Thursday, February 21, 2008

Restore the Master Boot Record

When I got my laptop about 1.5 years ago one of the first things I did was install Linux on it. I can't remember now if I installed SUSE first, or went straight to Ubuntu. I'd been through Slackware, Debian, Suse, OpenSuse, SLED10, and Ubuntu in the past on other computers. In any event, I stopped with Ubuntu.

I've always had a few reasons for playing with linux
  1. To learn
  2. To feel cool, in a super nerd kind of way
  3. To not pay for software
Probably more or less in that order. My adventures with Linux ultimately ended with me deciding that I just wasn't that impressed. I wont go into the details here, because that is not what this post is about. The short list is:
  1. the file system is stupid (unless you're using GoboLinux),
  2. package managers are a double edged sword,
  3. the battery life on my Thinkpad in Linux sucked,
  4. it didn't have any apps that were far and away better than what I was using in Windows.
Keep in mind, I spent about 4 or 5 years coming to this conclusion, and I frequently still find myself drawn to the Open Source world. And for what it's worth, I don't personally view myself as a Microsoft fan boy. In any event, I retain the right to change my mind at any point and for any reason!

So I've had Ubuntu installed on my laptop, but I haven't used it in a year. Every now and then I would use it to pull songs off an iPod, that's about it. So it was just sitting there wasting 20Gb of my Hard Drive. This post is about how I removed it and restored the MBR. (really? you'd better get to the point then!)

Problem #1: Get rid of GRUB and replace it with the Windows boot loader

I'm pretty sure you do have to start here. If you remove the partitions first, GRUB will complain and refuse to let you boot into the remaining partitions... That happened to me once before, it wasn't nice.

How do you do this? It's easy, insert a Win XP disk and boot into the Recovery Console. Once there, execute fixmbr. When it warns you that "all hell will break loose, are you sure you know what you're doing?", tell it yes.

Problem #2: Umm... The Recovery Console wants an Administrator password. Leaving it blank doesn't work, and none of my passwords work... How do I get into the Recovery Console?

The first thing I tried was to go into Control Panel -> Performance and Maintenance -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Local Users and Groups -> Users. Once there, I right clicked on the Administrator and selected "Set Password..." then entered a password. Sadly, after rebooting back into the Recovery Console (and waiting forEVER while it loads...) it still wouldn't take my password.

So how do you fix it? Go back to Administrative Tools and this time go to Local Security Policy -> Local Policies -> Security Options. In the list, scroll to the bottom and find "Recovery Console: Allow automatic administrative logon." Double click and switch it to Enabled. Now you wont have to supply a password to get into the Recovery Console and you'll be good to go.

Problem #3: Remove the linux partitions and resize the windows partition.

I tried to use Partition Magic to do this, but it blew up with an error when I ran it, something about how some partition didn't have a drive letter. I think it was afraid of the IBM recovery partition.

How do you do this? I downloaded an Ubuntu install/live CD and used the gnome partition manager (gparted). First unlock the swap partition. This crashed gparted... But when I ran it again the unlock had succeeded, so everything seemed good. Then I deleted the swap and the linux partitions. Then I resized my windows data partition (fat32). Click Apply and go take a shower cause its gonna take a while.

After all that, I now have my drive space back and GRUB is gone. I still have two windows partitions C (ntfs) and D (fat32)... I wish I could convert D to ntfs but the only way I know to do that would be to copy all the data on D to some other drive, format D to ntfs, then copy all the data back. Maybe I'll do that when I get my backup solution in place. Actually, I'd like to get rid of D altogether. It made sense to have an applications partition and a data partition when I wasn't backing up my drive. But once I have a backup I'm not sure I still need two partitions.

How do you have your drive space setup?


  1. Hi,

    Hmm, when you write "..the file system is stupid.." are you sure you mean the file system, and not just the organization of programs on it?

    Cause the file system is actually one of the big strenghts of linux's, in my opinion. Ext3 and ReiserFs seems far superior in performance. And theu don't have ntfs and the windows kernel file locking crap.

  2. You're right, I mean the organization of the files. The "file structure" may be a better way to phrase it. I could write more about why I think that way if anyone was interested.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Yes! Why is it that you hate the file structure? ;)