How to re-install Windows

Please note that this guide is new and so you may not find the information you need. In time it will be expanded to cover much more detail.


Why bother

So you're having pc problems again. Blue screens with meaningless error messages, random crashes and failing hardware. It happens to most of us, and what causes it is a cumulative effect of failed hardware and software installations which eventually render the thing almost useless. Now you're going to have to re-install windows to fix it. But wait - Windows is far too clever for its own good: re-installing windows over an existing copy doesn't fix bad settings in the registry or correct the hardware configuration. You're going to have to wipe everything out to get a clean installation and that means it'll take weeks to get all the software re-installed and set up.

"How to re-install Windows" is a guide to getting your software back to a working state with all your data and settings intact from a previous installation. Initially I will describe the applications I use, and hopefully the list can be expanded in time.

Why does this keep happening to me ?

The major reason for windows fouling up is that the shared library files, which are supposed to exist in matched groups, often get over-written by newer versions by install programs. When the groups of libraries get out of sync, they often find they can no longer exist together, hence the blue screens and headaches.
The way to reduce the chances of this happening is to avoid installing shareware and demo software, unless you know it's ok to do so. The most stable pcs I know are the ones which never have new software loaded.

Another reason for problems is switching the pc off without calling for a shutdown from the start menu. Or worse, switching off during a shutdown. People that think "I always do it this way and I never have a problem" are playing russian roulette with their data.

Backing up

The first stage of the process is to make a copy of the data you'll need later on.

The most important thing to realise here is that the backup must not be visible to the windows install program. This means that your backup (specifically the Windows directory) must be on a separate hard disc, if you have one, or writeable cd or other backup media. As a last resort if you don't have any of these things you could put it in a zip file.

In order to make the backup you will have to do the following:

To change explorer's settings, open any file manager window and using the menus call up View, Folder Options, View. In that window, under Hidden Files you must tick the Show All Files option. While you're there you could tick the "Display full path in title bar" option too, it might avoid confusion later.
Copying using the mouse is easy if you know how. I have seen plenty of people who don't know how make incredibly stupid mistakes, so I'm going to describe the fool-proof method!
When you drag an item between filer windows, you may create a shortcut, or move it, or copy it depending on the state of the shift and ctrl keys. Just to add confusion the default state (if you don't hold any keys down) depends on the type of object you are dragging and where you are dragging it to.The good news is that if you use the right mouse button to drag, the action is always the same: when you drop the item you get a menu asking what you want to do with it.
So, here's what you are going to do: Make a copy, by dragging with the right mouse button, of the following items:

The Windows directory
The Program Files directory
The autoexec.bat file
The config.sys file
Any other directories which you know are part of one of your important applications

These items should be automatically named "Copy of ..." and all of them can remain on drive C except the windows directory. This is because the windows install program will find it and use it, even if you rename it and even if it's on another disc. So you are going to have to put it on another disc and then take that disc off-line while you install windows. As I mentioned before, a zip-file should also do the trick but it will take an enormous amount of time to pack and unpack.

All there is left to do now is note some important settings.

Here is my list so far:
For Outlook, look under Tools,Accounts and write down your mail servers (in and out), news server, login name and e-mail address.
For Dial-up networking, under controlpanel, Dial-Up networking note the phone number and user name, and also note which boxes are ticked under "server types". (just right-click the dial-up icon and choose Properties to see these)
If you are running on a local area network you will need to extract the settings for your connection. From control panel choose network and make a list of all the components shown in the window. Now click on the other tabs "Identification" and "Access control" and write down those settings too. Go back to the Configuration tabs and click "File and print sharing" and note which boxes are ticked. Finally you need to note some of the settings within the components that are installed. To be safe it's best to write them all down but the two most important things are your TCP/IP and network client settings. If you have TCP/IP installed you will have to make a note of all the settings including IP address, DNS entires and names servers. If you have Client for Microsoft Networks you must check its properties and note the name of the NT domain if there is one set. Other forms of network will probably have different settings so write everything down.
For ICQ, note your ICQ number.

Making a clean install

Before you go any further, check that you have a windows 98 startup diskette and cd-rom. If you don't have a start-up disk you can get windows to make you one from control panel using "Add/Remove programs" and then "Startup disk".

Now you are ready to remove the existing installation. If you have put your backups somewhere other than drive c, you can just format the disc. Shut the computer down, choosing "Restart in DOS mode", and type FORMAT C:

If you need to preserve data on drive C then the slower option is to delete the windows and program files directories using the DELTREE command. Please note that DELTREE itself is within the windows directory so you must hit program files first and once you've started deleting windows you must let it finish. Typically each of these directories takes half an hour to delete.

Insert both windows disks, check all your external hardware (eg printer, scanner) is switched on and re-boot the PC. If your backup is on a second hard disc, now is the time to disable it in the BIOS so that windows setup can't see it. Let Windows install using the default options.

Some hardware will prompt you for driver discs, others will not (some will ask for a disc before the cd-rom is up and running; just cancel those until later)

Within windows, check the devices (right-click on "My Computer" and select "properties", then "Devices".

Any items filed under the yellow question mark have no driver loaded. Pick one, and load the driver, by clicking remove, then OK and allow the system to reboot, at which point it will prompt for the driver. Repeat until all drivers have been installed.

Specific hardware tweaks

CD writers
If you have an IDE drive, disable DMA for it and the other drive on its bus (if fitted)
If you are using packet cd software such as directcd, also set the optimisation to no read-ahead.
You may play with the dma settings once you are sure everything is ok.

Restoring your original setup

Most applications can be fixed up by copying the original directory over the newly installed one. There will be some settings set incorrectly because they were stored in the old registry, but so far all the applications I have tried to restore have not needed much (if any) setup work.

Start with any hardware-related applications such as the player for your dvd-rom or video capture software. Most of these don't need any setup work

Now install Internet Explorer 5.
Explorer shortcuts can be restored by dragging the Favorites directory into c:\windows from your backup.

Install Microsoft Office next, and at least service pack 1 if you are going on to install outlook.

Next, set up your internet and e-mail connection. If you use the full version of Outlook, install it now. If you had an internet connection you can use the "Connect to the internet" wizard to restore your settings if you know them.

Some ISPs such as Freeserve and In2home have "Restore settings" as a feature on their web pages, which can save you time if you can manage to get as far as entering the phone number and your user id.
Otherwise, Outlook will prompt for settings; if you use the full version of outlook, you will be asked for the settings twice; once as you run the wizard and again when you run outlook. Enter the same settings for both; tell Outlook it is the default mail reader.
Once you have the empty mail box set up, you can restore your old e-mail, news and settings by dragging the backup over the top of the new installation. It is stored in \windows\application data\microsoft outlook.

If you had a multi-user set-up, the best thing to do is re-create all the users and then drag the whole of \windows\profiles over from the backup.

At this point you should get on the net and fetch any updates you need from the Windows Update page at microsoft. At the very least, install the critical update feature and let it tell you what's needed next time you connect.

Now all that's left is to re-install your applications.