Winternals Software's ERD Commander 2005 simplifies system repair

ERD Commander 2005 from Winternals Software is not cheap, but with the investment comes a collection of powerful utilities you can use with confidence to repair failed systems. Best of all, it's completely legal.

Rescue boot CDs are plentiful. Numerous ISO images populate the Internet. From Hiren'sBootCD to a BartPE disk, numerous options exist for rescuing failed systems quickly. Not all are legal, and some are outright flaky.

If you work within a larger enterprise you'd be well served to take a look at Winternals Software's ERD Commander 2005. A core component of Winternals' $1,439 Administrator's Pak, ERD Commander 2005 isn't cheap. But with the investment comes a collection of powerful utilities you can use with confidence to repair failed systems. Best of all, it's completely legal.


Figure A

The Winternals' ERD Commander 2005 boot process appears similar to that used by Windows XP.

Place the ERD Commander 2005 boot CD in an accessible drive, bypass the existing or inoperative operating system by booting from the CD, and the utility will create a miniature Windows XP environment. Though limited in scope, the interface enables troubleshooting a variety of Windows operating systems, including Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 4 or later required), Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Figure B

ERD Commander 2005 is capable of identifying numerous installed Windows installations; when booting using the ERD Commander 2005 CD, simply select the Windows installation you wish to repair.

Once running, ERD Commander 2005 presents a Windows XP-like interface providing access to numerous troubleshooting tools in a graphical environment, including:

  • Administrative Tools – Autoruns, Disk Management, Event Log, Reg Edit, Service and Driver Manager and System Information.
  • Networking Tools – File Sharing, Map Network Drive and TCP/IP Config.
  • System Tools – Crash Analyzer, Disk Commander, Disk Wipe, File Restore, Hotfix Uninstall, Locksmith, System Compare, System File Repair and System Restore.
  • Menu Tools – Console, Explorer, Internet Browser (Mozilla Firefox version 1.0), Notepad, Search, Solution Wizard, Help and Run (command line).

Figure C

ERD Commander 2005 creates a Windows XP-like graphical user environment for troubleshooting systems that won't boot.

Administrative tools

Selecting any of the Administrative Tools, which are accessed by clicking the ERD Commander 2005 Start button and clicking Administrative Tools, opens a Windows 2000 Computer Management-like console. Administrators can leverage the console to perform Disk Management functions just as if the technician had booted into Windows and selected Disk Management within the Computer Management console. In addition to formatting partitions, Disk Management can set partitions active and change drive letters, among other tasks.

Accessing Winternals' Event Log, meanwhile, provides the ability to review Application, Security and System logs as if the technician had booted into Windows and selected Event Viewer from within the Computer Management console. Information found within these event logs can prove critical in identifying and eliminating the issues that are preventing a system from booting or operating properly.

Figure D

Event Viewer logs, accessible within ERD Communicator 2005, can prove invaluable in tracing the cause of system failures.

RegEdit provides the standard registry editing utility for correcting problematic registry entries, while System Information reports on critical system specifications. RegEdit can prove a lifesaver in reversing a registry setting that's prohibiting Windows from booting. System Information, meanwhile, reveals the computer's name, OS kernel version, OS product type (such as Windows XP Home versus Professional), current service pack, applied hotfixes and more. Such data helps identify or eliminate potential causes for failure and ensures an administrator can collect as much information as possible about a failed, non-booting system.

Wayward services and errant drivers can also prevent systems from starting properly. ERD Commander 2005's Service and Driver Manager offers support professionals a simple interface for resurrecting desktops and servers that are failing due to problematic services and drivers. Using the Service and Driver Manager, technicians can view services and drivers that load by default. Using simple right-click actions, services can be disabled, set to manual, configured to run at boot or set for automatic startup. Drivers can be reviewed and reconfigured, too, as well as updated.

Autoruns provides another powerful graphic-based tool. The utility lists programs that run automatically when Windows starts, including those that aren't always listed in Windows default Startup folder. Within the ERD Commander 2005 boot environment, administrators can then make any adjustments as needed, thereby enabling the removal of programs or files whose automatic execution is prompting Windows to fail.

Networking tools

The ERD Commander 2005 Networking Tools are accessed by clicking Start, selecting Networking Tools and clicking the desired utility.

