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Appeared on: Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Windows LiveCD


1. Page 1

What is a Live CD?

A Live CD is a CD-Rom or a DVD-Rom with an operating system that can be executed from a bootable cd-rom or dvd-rom drive, without having to be installed in a hard drive. The system can return to its previous operating system when the computer is rebooted without the LiveCD.

It works by placing the files, which are typically stored in a hard disk. An operation like this, however, would-in a way-bring the performance of the computer down, as it reduces the RAM available to applications. Apart from that, the operating system runs at a slower rate because it is not executed from the hard disk drive.

Yet, there is an option with some Live CDs to install the system in the hard drive. Most LiveCDs can access internal and/or external hard drives, floppy-discs and USB Flash memories.

The biggest part of Live CDs contains a system based on the Linux kernel, but there are also Live CDs functioning with other operating systems, such as Mac OS, Mac OS X, BeOS, FreeBSD, Plan 9 or Microsoft Windows, though the legal status of Live CDs based on the Windows' code has been non other than a moot case. As for history, the first OS to do the job, support Live CD operations in other words, came out in 1991, and was identified as Mac OS 7.

Is there a Windows LiveCD?

The Microsoft has released a tool of great use to system administrators and all personal computer professionals, the so called Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE). It is a modified, short version of the operating system based on the Windows XP kernel.

In fact, WinPE lets you boot up your personal computer in a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and at the same time, control the configuration of all your system. You can then format a partition, have access to files on your hard disk or to other computers in your local area network, or use some external devices (if you have the correct drivers).

WinPE comes in a bootable CD-Rom, so the user can boot up the system in emergency conditions or take advantage of its graphical environment to create or, for instance, handle a partition. It is also possible to get files from other computers using TCP/IP and run some diagnostic tools for the hardware already installed.

Unfortunately, WinPE is available only to the OEM producers. The Microsoft, however, must add WinPE in the next version of Windows “Longhorn”. This, in fact, should replace the classic text interface of the Windows setup.

For the time being, the fact that the final user is incapable of being in possession of the MS WinPE has led Bart Lagerweij to create a program called Bart’s PE Builder. This software enables you to create a Windows LiveCD with a graphical interface quite similar to the WinPE and boot up your system.

Bart's PE Builder can be used by anyone who wishes to build a "BartPE" (Bart Preinstalled Environment) bootable Windows CD-Rom or DVD from the original Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 installation-setup CD. It supports a complete Win32 environment with network support, a graphical user interface (800x600) and FAT/NTFS/CDFS file system.

PE Builder is not a Microsoft product and does not create Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE). Using PE Builder does not grant you a license to Microsoft WinPE or to use the Windows XP or Server 2003 binaries in a manner other than stated in the End-User License Agreement included in your version of Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Server 2003. Apart from the fact that the Microsoft has not reviewed or tested PE Builder and does not endorse its use, it does not provide support for the PE Builder or for the preinstallation environment created by the PE Builder. (adopted from the BartPE official website)

The PE Builder program can run on Windows 2000/XP/2003/BartPE but does not run on Windows NT4/ME/9x.


2. Page 2

Why having one?

There have been times when your computer gets stuck while installing a new software or hardware and it is not possible to boot up again. There have been times when your computer was infected with a virus or worm, your antivirus software been infected too. There have been times when your NTFS formatted hard disk was badly damaged and you could not access your files. There have been innumerable times when a simple dos based boot disk turned out being useless. How many times have you formatted your hard disk and lost all your data due to a combination of the above instances and more?

There are some real benefits which can be realized with the PE, contrary to any type of dos-based boot disk, even when using network support and NTFS dos.

First of all, you use a user-friendly graphical environment to perform your task. You can access very large NTFS volumes, more than 2TB or volumes that cannot be identified by BIOS, like fiber channel disks. 

Furthermore, it is very reliable when it comes to scanning and removing viruses from NTFS or FAT volumes (clean boot). You can format, defrag and manage hard disk partitions. It is also possible to recover files and copy damaged ones. Finally, you can edit the registry of a damaged computer and recover data from a corrupted windows system, browse the Internet as well as your local network, not to mention the fact that you are provided with remote control over other machines. But most of all, it saves time from formatting, reinstalling, or having to turn to experts to have things fixed for you.

Is it legal?

WinPE is based on Microsoft Windows XP Professional and allows IT staff to build custom solutions that speed up deployment through automation. Enterprise Agreement (EA) and Software Assurance Membership (SAM) customers can receive WinPE while updating. Unfortunately, this means that the WinPE is available only to the OEM producers and not to the final user. However, Microsoft should add WinPE in their Windows “Longhorn” version. OEM producers can utilize this WinPE bootable CD in their work without breaking any laws.

