Think I'm finally done fixing Grandma's computer. Well, in point of fact, it's working just fine now, but until it's sitting on her desk and still working, I'm not going to jump the gun and call it finished. "It should be finished by the end of the day" has been my battlecry for the past three weekends, and this time I'm going to exercise caution rather than get my hopes up. Something could somehow go horribly wrong between now and my next trip to Scottsdale (which I'm figuring for Saturday).
I found that, even wiping the drive, I could not get Windows to boot. Error loading operating system, every time. And, as previously mentioned, the disk was flagged as bootable.
So yesterday, for shits and giggles, I tried installing Linux on it instead.
And it worked. It booted, no trouble.
Yet, when I reinstalled XP again, it was back to refusing to boot.
So I hatched a plan. I decided, y'know, Grandma only used about 8GB of her 80GB hard drive even when she had it packed to the gills with 8 years of files, so on a clean install, I can easily set a few gigs aside for a Linux partition. I decided to set up a Linux partition (well, two, really, one ext3 and one swap) at the front of the drive -- I could've done a Puppy-sized 256MB, but decided to stretch it out to 5GB just so I could stretch out and have a good, full Linux install for troubleshooting the next time Windows goes haywire -- and fill the other 75GB with Windows. I figured I'd set GRUB up to automatically boot Windows and leave the Linux boot invisible.
Turns out I didn't even have to reconfigure GRUB -- when I installed XP, it overwrote GRUB with its own bootloader, and this time, for reasons which I cannot fathom, it actually worked. I mean, this points to some kind of oddity with the MBR and/or boot sector, but beyond that I have no idea why adding a dual-boot fixed the problem.
And that, I think, is the most important dirty little secret among people who fix computers -- half the time we don't know why what we just did worked. Hell, I consider myself lucky that I even know what I did this time, even though I don't know why it worked. Frequently I find that something starts working again and I don't even know what I did to change it.
I'm half-convinced this is some sort of Uncertainty Principle thing and I just have the touch. Which sounds cool, but I'd rather computers -- and Windows in particular -- just behaved rationally.