Read Linux-formatted floppies on your Windows workstations with Explore2fs

See how you can use Explore2fs to read data from Linux floppy disks on a Windows system.

What do you do when a user brings a Linux floppy into work that contains important work-related data and tries to load it on his or her Windows workstation, only to discover that the disk can’t be read? You can use the Explore2fs freeware utility to read the disk on the Windows machine. Let's take a look at why you might need it and how it works.

What’s the problem?
The reason that most Linux-formatted floppies can’t be read in a Windows workstation is that, by default, Linux formats floppies with its own file system—EXT2. Windows doesn’t understand EXT2, so when presented with an EXT2 floppy, Windows will complain.

If a user tries to open the floppy from My Computer, Windows will display a dialog box saying the disk hasn’t been formatted. It will also ask you if you want to format the floppy. Naturally, this would be disastrous—reformatting would cause all data on the floppy to be lost.

If a user tries to open the floppy from a command line, Windows will display a nasty error message. The exact error message you get will depend on the version of Windows you’re running. Windows 2000 will tell you that you’re using an unsupported file system. Windows NT and 9x will tell you that the entire drive can’t be found.

Explore2fs to the rescue
Explore2fs is a freeware utility that will allow EXT2 floppies to be read in a Windows machine. Moreover, Explore2fs can also allow you to copy files to your Windows machine from the Linux floppy. You can then transfer those files across the network to the user or put them on a normally formatted floppy.

You can obtain Explore2fs from the Explore2fs Web site. Scroll down the site until you see the link to download This is the latest version of Explore2fs. It’s a small file, only 365 KB in size, so it will download very quickly.

There is no installation process for Explore2fs. Open the file with WinZip and extract the files it contains to an Explore2fs directory that you create on your workstation. When the files extract, you’re ready to start running Explore2fs

Running Explore2fs
There is no startup icon in the Start Menu to start Explore2fs. To begin, you’ll need to go to My Computer and open the Explore2fs directory you created earlier. From there, you can create your own icon on the desktop to start Explore2fs. The process is the same as it is for any other Windows program.

To start Explore2fs, double-click the Explore2fs icon. You’ll then see the screen in Figure A appear. On my test machine in the figure, you can see several Linux partitions on my hard drive. That’s because this particular computer multi-boots several flavors of Windows, OS/2, and Linux. The floppy partition is the selected one, device fda0.

Figure A
Explore2fs reads Linux partitions on your Windows workstation.

If the floppy drive doesn’t appear at first, you may have to enable it. To do so, select Options from the View menu. When the Options menu appears, click the General tab. Select Scan Floppy Drives and then close the dialog box. You’ll also need to select Rescan Partitions from the File menu. The floppy drive should then appear.

In the All Folders window, you can select other Linux partitions to view and navigate any directories on the device. The Contents folder displays all of the files on the floppy. As you can see in the figure, Explore2fs uses a penguin icon to represent all of the files, no matter what file type they really are.

Copying a file off the floppy couldn’t be easier. Just select the file or files you want in the Contents folder and drag to a folder on your Windows workstation. Explore2fs will do the rest.

Explore2fs caveats
Explore2fs is a handy utility, but it’s not without its flaws. The author calls the software an "ongoing beta" even though its official release version is 1.00. Explore2fs is supposed to be able to run on Windows 9x, NT, 2000, and XP, but I had problems getting it to run properly under Windows 2000 Professional on my Dell test machine. But Explore2fs worked flawlessly under Windows 98 on the exact same machine.

Explore2fs can write data as well as read it, but the author warns that you do so at your own peril. He’s tested and shown it to work, but it may corrupt data upon writing. You should stick to using it for read-only purposes unless you’re truly desperate.


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