Boot disk saves the day

* Novell offers "a professional network boot disk"

Back in the day, before interconnected networks, I always carried two or three NetWare client boot diskettes with me when visiting remote sites. Two or three were needed because invariably someone would fold, spindle or mutilate at least one leaving me hours from my own desk and no way to create another. This was also, I might add, before the days of laptops - or even "portables," that euphemistic word for the 40-pound computer you lugged around in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

In those days the client systems were running MS-DOS, probably Version 3.1 or 3.2 and a typical 5.25-inch floppy could easily hold all the files needed to boot to DOS as well as the NetWare client files. There was even room left over for new data files, documents or trouble-shooting tips. Then came Windows.

In 1996, Novell released its first 32-bit client files for Windows 95. They took more space than the DOS files, but you could still (with a bit of effort) create a boot disk. Not for Windows, of course, but for DOS. Boot disks went downhill after that.

The old VLM client gave way to the new NLM client while Windows itself became more complex. Still, network managers don't give up easily - they still wanted a boot floppy they could carry around "just in case." Well, now there is one.

Head out to Novell's Cool Solutions Web site ( and you'll find NWDSK (in the archive named FD32E.EXE), which is described as: "...a professional network boot disk for connecting to Novell NetWare servers." Rather simple and straight-forward, no? But wait, there's more.

You'll need to use the files in FD32E.EXE (once it's expanded) to "construct" a boot disk. You'll need to do this, because there's a whole raft of permutations and combinations to choose from. The boot disk can be constructed using Novell's 32-bit client (NLM) or the 16-bit client (VLM) or even both. Choices for protocols (TCPIP or IPX or both), frame types, topology (Ethernet, Token Ring, FDDI), TCPIP-settings, network card driver detection, packet-driver support (for DOS-based TCP/IP sessions), connect-information, and more can be made using menus and saved to user-profiles on diskette to prepare for fully automated sessions.

NWDSK uses the freely distributable FREEDOS, a public domain MS-DOS work-alike. It's also a bit more compact (thus making it easier to fit on a boot floppy). Now you can't use NWDSK to get you into Windows, but if your Windows desktop crashes and burns (maybe it's a cratered hard disk, maybe it's just the Windows Registry that's hopelessly confused) you can use it to connect to the network. You could then find the correct Windows image to install, or simply connect to the server to do a bit of administration. Either way, this is a tool that every NetWare network manager should have. Every single one of you. Get it now, someday you'll be glad you did.

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