Selecting the File Sharing option opens the Start Network File Sharing dialog box, which enables securely sharing a troubled system's files on the network. Using File Sharing, an administrator can recover a failed system's data over a network. Security comes into play by virtue of the technician's ability to require a username and password, set by the administrator, to access the troubled system's data.

The Map Network Drive feature supports mapping network drives within the ERD Commander 2005 environment. Mapping network drives proves helpful when opening supported console sessions requiring access to files on a network drive and when using the default My Computer and Explorer applications to access network shares holding recovery software, drivers, service packs or antivirus signatures.

TCP/IP settings also can be configured when using ERD Commander 2005. Select TCP/IP Configuration to open an applet enabling IP, DNS, subnet mask, and default gateway addressing information.

Figure E

ERD Commander 2005 supports configuring or changing TCP/IP information, which can make the difference between having to reinstall Windows or connecting a failed system to the network where additional troubleshooting tools can be accessed to recover the existing installation.

System tools

A host of system tools are available, too, many with wizards that walk technicians through troubleshooting inoperative PCs and servers.

Crash Analyzer works with Microsoft's Debugging Tools for Windows (which must be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site) to analyze system crash dumps. The resulting information helps isolate the cause of crashes, thereby guiding administrator's recovery efforts.

Disk Commander helps recover files that have been lost as a result of everything from file system errors to inadvertent partitioning and formatting. File Restore is similar, except it works to recover files that were deleted and emptied from the Recycle Bin. Incidentally, Disk Commander, too, can be used to recover files that have been inadvertently deleted. In larger organizations, where users often discard important documents and empty the Windows Recycle Bin, such file recovery tools are a necessity.

Most everyone's familiar, now, with horror stories of discarded PCs and servers leaking confidential information. Remembering to properly delete sensitive data before discarding used equipment can be tough, but ERD Commander 2005's Disk Wipe makes easy work of actually wiping hard disks. Administrators can elect to complete a simple pass overwrite or opt for a four-pass deletion that meets US Department of Defense 5220.22-M security requirements.

Other features ERD Commander 2005 offers include a console for command line administration, the ability to uninstall hotfixes selectively, a Locksmith feature enabling Administrator passwords to be reset (helpful when users forget their system passwords or an administrator leaves without divulging passwords to his or her replacement), File System Repair (for automatically discovering and repairing corrupted Windows system files) and System Restore, which provides access to the Restore Point Wizard.

ERD Commander 2005 includes Mozilla Firefox (version 1.0) for Internet browsing from within the limited Winternals operating environment (which comes in handy when needing to search the Web for specific drivers or updates), along with Notepad, Search and a Solution Wizard designed to help guide support professionals through a myriad number of solutions that can be used to recover a failed system.

Creating the ERD Commander boot CD

Creating the ERD Commander Boot CD itself is a relatively simple proposition. Using the Winternals Administrator's Pak, select the ERD Commander 2005 Boot CD Wizard (accessed by clicking Start | Programs | Winternals Administrator's Pak on the system where the Administrator's Pak is installed). The wizard walks technicians through the process of creating the CD image. Technicians must specify the location of any required mass storage drivers to be included. They must also note which tools should be included on the CD image the wizard creates.

In addition, whichever staff member builds the CD must specify whether the CD should support Remote Recover, which enables accessing an ERD Commander 2005 CD-equipped system over a network for remote troubleshooting and repair. When using Remote Recover, ensure firewalls are set to pass port 18002 traffic, as this is the default UDP port ERD Commander 2005 uses to communicate over a network.

Figure F

Winternals' ERD Commander 2005 also supports accessing the tool's recovery utilities remotely. When the Winternals environment boots, select Run Remote Recover Client on the target system to provide an administrator with access to the ERD Commander 2005 toolset over a network. Here the default setting is selected enabling a technician or support professional to interact with a system locally.

Once the wizard completes it creates an ISO image in the location the technician specifies. The wizard can burn the ISO image to a CD, or you can elect to burn the CD yourself using your own preferred CD creation software.

In the event a server or PC encounters trouble before you have an opportunity to create a bootable CD for it, you can also use the Administrator's Pak OEM CD to boot ERD Commander 2005. Note that, should you do so, you may not have access to mass storage drivers required to access a system's hard drives.