Organizing Your Windows System

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The Org Chart

I’ve used this organization for several years, and it has come in handy more than a few times when I finally decided that it was time to clean up my registry, exchange my primary hard disk, or just to have a fresh OS install. I don’t believe I am alone in experiencing a slow degradation of Windows performance and stability over time, and this method is the best that I have found to address that problem with a minimum of hassles. Following is a checklist of tasks to prepare for and organize your system in this manner. Local modifications will most likely be necessary, and there may well be some ways to improve upon it.

  1. Make a boot diskette, if necessary. While it is possible to boot from the Windows installation CD, your options are more limited if you want to repartition your hard drives.
    1. Format a floppy disk, and copy the System files (either via Windows, or from a DOS prompt)
    2. Copy HIMEM.SYS and EMM386.EXE onto the floppy (these should be in your C:\WINDOWS directory)
    3. Create a directory called /COMMAND on the floppy, and copy in the following files from the C:/WINDOWS/COMMAND directory:	
      1. EDIT.EXE
      2. EDIT.HLP
      4. FORMAT.COM
      5. FDISK.EXE
      6. SYS.COM
      7. XCOPY.EXE
      8. XCOPY32.EXE
    4. If you have a CD reader, create a directory on the floppy called CD and copy in the DOS device driver into it, as well as MSCDEX.EXE (from the COMMAND directory). The DOS driver file name will depend upon your particular model, and may not be present on your hard drive. If this is the case, you will need to locate the driver diskette that came with the CD, or download it from the manufacturers website. Without this driver, and MSCDEX.EXE you will not be able to access your CDs after booting with the diskette
    5. Using a text editor (such as Wordpad, Notepad or Edit) create a CONFIG.SYS file on the floppy (in the root directory) with the following 4 lines (substitute your CD driver name in the last line):
      1. device=\command\himem.sys
      2. device=\command\emm386.exe /noems
      3. dos=high,umb
      4. DEVICE=\CD\cddriver /D:MSCD000 /N:1
    6. Create an AUTOEXEC.BAT file with the following lines. Note that the last line has the same device name as the 4th line in the CONFIG.SYS. This name can be any 7 character name, but both lines must match:
      1. prompt $p$g
      2. path=a:\command;a:\
      3. \CD\MSCDEX.EXE /S /D:MSCD000
  2. If you have an existing installation, backup your important files, copy them to another hard disk or put them wherever you feel is safe and where you can recover them from quickly. A partition on the drive you will install Windows on is not a good place if you will be reformatting as outlined in step 3.
    1. All personal data files (ones you have created with your applications)
    2. Windows files:
      1. Address book (will be in the Windows directory, and will have a .WAB extension)
      2. Password File (will be in the Windows directory, and will have a .PWL extension)
      3. Email and newsgroup files (the location and filenames will depend upon the software you use.
      4. AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS (if they exist)
      5. Any configuration files for the applications you use. You can skip this step, but you will need to reconfigure all of the applications after you reinstall.
  3. Prepare your system for installation
    1. Boot from the floppy created in step 1
    2. Use FDISK to create your partitions if necessary. I recommend at least two, which can be on the same or different physical drives. The C: partition should be large enough for Windows, and any Windows applications you plan to install. The D: partition should be large enough to contain any non-Windows (i.e., DOS) programs and any data files you will be storing (i.e., Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, graphics and/or HTML documents, downloaded documents, graphics, applications and add-ons, etc.).
    3. Format your partitions. If you are only reinstalling Windows and have your data already on the D: partition, format just the C: partition. For brand new installations, hard drive replacements, etc. format all partitions created in the previous step.
    4. For easier installation in the future, you can copy the Windows installation files onto the data partition (D: or whichever you have decided upon). To do this from the A:\ prompt, type the following commands (this example assumes that D: is your data drive and E: is your CD drive. Substitute the appropriate letters if necessary):
      1. MD D:\Win9x (substitute a ‘5’ or an ‘8’ for the ‘x’, whichever one you are installing)
      2. XCOPY E:\ D:\Win9x /s (the /s is important, as it will make sure to copy all subdirectories from the CD)
      3. You may want to do the same for other program/driver CDs, as it may make future reinstallations faster.
  4. Install software and restore data/configuration files
    1. Windows Install
      1. Go to the D: drive (or CDROM drive, if installing from there)
      2. Change to the \Win9x directory created above (e.g., type in ‘CD \Win9x’ at the prompt). Skip this step if installing from CD.
      3. Type ‘Setup’ at the prompt
      4. Complete the installation. When this is complete, you will have a Windows system to work with. Since you have already created your boot disk in step I, you can skip that part of the Windows installation.
    2. Video Driver Install
      1. Click on ‘Start’ => ‘Settings’ => ‘Control Panel’. Choose the ‘Display’ icon.
      2. Click on the ‘Settings’ Tab, then choose the ‘Advanced Properties’ button near the bottom.
      3. Choose the ‘Adapter’ tab, then the ‘Change’ button.
      4. Insert your disk or CD (if you didn’t copy the drivers to the hard drive earlier), and choose the ‘Have Disk’ button.
      5. Enter the proper location of the drivers, and click ‘OK’.
      6. You will probably need to reboot at this point.
      7. After rebooting, return to ‘Settings’ screen, and modify the number of colors, desktop area and font size you desire.
      8. You may or may not have to reboot, depending upon which options are in effect.
    3. Install any other necessary drivers. Most of these can be updated via the Control Panel. This may include AGP and chipset drivers, busmaster drivers (not usually necessary for Win98), modem drivers, sound card drivers and others.
      1. Click on the ‘System’ icon and choose the ‘Device Manager’ icon
      2. Look for any devices with a small yellow ‘!’ next to them, and determine if you have any updated drivers. Also look for the big yellow ‘?’ that says ‘Unknown Devices’ and determine if you have drivers for those.
    4. Install your applications
    5. Restore the files saved in step 2.

Using this setup, you can always reformat and reinstall your Windows operating system without worrying about losing data files or most of your configuration data. This does not eliminate the need for doing backups, but it makes a complete reinstallation much faster and less stressful. You will know that only program files reside on the C: drive, so it can be reformatted at any time, if necessary (after copying the various configuration files, of course).

With my setup, I can now Ghost two partitions – one with my important data, and one for an emergency recovery of the operating system and applications. Every once in awhile, system crashes start getting more frequent, or I want to upgrade my boot drive, so I simply reinstall my entire OS, recover the configuration files and I’m ready to go again in a short time. This gives me all of the options I desire for just about any situation that might arise.

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