How Linux ruined My Day

November 3, 2006

There are days when I wonder; would I be better off never having heard of Linux? Today was one of those days.

It all started because I was trying to run an innocuous adaptiv technology program called Boardmaker. Elain and Loraine had recently installed it for me, but had failed to test it. So I thought it would work, and it said I had insufficient priviledges. Which is crap, because I DO have administrative priviledges on this machine and I proceded to attempt to invoke them. But still, the program failed to work properly, largely because it has issues with XP and multiple users. Making it work required all mannerr of jiggery and fiddling. I became frustrated.

Ever gotten frustrated and did something dumb that seemed like a good idea at the time?

I’m under a bit of pressure to produce something and I needed this program to do it. So I came up with the scheme of partitioning this 80 gig hard drive, installing Mepis in a dual boot situation and the using WINE to get Boardmaker to think I was on my home machine with unrestricted administrative rights.

So I used QT Parted to repartition my hard drive and then blindly let it install Grub, thinking I would get some sort of message with an option of which OS to boot at startup. All of this seemed to go swimmingly well. Too well.

While doing all of this, a young lady came to my room with some questions. She had been referred to me by Loraine and Elaine, who are the twins who do most of the basic IT stuff around the school. Apparently the young lady, who I’ll just go ahead and name Halle as in Halle Barry, had just bought a new computer. from Wal-Mart and it came with Linux preinstalled. I asked her which distribution and she said she didn’t know but I guessed Linspire. Yes, it came with Linspire, which I had tried once as FreeSpire. She was having trouble getting online, because she was using dialup and her ISP was Bellsouth.

I was kind of excited to find someone else around getting into Linux but sensed her frustration. I almost suggested she take it back to get an XP machine but she insisted she did kind of like it. So we brainstormed and came up with the fact that there was an ISP provider who had an icon on her desktop to try for 3 months while she looked in the Freespire community for someone who was also using Bellsouth.

While we’re talking, my machine is in the process of becoming the district’s only dual boot XP/Linux machine. Or that was the idea. While talking, I rebooted and then looked over and noticed it wasn’t booting. It kept saying there was no boot disk. It was not locating the hard drive. I went from feeling pretty good to feeling like crap in less than 2 minutes. I was totally distracted from helping Halle at this point, and mumbled something about me maybe not being the best authority since I had apparently fried the school’s computer…one of the brand new ones!

She thanked me and said it had been helpful and went off to lunch or class or wherever. I was now in deep shit. Putting Mepis or whatever distro on an old P3 destined for the scrap heap is one thing. Frying a brand new machine is a different matter entirely. Loraine and Elaine, who live and die by Microsoft and FUD would have a field day. And then there was the head of IT in my building, Ghengis Khan. I don’t call him that just for the hell of it!

Fortunately I had a student out and all my paras were present. They could do most of the real work while I attempted to save my system from my own folly. And so the race was on.

Again, Mepis 6.0 has a few issues that made life harder than it had to be. It’s much more difficult to locate partitions. I did a live CD boot with Mepis 3.1 and those partitions both appeared right on the desktop. Whew! A look around revealed the Windows stuff was all still there. Good. Now I just had to figure out how to get the thing to boot and do it without total administrative access.

I used my other networked machine (the new one I let the paras use) to search for a solution to get the system to boot. I really was not keen on losing all of XP because there are still things that HAVE to be done with XP. Important stuff like grades and attendance.

For the next 4 hours, I was diligently trying various things. Most Master Boot records need the XP install disk in order to be fixed. Since I did not have an XP disk, this was not an acceptable option. I tried copying a few suggested files from the sister machine to fix the crippled one. Nothing doing.

The tool that finally did it was a little program called Gag46 orr something like that. Very simple, very small (fits on a floppy) and fairly elegant. Using this floppy, I could have my dual boot, but more importantly, Windows would boot.

The first thing Windows did when it booted was to “correct” the partitioning work I had done, so now Mepis was knocked off. But that’s okay.

It was a long and frustrating day, and Boardmaker STILL doesn’t want to work!

Grub eventually decided to “work.” Actually, there is no menu to pick the OS like I get with Gag46. No, just a command prompt looking exactly like an old MS DOS prompt, with commands every bit as cryptic. The one I got to work was “reboot” and then used the Gag46 to get XP back up.

As it stands now, I can use the floppy to get back to where I was before I had my bright idea. I’m not saying I’m giving it up entirely, as I still think the idea has merit, but just not this second.




  1. Well, before you get anymore bright ideas about repartitioning a live system (running NTFS no less) with limited time, go read the Gentoo Handbook. It’s easier than the man pages… Seriously. Spend a day with Gentoo and get a machine from rescue mode to working Linux. Just always choose the manual portions, otherwise you learn nothing.

    Here would be the main points:
    “ls /dev/hda*” gives all partitions
    “grub” “root (hd0,x)” “setup (hd0)” installs grub
    “fdisk /mbr” or “format /mbr” from Windows will replace the MBR with one that just boots the first partition marked active

    And a good floppy would be Smart Boot Manager.

  2. Heh… just read my comment. Wow, I can be a rude ass. No apologies though. Cause I’m a rude ass. *grin*

    I guess I should say I really love Gentoo. It took me from 1% Linux knowledge to where ever I am now. Maybe 3%? Hmmm, if 100% is RMS, and 98% LT, I guess that’s about right.

    [To anyone who thinks I should reverse those two, without the philosopher to envision ideas, the engineer has nowhere to work. So philosophy trumps science (which flushes out the idea) which in turn trumps engineering, but all are trumped by the arts, for without any method of expression we would have to be all trades imaginable.]

  3. grub-install /dev/* (where * is sda or hda) and it will auto-find bootable partitions and install a list of them into your MBR… sda is a SCSI drive, hda is IDE usually… have phun with linux… it will evolve for more easier use in the future…

  4. […] had avoided trying a dual boot, largely because I had screwed things up on another machine before, and was a bit reluctant to go through that again.  But I was intrigued.  Plus malware threats […]

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