This is so, despite the fact that it has been alleged that BartPE is an unlicensed version of both the WinPE and Windows XP. As a matter of fact, it is the BartPE and not the WinPE the software whose legal status has been in question. The BartPE is capable of plugging in the Windows XP or WinServer 2003 files. It does not plug in any WinPE files and does not use any files that belong to theWinPE (BartPE v3.0.30 and higher).

When dealing with issues that relate to the legality of the software in question, one should bare in mind that:

1. It is legal to make a backup copy of any files from one's original Windows XP/2003 media to another media and add any other files they wish to that media.

2. It is not legal to use a BartPE CD and an installed Windows XP/2003, both at the same time and under the same Windows XP/2003 EULA.

3. It is not legal to change any binary files in the process according to the Windows XP/2003 EULA, like  "winlogon" and "bootscreen".

Thus, a users wishing to have a licensed WinPE, are not allowed to take advantage of the BartPE. However, one can always use a BartPE under the Windows XP/2003 EULA license comimg with the BartPE XP/2003 source media. The PE Builder download archive does not include any plug-ins breaking the rules mentioned above. Yet, one should be always careful with plug-ins created by others.

Considering the above, the BartPE is not illegal. If you do not make more than one BartPE CDs when you are in possession of one Windows XP/2003 license, you can use it in any environment.


3. Page 3

Run the BartPe-Pros and Cons

Let us take a look in the tasks a user is capacitated with, when utilizing a Windows LiveCD created with BartPE. First of all, as we have mentioned above, you can boot up your machine from a CD-Rom or DVD-Rom in a graphical environment similar to the familiar Windows style. Then, data recovery from a corrupted Windows system, FAT32 and NTFS formats playing no important role in the process, is a piece of cake. You can also copy files that are damaged (read errors) or files you would like to backup. The PE enables you to scandisk, format, defrag and manage partitions in your hard disk drive. Furthermore, you can restore backups carried out by the Windows, not to mention the fact that high-end users can edit the registry of their damaged machine. With the PE browsing the internet or your local network turns into quite an easy task. You can have TCP/IP network, Dynamic or static IP, use FTP server and share files. In addition, it is rather useful for scanning and removing viruses, worms and spyware that has infected your computer. An advantage to be added is that USB drivers can be identified and used. Finally, you can change your login password for extra security.

On the other hand, while a Windows LiveCD is running, the system is not available to installing additional software. The user can neither replace the full installation of their Windows nor is it possible for them to install OS in their hard drive. Furthermore, there is no support for sound, Wifi and printing. A drawback to be mentioned here is that both games and movies cannot be played through a PE. Slow speed should be considered too, so you have to be patient as this is not the way the Windows normally operate. To sum up, one thing you should always bear in mind is that the BartPE is just a recovery tool. Everything runs and loads from the CD, as it cannot be installed.

How to use the BartPE

Enabling a Windows LiveCD to use the BartPE is easy for most users. One should consider though, that fact that the BartPE is only compatible with the Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows Server 2003 Web Edition, Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition or Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition. In case one opts to use the Windows XP (Home o Professional) CD, it is necessary that they have the updated version with the Service Pack 1 (SP1) or 2 (SP2), in their latest available revision. Latest information has it that setup CDs for the Windows XP, already updated by the Microsoft, are available for commercial use.

To initiate the procedure, you have, first of all, to download Bart PE's Builder and extract or install the software in your hard disk drive, to a folder named c:\pebuilder to give an example. It would be of benefit to the reader if we mentioned here that the BartPE ultimate version is the 3.1.3 version,(released on Jan 13, 2005) followed by the beta version 3.1.4-beta (released on Mar 2, 2005). Then you can run the program (pebuilder.exe). Insert the setup CD Rom of your windows version (XP updated with SP1 or SP2, Windows Server 2003) and enter or select the CD Rom drive letter in the text box named “Path to Windows installation files” (or click Search). After that, click Check. If a message box appears indicating “Source valid: Yes” with the name and version of the operating system, this means that your setup CD Rom version is supported by Bart’s PE Builder.

You can then, if you choose to do so, add custom files or folders by selecting the appropriate box (you can leave this box blank). You are also given the option, if you wish, of creating an ISO image and/or burn directly to a CD. To continue you only have to click Build.

BartPE Builder shows up with several plugins to help you build a friendly to-the-user interface. The following plugins are included in the PE Builder archive. The information about the plugins is available in the PE Builders plugin dialogue when you press the PluginHelp button.

