All in the <head> – Ponderings and code by Drew McLellan –

Windows is a bitch ... and then it dies

We run a Windows Server 2003 machine as a domain controller for our network. A few days back, we noticed that it was no longer possible to log in with the Administrator account – the Windows equivalent to root. Questions about how the hell a system can just get itself into a state whereby the root account stops working without any user intervention aside, I thought the best thing to do was to reboot and see what the state of play was. Bad idea.

Our server won’t come back up. It gets just past Preparing Network Connections and then just hangs. Rebooting with Last Known Good configuration and Safe Mode doesn’t help. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a state of foobar.

Basically needing to get the server up and running again as quickly as possible, we opted for reaching for the Windows CD and trying an OS repair. Never a good option, but as I was figuring the whole thing would probably need a full reinstall anyway (from years of bitter experience) I thought what the heck.

Our server is pretty new, and when we spec’d it out we with went with a couple of super fast yet inexpensive Serial ATA discs. SATA is pretty new as far as standards go, but not all that new. Windows Server 2003 is pretty damned new too, but guess what – no native SATA support. This means than when booting from the installation CD, you have to press F6 right at the start to supply drivers for the discs – the drivers were supplied with the mainboard on a CD. But guess what – Windows Server 2003 will only take drivers from a floppy disc. I’m not joking. The only floppy disc drive available is a USB drive which serves most purposes we ever need floppy discs for, but of course, USB isn’t available at that point of the install. So I find an old LS120 super floppy drive, whip the case off the server, and perform an electronic, if not physical installation (read: hanging out the side of the case).

After a long Windows Repair, the machine finally boots up. Fortunately, I guess, the entire Active Directory has been removed so that needs reinstalling. I reinstall, and set up the user accounts with the exact same credentials as before. Fortunately, the client machines don’t notice. Phew – we’re up and running.

I’ll be the first person to admit that Linux is a nightmare to install. It’s fiddly and unintuitive and easy to make mistakes that you can’t back out of. The distros with easy installers are typically aimed at those running workstations rather than servers. The server distros assume you pretty much know what you’re doing, which is understandable but unhelpful if you’re generally clued up but inexperienced. But once it’s installed it justs runs and runs and runs. Windows is easy to install and configure. Windows is also hateful, and will waste you more hours than you’d care to count. Windows is a bitch – and then it dies.