Answer Line: Create a Windows CD for PCs That Don't Have One

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My new laptop came with a recovery disc but not with a stand-alone Windows XP CD. What can I do?

Abdul Hamid, Denver

Microsoft requires that every PC bundled with Windows provide some way of restoring the operating system, but too many bundled Windows XP "restore" CDs merely return your hard drive to its factory condition, which wipes out all of your data and any apps you've added.

Fortunately, vendors appear to be moving away from these data-wiping recovery discs. I recently looked at new PCs from ABS, Dell, Gateway, Lenovo, and WinBook, all of which came with either a real Windows XP CD or another way to perform nondestructive OS reinstalls.

If your PC lacks a Windows CD, a folder named 'i386' containing the Windows installation files is probably in the root directory of drive C: or in your C:\Windows folder. Your system may have several i386 folders, but the one you want has a lot of files with extensions ending in underscores (_), along with the executable files expand.exe, regedit.exe, and winnt32.exe. Copy this folder onto a CD for safekeeping, though you'll use the version on the hard drive to actually reinstall Windows.

Keep your 25-character Windows Product Key handy--you'll need it to reinstall the OS. The number is on the back of your PC, on the bottom of your notebook, or in some other hard-to-read spot; it may be listed in the documentation as well.

You'll also need a bootable CD for starting the install process. Bart Lagerweij's free PE Builder creates a CD-bootable version of XP called Bart's Pre-install Environment, or BartPE, from either a Windows CD or the i386 folder. Click here to download PE Builder.

Open PE Builder's main dialog box and select the folder or drive containing your i386 folder, but not the folder itself. Check Create ISO image, click Burn to CD, and select your CD-RW drive from the Device drop-down menu. If PE Builder doesn't support your burner, double-click the PE Builder--created .iso file to launch your CD authoring program and burn the CD.

To reinstall Windows, boot from the BartPE CD you just created and select Go, Programs, A43 File Management Utility (see Figure 1

Figure 1: Boot into the BartPE environment for a safe place to start reinstalling Windows--without an actual Windows CD.
). Navigate to the hard drive's i386 folder (do not use the i386 folder on the CD). Double-click winnt32.exe to start the installation process. When the installation program closes, reboot your PC, remove the CD, and select Microsoft Windows XP Setup from the resulting boot menu. The installation will pick up where it left off.

Opaque or Transparent Desktop Text?

I fiddled with some Windows settings, and now all the icon names on my desktop appear in a block of color rather than on top of the desktop wallpaper. How do I revert to showing the icon names' transparent background?

Joshua Fisher, Newport News, Virginia

Some people like their wallpaper showing through the letters; others hate it. To change this setting in Windows XP, right-click My Computer and select Properties, Advanced. In the Performance box, click Settings. Check or uncheck Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop. Click Apply to see if you like the results. When you're satisfied, click OK twice.

No other version of Windows offers this icon-label option. If you use another Windows version and don't like the resulting color blocks behind your icon names, check out Transparent, a free program by Jay Guerette that makes your wallpaper shine through. Click here to download your copy.

Make a DOS App Work With a USB Printer, Again

A number of readers weren't satisfied with my advice from last June's column for printing from an old DOS program to a new USB printer, and they were right. I concentrated on parallel versus USB port issues. A bigger difficulty is that many of today's printers don't understand DOS commands. The $20 DOS Printer shareware program solves this problem by running in the background, looking for any printer instructions headed for LPT1. When it gets these instructions, it converts them into something Windows--and your real printer's driver--will understand.

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