A radical approach to tinkering with a hard drive

Question: I used DOS 6.0 DoubleSpace to compress my “C:” drive. Since then, I upgraded to Windows 95. I tried to format my “C:” drive recently and got a message saying that my Windows systems files are located on “C:” and cannot be formatted. I searched the Microsoft knowledge base to no avail. Can you help, or point me to sites for remedies? Or am I stuck with the compressed drive? —Ming

Answer: Hundreds of professional computer troubleshooters will curse me for publishing this advice because it’s lethal and can easily demolish hard drives. So use the information at your own peril, since it’s IRREVERSIBLE. The reason you’re getting the error message about your system files being on “C:” is because you’re asking the system that’s doing the erasing work to erase itself.

Think of this procedure as sort of like asking a tree to chop itself down. “This message will occur if one tries to run format.com from within an operating system booted from the primary drive,” said Christopher Salvador, a tech whiz at Edmonton-based Vicom Multimedia Inc.

What you want to do is boot your system with a bootable Windows 95 floppy disk that contains format.exe and erase your C: drive from there. That aside, here’s the trick to getting rid of a DoubleSpaced drive made with DOS 6.0. The tips are also courtesy of Salvador.

  1. Make a bootable floppy that contains the DOS utilities Format and Fdisk. You can copy them to the floppy from C:DOS.
  2. Boot from the floppy you have just made.
  3. Run Fdisk. You’ll see a menu of tasks. Remove your primary partition.
    This could be tricky if you have two or more partitions. If so, remove the partitions in this order:
    1. Remove all logical partitions first, then remove extended partition, and finally remove the primary partition.
    2. Create a new primary partition.
    3. Exit Fdisk and reboot with the floppy still in.
    4. Run format with the following switch: “format C: /u”. The /u means unconditional format.

That’s it. You’ll be left with a clean hard drive.

CyberWalker Notes: Windows surgery

While in Boston recently, I was browsing through a bookstore not far from M.I.T. and I came across a fabulous title called Windows Annoyances by David A. Karp and published by O’Reilly & Associates. It caught my eye because O’Reilly et al is a stalwart in quality Unix publishing.

The Unix books by O’Reilly are spectacular, so I thoguht a title about Windows must be equally good. It is. This book chronicles the heart and soul of the world’s most popular operating system. It cuts the OS open and lays it bare as an autopsy, offering tips, tricks, and the most subversive work-arounds.

So, if you like to get your fingers dirty and you wonder what mysteries and secrets lie behind the Start button, icons, and the mysterious registry, pick this book up. You can find O’Reilly titles at most quality computer book stores: PC Annoyances, Second Edition.

Upgrading Windows the easy way: I discussed recently how to reinstall Windows 3.1, then install the Windows 95 upgrade. I think sometimes I do things the hard way, because a bunch of readers said my explanation was too much work. They explained how to get around a full Windows 3.1 reinstall and go straight to the Windows 95 upgrade.

I promised to pass it on, so here it is: “During the install of the Windows 95 Upgrade, the setup routine will search for a copy of Windows 3.1 on the hard drive of your PC. If it can’t be found, a window will prompt you to type in a path to the ‘qualifying software’,” explained reader Chris Gordon, one of four who took the time to write.

“All you have to do is insert the Windows 3.1 install disk 1 into your floppy drive and type your floppy drive letter (such as ‘A:’), hit Enter, and the setup routine will allow you to continue.”

To find more about from our Reinstall and Reformat FAQ’s.