Need a boot disk? Why? How?

Question: What is a boot disk and what is it used for? —H.M.

Answer: A boot disk is not something you need to use every day. It is simply a floppy disk that contains enough of the operating system, such as Windows, to start your computer when it won’t start up on its own.

Normally, your computer “boots” (starts up) by reading this programming information from your hard drive. That’s the big storage disk inside your computer.

A boot disk is handy if the hard drive is damaged or if you want to reinstall
the operating system from scratch.

The phrase “boot up your computer” was derived from the word “bootstraps”, which are small loops of leather often sewn into the tops of high boots. They’re used to help pull them on.

This little gem of information is from the Word Detective. He writes: “Since the 18th century, the phrase ‘pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps’ has meant to succeed by one’s own efforts, without outside help.”

He goes on to say: “‘Bootstrap’ has been used in computing circles since the 1950s and the shortened form ‘boot’ became popular with the personal computer explosion of the 1980s.”

If you have Windows 98, Windows ME, or Windows XP, the computer can be used to make a boot disk for itself. (If you have Windows 95, you have to make it manually.)

In Windows 98 and ME, click the Start button (in the bottom left corner of your Windows screen) and choose Settings, then Control Panel.

Double-click Add/Remove Programs. Select the Startup Disk tab and press the Create Disk button. Put a blank disk in the floppy drive and the machine will create a book disk.

In Windows XP, put a blank disk in the floppy drive, then double-click the My Computer icon on the Windows desktop (it’s usually in or near the upper left corner). Next, click the floppy disk drive to select it. On the File menu, click Format, and then check Create an MS-DOS startup disk and then click Start (in the box where you’ve clicked these other things – in this case, we’re not talking about the Start button at the bottom left of your screen).

To start (“boot”) your computer with a floppy disk that you’ve created using the instructions above, put the boot disk in the floppy drive and power down the computer. Then start it up again.

When the computer starts again, it will read the information on the boot disk before it gets to the hard drive, and you’ll be able to access your hard drive via the MS-DOS prompt by typing C: and then hit the Enter key. Then type dir and hit Enter again, or dir /w and hit Enter to see a list of the files and directories on the hard drive.

You can also get a program from the Internet to create a book disk. This is especially useful for owners of a Windows 95 computer. Please see this web page for further information:

There’s even more information about boot disks at:

If you want to know how to use a boot disk to reformat a hard drive and reinstall Windows, go to: Reformat and Reinstall FAQ.