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No matter what Microsoft tells you, eventually Windows will screw up. Although there are ways around most problems, it's often the lesser of two evils to just get out the Windows CD and start again. Over time, Windows tends to get a little clogged up, so giving it the once over is never a bad idea.
I think as Windows users, we have realised this and grown used to it. However, sometimes things can go wrong when you least expect it – simple things like running Windows Update or installing new graphics drivers can hose your computer.
On my home machine, I have two partitions. The first partition has Windows XP on it, while the second partition has my “My Documents” and “Desktop” folder. By using TweakUI, I have changed the locations of these folders, so that Windows knows no better.
Of course, most of my important stuff is stored on my Linux file server, and my e-mail is all stored on my IMAP server. So, when Windows eventually goes tits up, I have little or no worries and just wipe the partition.
However, this isn't ideal. I still have to reinstall all the programs I use and there are all the Windows updates to download as well. There are many ways to get around these issues, but one utility I have recently discovered is HyperOS, which is much more than just a backup system.
To install the software, you need a working install of Windows XP. So, imagine you set up your perfect install, with all the latest updates and everything set up as you like it. Now, you install HyperOS.
The software then asks if you'd like to split up your C partition. For an off the shelf PC, you probably only have one partition, so this makes sense. This will automatically resize your C partition and create a number of new partitions for your new Windows installations. If you'd prefer, it comes with a bundled PartitionMagic Boot CD. Boot in to this, and sort your partitions out manually.
Once installed, there is an icon created on the desktop, called “My Other Computers” that will launch HyperOS. There is also an option of having a system tray icon for launching this as well. In the corner of the screen (you can choose which) is an indicator telling you which installation of Windows you are currently booted in to. This is quite handy, as you can imagine they all look a little similar. If this is annoying you, or you are well aware of what OS you are booted in to, you can close it and it won't come back until you next reset the machine.
Once inside the software, I made a backup of my main Windows install. This is actually compressed in to a WinRAR package (albeit hidden by the use of a different extension), that can be stored anywhere. In my case, I stored it on a partition I have kept aside for just keeping documents on.
I then replicated this backup four times, so I had five identical Windows installations. It only took a few minutes each – partly because only the Windows/Program Files/Documents and Settings folders are copied. It is not a sector to sector copy, but instead copying file by file.