Active Partition Followup and Microsoft DaRT


Several months ago I ran into that issue with accidentally rebooting a server after changing the “active” partition and ending up with a nonbootable system.  We solved it with a linux boot CD (not unlike Trinity, although the one we used was specifically oriented towards disk management), but I’ve just learned that there are Microsoft tools that could do the same thing.  What we were unable to find at the time is DaRT.  That’s Microsoft’s Diagnostics and Recovery Toolkit.  As the name informs, it’s a pretty sweet suite of tools that can be used to diagnose and recover from a variety of Windows problems.  Here’s a list of some cool use cases:
  • Reset a local administrator password
  • Edit the local Registry
  • Restore deleted files (assuming those sectors haven’t been overwritten)
  • Securely delete a partition or drive
  • Open Computer Management (including Disk Management, which is what I needed back then!)
  • Copy files to/from the system with Explorer and network access
  • Remove Windows Hotfixes
  • Repair a Master Boot Record
  • Run an offline virus scan (in case the system is so compromised that local antivirus can’t touch it)

As you can see, it’s a great tool that any windows administrator (desktop or server) should know about.  Seeing as how I wasn’t able to find it when I was desperately searching for ways to mark a partition as Active on an unbootable system, I figured that I’d go ahead and make a post about it.  So, how do you get this great tool?

Well, that’s the snag.  The Diagnostics and Recovery Toolkit is available as part of Microsoft’s Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).  You can get access to MDOP as part of technet or as a volume license customer and it seems to only work on Enterprise Edition of Windows 7 (I haven’t played around with it on Windows 2008 yet).  This really is a shame, as it effectively locks out all those small business IT shops who could really use a tool that’s this flexible (and those are the shops that really depend on self-service, rather than calling in a consultant or support for minor issues like these).  On the flip side, the aforementioned Trinity Rescue Kit is quite good.  It’s a live Linux distro that is built to help recover Windows.  It’s not as shiny as DaRT and doesn’t quite perform all of those functions (or at least I don’t know how to use it for all of the above), but it’s free and seems to have a good reputation.

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