still has a special feeling to it. Just think of the possibilities. I’m going to keep my folders sorted and in order this time. Yeah. Right.
So here I am. Success. All I’ve got left to do now is install Linux. And then the drivers that Windows doesn’t bother shipping with. Then install the programs I had installed before.
The realisation that I was actually lounging in the glow of success while being further back than when I started was not an enjoyable one.