Creating a DOS boot disk for MS networks

In this Daily Feature, learn the steps needed to create and run a boot disk that allows you to get a workstation on the network while running DOS.

Getting a computer to work under Windows with a Microsoft network is one thing. Having that same computer boot into a Microsoft network while running DOS can be yet another, even if you’ve been working with Microsoft networks since the beginning. With IS departments trying to come up with a standardized boot image for deploying new machines, the use of Ghost and similar products is growing. Therefore, it’s become a challenge to bring new machines onto the network so that you can run Ghost, or a similar utility that will bring them to a more functional state. In this Daily Feature, I’ll walk you through the steps of creating and running a boot disk that helps you to get a workstation onto the network without an operating system installed.

The basics
To minimize the space required for boot files, you’ll want to start with a floppy disk formatted on a Windows 95/98 system—or preferably a DOS machine, if you still have one lying around. The next step will require using your Windows NT server. If during the installation process you didn’t copy the Clients directory from the NT Server CD to your server, now would be a good time to do so. Once the directory has finished copying, share the Clients directory using the share name of Clients.

Next, you’ll need to open Network Client Administrator which is found under Start | Program | Administrative Tools (Common). When the program appears on the screen, you’ll have four choices: Make Network Installation Startup Disk, Make Installation Disk Set, Copy Client-Based Network Administration Tools, and View Remoteboot Client Information. Choose the Make Network Installation Startup Disk option, and then click Continue. When the Share Network Client Installation Files dialog box appears, select the Use Existing Shared Directory option. Enter the name of the server and the share directory name in the appropriate input fields. Click OK to proceed.

When the Target Workstation Configuration screen appears, you must make sure that the correct drive type is selected for drive A:. For the Network Client selection, choose Network Client v3.0 for MS-DOS and Windows. Click the arrow beside the network card, and from the drop-down list, choose the network card that you’re using. Don’t be concerned if you don’t see your exact network card on the list, just select the card closest to the type you’re using.

Choosing the protocol
When the Network Startup Disk Configuration screen appears, you’ll need to enter a few pieces of information. In the appropriate input fields, enter the name you want this computer to be known by when booting from the disk, and enter the user name and domain that you want to log in with on this workstation. You’ll also need to select the protocol you want the workstation to use. You have a choice of NetBEUI, NWLink IPX Compatible Protocol, or TCP/IP. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use TCP/IP.

By default, the workstation configuration files will be set up to use the DHCP server on your network. If you don’t have a DHCP server and are using statically assigned IP addresses, deselect the Enable Automatic DHCP Configuration check box. You’ll then need to enter the IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway settings that this workstation will use. Verify that the correct destination path for the floppy drive is listed (unless you want to write the files to another directory for later editing prior to copying to the floppy). Click OK to start the file-copying process.

A message will appear on the screen when the process is complete. Unless you need to make a change to the network card driver, you now have a bootable disk. The only remaining step is to add a net use command to map a drive letter to one or more drives containing the utility and files that you need in order to get your desktop operating system installed on the workstation.

Changing to a different network card driver
If you need to use a network card driver other than the ones in the list in Network Client Administrator, you must edit two .INI files. You’ll first need to copy the NDIS driver for the network card you are using to the boot disk that you just created. Depending on the size of the driver file, you may have to delete one or more of the network driver files (they will have a .DOS extension) from the boot disk to make room for the file that you are copying.

Once you’ve copied the file, edit the System.ini file and look for a netcard= line under the [network drivers] section of the file. Change the name of the driver that is currently shown to the name of the file that you just copied. After you’ve made the changes, save the file.

Next, edit Protocol.ini to make the remainder of the changes. First, look under the [network.setup] section and change the entry on the netcard line to something similar to the name of the driver that you will be using. Also, be sure to make the change to the section that contains the DriverName= line. You’ll want the name of the header appearing in the brackets to match what you entered under the [network.setup] header. For testing purposes, I would recommend that you remove the @echo off statements from the Autoexec.bat file so that if you have problems attaching to the network, you can see exactly on which statements the problems are occurring.

Booting from a PCMCIA network card
Booting a portable from a PCMCIA network card may be a little more involved than booting from a regular desktop due to the PCMCIA slots in the portable. Unless you happen to have the DOS drivers that make up the DOS card and socket service so that you can see the network card without being in Windows, you’ll need a PCMCIA network card that comes with an enabler file.

This enabler file is an alternative to having the DOS drivers for the card and socket services (3Com uses a file called Fmenable.exe to provide this type of enabler function). If the network card you’re using doesn’t have this option, you’ll need to locate one that does. For the boot disk to work properly with a PCMCIA network card, you must place a line in the boot disk’s Autoexec.bat file so that the enabler is run before the net initializecommand is executed.

A special note for Compaq users
Compaq has done a real service for their customers by creating a Service Pack that automates the whole process—but on a dynamic basis. After downloading SP11731.exe from Compaq’s support Web site and unpacking the files as directed, you have a disk that can automatically figure out which Compaq network card is in the machine and reconfigure the boot disk on the fly. If you’re using a Compaq desktop system, do yourself a favor—download this file and take a close look at the flexibility it gives you.

In this article, I’ve walked you through the steps required to create a boot disk that will bring a workstation to the point where you can get it on the network without an operating system installed. You can then run Ghost or a similar utility to get it to a functional state as quickly as possible. There is more you can do after that point, but you now have the basics to create a bootable disk without a lot of hassle.

Ronald Nutter is a senior systems engineer in Lexington, KY. He's an MCSE, a Novell Master CNE, and a Compaq ASE. Ron has worked with networks ranging in size from single servers to multiserver/multi-OS setups, including NetWare, Windows NT, AS/400, 3090, and UNIX. He's also the help desk editor for Network World. If you’d like to contact Ron, send him an e-mail. (Because of the large volume of e-mail that he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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