Less than a month after my Dell was shipped, I have finally achieved what I am going to call victory. Linux and Windows are both functioning on the same Dell machine. I am very happy. Having Linux and Windows on separate hard drives is fine with me.
The final step to victory began this morning when I decided to give one more try to the Windows XP DVD that shipped with the Dell in the hopes that it might repair my Windows hard drive. There must be something magical in the air or perhaps it is just the season for gifts, because I got a technological gift this morning.
For some reason Windows finally decided it was okay to load the hard drive controller drivers for the Promise SATA card. The first time I tried this Windows told me that I must be mistaken, that it already had drivers for that controller, but of course its drivers failed.
This time the drivers loaded from my USB floppy. I got into a "DOS-like" restore program, there is no other name in my vocabulary to decribe a screen where you have a C: prompt. I then ran "FIXMBR" and some magic happened. The magic resulted in my master boot record being restored and an almost working Windows hard drive.
When I rebooted, the drive came up in Windows, asked for the Windows DVD and did a partial reinstall of Windows. I did not lose any data or settings.
Also for some reason the type on the screen seems much more readable than whatever came from the factory. I also no longer get the cryptic missing video driver message that came standard from the factory.
Fortunately there is some sort of pre-BIOS with the Promise card that stops the booting process and allows me to easily go to the machine BIOS setup where I just select the hard drive with the appropriate OS and continue booting. It certainly works for me.
The suggestion from SUSE support was to create a Grub floppy disk. I certainly tried that and as a result I now have an unmounted internal floppy drive that I bought and tried to install. It turns out that the Dell ships with a carrier for an extra hard drive, but no carrier for a floppy unless one is installed at the factory. I guess I will order a carrier and install the drive that I purchased. I actually ran the internal drive on top of the computer for a while. There were no instructions with the drive and the cable was different on each end so it took some experimenting to get it to work at all. Miraculously I did not damage any of the computer's electronics.
After I gave up on the internal drive I went out and bought one of the external USB ones. Unfortunately I never could get the program in SUSE that was creating a floppy Grub file to write it to a floppy either in the internal drive or the USB one. I could copy files to the floppy which I had formatted on a Mac for Unix, but the SUSE Linux program KDEfloppy would not format for me. I tried unsuccessfully to make a Grub CD, but there was no option for that so I basically gave up for the night. In fact I gave up for a whole day, figuring as my wife, Glenda, often says, that "the computer just needed to rest."
Perhaps she was right once again. After a Saturday of rest, all the stars aligned and my goal of having a Linux-Windows machines has been achieved. I ended up spending about $275 extra for the additional hard drive, Promise SATA controller, internal floppy, external USB floppy, and an additional USB extended cable that I found I do not need. Also I spent a lot of hours, most of it banging my head against the wall.
The SUSE people really were very little help. Getting the new SATA controller was my idea and the decision to use the BIOS to determine which OS I would boot into was mine also. They did tell me how to fix the Windows MBR and that I need to file a bug report on the Grub problem that I found. They have a ways to go befoe understanding what they need to do to become a mainstream OS. They have the OS, it just needs some further refinement and some features hidden from normal humans.
I now have networking to the file server, and printing to the network printer working from all machines. The Linux machine and Mac can access the files on the Windows drive. My USB memory sticks work on all machines. I suspect I will never need a floppy again. It has been years before this since I actually stuck one in a computer but I guess I should finish what I started. That means my only outstanding issue is getting KDEfloppy to work with one of my floppy drives and to get an internal carrier so I can actually install the internal floppy that I bought. Then I will have a dual floppy system.
Sounds like Back to the Future to me.
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