Miker

17th level Hacker

Defacto Standards Using Commercial Software

I have heard people talk about the danger of letting commercial software turn into the defacto standard for how to do things. I didn’t really think this was a big deal, until I tried to create a boot disk to do a BIOS update the other day. This is where the defacto standard comes in. For those who do low level system admin work on x86 based computers, DOS is the defacto standard. When a computer manufacturer wants to write an application that does something special to their hardware, they write a little DOS app. DOS is really primitive and simple and doesn’t try to stand in the way of the programs that it runs, so it’s ideal for writing specialized applications to test hardware or update firmware. I had to update the BIOS of an Intel motherboard, and the instructions said to create a boot disk and copy their utilities over to it. No problem, I don’t have a Windows system, but my girlfriend’s system should work fine. It pains me to touch the thing, but I can stand it for stints of 10 minutes or less.

Yet to my surprize, none of the commands I remembered working for creating a boot disk under Windows seemed to work on the Windows 2000 system she has. Weird. Ditto for the Windows XP laptop from work. Double weird. So I poked around some, and found Bootdisk.com, but I just couldn’t believe that was the way to create a bootable floppy. So finally I caved in and asked some friends, people who work with Windows quite a bit. And they told me that Bootdisk.com is the best way to go, Windows doesn’t have the tools to create bootable floppy disks any more. WOW! First of all, I see no reason to have dropped these commands from Windows at all. Sure, the newer operating systems aren’t DOS based, but so what? You can still include the commands and images needed in order to create a boot disk. This is another reason to charge for MCSE exams and provides a nice barrier for an operation that should be shit simple, so I guess that’s just not Microsofts bag. And I thought they were about making life simple for users, that what people keep telling me. The second wow is that someone from the community stepped up and created the site needed to initialize these disks. I’m sure Microsoft is aware of the issue, they don’t care. I’m sure it’s a problem for anyone who makes x86 hardware like motherboards (Intel, Tyan, ASUS, etc), but they still distribute their guides ignoring the issue. I was someone from the community who stepped up to fill the gap.

Now this isn’t really a huge problem. There are even efforts like FreeDOS who provide even better alternatives. But the community is solving these problems. I never used to think twice about creating a bootable floppy under Windows, but now that functionality is gone. None of the companies that should care about this seem to be working on fixing it. People ask why I have such an issue going over to a Windows system to do something. Well, this is it. Cause when I use Windows to do something I’m placing myself in a position where someone else has chosen how I have to operate. And they’re forcing me to base my work on a platform I don’t and will not own, and which I feel has a dubious future. At least I’m happy that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers have provided such an excellent example of user disservice that I can point to.