    * Plugins are included with the PE Builder, no additional file download is required:

- Nu2menu by Henk de Jong.
- BARTPE: Network Support by Bart Lagerweij.
- Bart's Stuff Test v5 by Bart Lagerweij.
- PENETCFG: PE Network configurator (theTruth) by Pierre Mounir (TheTruth).
- Boot Fix (Enabling "Press any key to boot from CD") by Bart Lagerweij.
- Check Disk (chkdsk.exe) by Bart Lagerweij.
- Custom by Bart Lagerweij.
- Profiles by Bart Lagerweij.
- QSoft Ramdisk by Christiaan Ghijselinck.
- Remote Desktop Client by Microsoft.
- Startup Group (autorun) by Erwin Veermans.
- Dos support for BartPE by Erwin Veermans.
- Keyboard Layout by Boris Mebarek.
- A43 File Management Utility by B.G. Miller.
- BartPE Installer v2 by Bart Lagerweij.
- Serial Mouse by Bart Lagerweij.
- Drive Snapshot by Tom Ehlert.
- PE Loader v0.4 by TheTruth.

There are also a lot of third party plugins available on the Bart’s website.

After clicking Build, the program does all the work and, in the end, you have your windows LiveCD ready to boot up.

Solutions to any problems to be encountered can be found in a very good FAQ list on Bart’s website. Such problems like the ones having to do with versions of Windows in languages other than English often occur, so you must be careful.


4. Page 4

Tips

There are some basic tips to always have in mind if you wish to succeed satisfactory performance with your Windows LiveCD by using BartPE. You have to know that it is safer and faster if you create a liveCD from your original English Windows setup cd and not from any other language.

BartPE does not have the typical Start button and Menu bar of the Windows XP. To get the Win XP Start button and Menu bar you need to make use of plugins. There is a plugin named  Windows XPE plugin (xpe-1.0.3.cab version 1.0.3). Start pebuilder.exe and select a source path to your windows installation files and then click the plugins button. When you click on the Add button, it will open a window where you have to give the path of the .cab file (xpe-1.0.3.cab). Give the xpe-1.0.3.cab with the full path.

Click to enlarge

After adding it, check if the XPE plug-in is enabled or disabled. If it is disabled then click on the Enable/Disable button to include it in the live CD. To create the live CD with the windows XP interface, click on Next. In the dialog box that opens, you will see an 'Output directory' text box. Give the path of the folder  where the PE-Builder will copy the content of the live CD.  The next thing to do is to tick the 'Create ISO Image' option and to provide the path and ISO file name to be created. This will start creating the content of the live CD in the Output folder. When the content is successfully completed, it will automatically create an ISO Image. Finally, you can burn the ISO image with your a burner of your preference or do so directly through the Bart’s builder if you check the burn to cd option. When you boot from the windows  LiveCD you will get the Win XP default Start button and Menu bar instead of the BartPE standard NU menu.

Click to enlarge

As we have already mentioned, Bart’s builder comes with some plugins together with plugins by parties. It is quite easy to  create and add program to your Windows live CD. To illustrate, we'll show you how to create and add a plugin for an hypothetical tool, named “apollo”. The data-recovery tool has two files; one is an executable file (apollo.exe) and the other is a data library  file (xxx.dll). Copy both files in any folder you wish, for example \programs\apollotools,  and then create an .inf file, for example apollo.inf, in this

folder. This file helps to install the aforesaid files to the desired location. To create an .inf file you have to write the following commands in Notepad and then save the file.

; apollo.inf

; PE Builder v3 plug-in INF file

[Version]

Signature= “$Windows NT$”

[PEBuilder]

Name=”Apollo Tools”

Enable=1

[WinntDirectories]

a=”Programs\ apollotools “, 2

[SourceDisksFiles]

apollo.exe =a,,1

xxx.dll=a,,1

[Software.AddReg]

;Add to Start Menu\Programs

0x2,”Sherpya\XPEinit\Programs”,”Apollo Tools”, “%SystemDrive%\Programs\

apollotools\apollo.exe”

'Sherpya\XPEinit\' associates other plug-in tools with XPE plug-in. To add the plug-in to BartPE, save the file and copy the entire folder in the plug-in folder, that resides in pebuilder\Plug-in. When you run pebuilder.exe again you should find the Apollo Tools plug-in that you created in the plug-in list window. To add this plug-in to your live CD, enable the plug-in and create an ISO image of the Windows  LiveCD.

BartPE has its one and only desktop wallpaper with the BartPE logo. It is very simple to change the wallpaper of your LiveCD. You have only to rename a file. For example if you have a photo named mycat.bmp you have to rename the file to nu2.bmp and copy it in the folder which you have pebuilder.ex. in.

Conclusion

A Windows LiveCD with the operating system that can be executed from a bootable cd-rom or dvd-rom drive, without being installed in a hard drive is a must for the average user. You can save time and recover your system from unexpected boot problems, viruses, or hard disk failures quite easily. Bart Lagerweij has done a very good job and Bart’s PE Builder is a powerful tool equipped with really efficient plugins in terms of creating one's own Windows LiveCD. However, the user has to pay special attention to the legal restrictions connected with the software and to their Microsoft windows EULA before they start creating their own CD.-



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