Although most of the corporate PCs you’ll support are networked, there are still small or home offices that lack such connectivity. When this is the case, I have found that the easiest way to transfer one or two files between Windows machines is to copy the files to and from floppy disks. Throw Linux into the mix, however, and this method becomes slightly more complicated.

By default, Linux will not accept PC disks. When you try to mount a PC disk on the Linux floppy drive, you are forced to reformat with Linux’s native ext2 filesystem. Once the disk is reformatted, you can use it with Linux but not with Windows. What you need is a way to configure the drive so that both Linux and Windows can read and write to the same disk. The Linuxconf utility lets you do just that.

Configuring a DOS floppy drive with Linuxconf
Using Linuxconf and a few clicks of the mouse, you can reconfigure a Linux floppy drive to accept MSDOS-formatted disks that can also be used by Windows programs. First, make sure that your Linux disk drive is not mounted. Next, switch to root user, and then start Linuxconf.

Starting Linuxconf

I work with an earlier version of Red Hat, namely 6.1. To start Linuxconf, I needed to open a terminal window. On later versions, you can access Linuxconf by clicking on the GNOME Main Menu Application button and moving to Linuxconf under the System menu. Users who don’t have Linuxconf can download the latest version here.

Executing Linuxconf displays the window shown in Figure A. In this window, scroll down to File Systems in the left panel of the window and click on Access Local Drive to display the Local Volume tab shown on the right. Next, click on the drive you want to reconfigure, /dev/fd0, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Click on /dev/fd0 to display the Volume Specification tab shown in Figure B.

Figure B

(If the Base tab is not immediately active as shown in Figure B, click the tab to activate it.) The Base tab in Figure B indicates ext2 as the filesystem in the Type field. To reconfigure the drive, replace ext2 with msdos. Click the down arrow to the right of the Type field and then click msdos in the drop-down list. Figure C shows the Type field with the msdos filesystem type selected.

Figure C

Finally, click the Accept button to accept the changes and enable the Linux floppy drive to work with MSDOS-formatted disks.

Working with PC disks in Linux
After you’ve reconfigured your Linux floppy drive as a DOS floppy drive, you no longer have to reformat your preformatted disks to ext2 to work with Linux. You can mount MSDOS-formatted disks right out of the box and also transfer files on those disks to a Windows machine.

For example, you can transfer files you create in GIMP to Windows XP and work with them in the Windows Paint program. You can transfer a text file created in Emacs to Windows XP and edit it with Word. Likewise, you can transfer a Word document to Linux and work with it in Emacs; note that before you do, save the Word document as Plain Text so that it can be viewed in Emacs without displaying any hidden text, which may include confidential material or text that you meant to delete.