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To Boot or Not to Boot
Tweaking the Windows 9x boot process.
By Mary Robinson, A+
To boot or not to boot?
That is the question! I love the anticipation of waiting after the POST beep to finally see that Loading Windows” pop up and finally have a normal desktop ready and waiting. Given the tweaking, loading new software, and changing hardware that I am always doing to my computer, it is never a “given” that it will actually startup correctly from one time to another. So what is actually going on behind the scenes while the computer is booting up, and what options do I have to change the way it happens?
First off, dump the Splashscreen!
Your average user probably doesn’t care what processes go on while their system starts up, so Microsoft was thoughtful enough to provide a pretty Splashscreen to display while you wait. For those of us who are techs, we would rather see any messages that are being hidden, so we don’t want the Splashscreen in the way. To prevent it during the boot process, you can hit the escape key before it starts to load, but I am often busy doing other things, so I prefer to disable the Splashscreen entirely. You could disable it by searching the Registry for Logo.sys, and editing the default to =0, but the easiest way is to use TweakUI to disable the Splashscreen by placing a checkmark in that option.
Glad to meet you MSDOS!
After the system BIOS has completed its Power On Self Test, it finds the Master Boot Record, where all of the files needed to boot Windows 98 are stored. IO.SYS reads and executes the various boot files, just as in past versions of Windows, but these boot files don’t necessarily do the same things as in the past. MSDOS.SYS in Windows 98 is now a text file. Instead of loading the system drivers, it
controls some of the startup options in the same way that the Boot.INI file does in the NT line. No matter how few options you have in MSDOS.SYS, it MUST be at least 1024 bytes (one kilobyte) in size, for backwards compatibility. Some of the actions taken by MSDOS.SYS are:
1. Names the Root Directory (C:\>)
2. Locates the Windows 98 startup files (C:\Windows)
3. Gives the option for whether or not to run ScanDisk after an “Improper Shutdown” (I hate that!).
4. Defines how long you have to push F8 before Windows loads.
5. Disables/Enables the startup function keys like F8 and F5
6. Multiple boot options
So MSDOS.SYS is quite different than it was in the days of DOS. It is a hidden, read-only, system file, so to alter it; you need to use the Attrib –h –r command. DO NOT remove all of those lines of xxxxxxs you see in the file. They are added to ensure that it meets the one-kilobyte requirement.
MIA, some old DOS Standbys
After MSDOS.SYS has adjusted some of the startup options, System.dat is checked and loaded. If System.dat is missing or corrupted, IO.SYS will rename System.dao to System.dat, and use it. Hmmmm, that name sounds familiar. System.dat is the part of the Registry that controls all of the machine parameters. And what about Config.sys and Autoexec.bat? They were important files for configuring your system hardware and software in DOS, but they are not needed by Windows 98 unless you have some old, legacy equipment that needs them. For the most part, the files are there, but they are empty.
Win.com will load after the Autoexec.bat file has been read. Win.com loads the virtual device drivers, most notably VMM32.VXD (the one I always seem to get in trouble with!). If there is a conflict between Win.com and the Registry, System.ini will decide who wins. So much for
Windows 98 doing away with INI files!
I’d rather switch than fight!
I was surprised when it came time to take my A+ exam (1998 flavour) and found questions about using switches during the boot process for Windows 95. Well, they have switches in Windows 98 too, and they can be useful if you are troubleshooting a machine that will not boot correctly. These switches can be added to Win.com and loaded by your Autoexec.bat file. Autoexec.bat will be used if there is an entry in it, and by specifying load = win /*, with the * being the switch in question, that command will be performed. Most of the time, we would use the win /d:whatever -- the d being the disable command, and the whatever being, well, whatever it is we are disabling.
If Windows 98 stalls during boot, the problem may be the 32-bit drivers. You can disable them with the command win /d:f -- I don’t know why the programmers chose something as unrelated as f for 32-bit drivers, but hey.
If you want to start in Safe Mode, and you are like me (I sometimes find it hard hitting F5 at just the right moment), you can add the switch win /d:m. Maybe they meant m as in minimum files loaded.
If you have your machine networked, and you want to start it in Safe Mode with Networking drivers loaded, the command would be win /d:n.
Hit the right key at the right time
The usual way to get into Safe Mode or to bring up the Boot Menu is to hit one of the function keys just as windows is about to load. I start spanking the key right after the memory test of the POST is done. The two most popular keys are F5 to start in Safe Mode, and F8 to bring up the Boot
Menu. You can also hit the Control key to get the Boot Menu.
Some of the lesser-known keystrokes are Shift + F5 for Safe Mode with the Command Prompt only, and F6 for Safe Mode with Networking.
If you bring up the Boot Menu, you have more choices, as follows:
Microsoft Windows 98 Startup Menu
2. Logged (\Bootlog.txt)
3. Safe Mode
4. Step-by step confirmation
5. Command prompt only
6. Safe Mode with command prompt only
Enter a choice:
In my time, I have tried all of these options, which is a fringe benefit of breaking your machine on a regular basis.
So by the numbers:
1. Normal – I don’t think this one needs an explanation.
2. Logged (\Bootlog.txt) - will create a text file named Bootlog.txt that lists the loading attempt of each driver (both real and virtual) and whether or not the attempt was a success or failure. After the machine boots, open the Bootlog.txt to see which drivers failed.
3. Safe Mode - This is probably the most popular troubleshooting mode, and at times Windows 98 will automatically go into Safe Mode. In this mode, Config.sys, Autoexec.bat, and all but the minimum of your drivers are loaded. A generic VGA driver is loaded, in case it is your video that is the problem. In Safe Mode you can delete or replace the drivers that you suspect are the problem, then try rebooting into Normal Mode.
4. Step-by-step confirmation – this is the most time consuming of the options. You are presented with each driver one at a time, and are given the option to load it (yes) or not (no). The idea is that you try disabling one driver at a time until you find the one that is the troublemaker. The best way to use this is to get a copy of Bootlog.txt first, then use that as a guide for which drivers to try bypassing.
5. Command prompt only - This is when you are really in a world of hurt, and you need to get into DOS for help. Sometimes running Scandisk in DOS will fix the corrupted files and allow Windows 98 to boot normally afterwards.
6. Safe Mode with command prompt only - this is the same as Safe Mode, with the same files and drivers bypassed; only the Graphical User Interface is not loaded. Again, your best bet would be to run Scandisk and then try rebooting.
The Easy Way Out
My own personal favorite troubleshooter, and the main reason I was an early adopter of Windows 98 (yeah, I got to buy and install both versions of Windows 98!), is the System Configuration Utility. MSConfig.exe allows you to pick and choose which files are used at startup. This allows you to quickly and temporarily change your configuration. Once you have the system stabilized, you can try adding startup files one at a time until you find the file that needs to be changed or deleted permanently.
How do I Boot thee, let me count the ways!
Many computer problems will show up when we try to boot the system. Microsoft has built in several different ways to troubleshoot the boot process in Windows 98. We can edit the startup files directly, we can boot into a different mode to try fixing the problem, and we can temporarily change the way files are loaded. This is good news, since having your computer start correctly each and every time is not a given. Each time you boot your computer is an adventure!
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