The Higgs-field of Installations, or Installing Something from Nothing


I had a bit of an endeavor this week, with a well beaten, custom built desktop, containing a LanParty nF4 motherboard.

The desktop’s Windows XP installation was clogged and miserable, with a good five or six years worth of software-related fudge building up in it.

When asked if the user preferred sticking with Windows, or if they would like to give Kubuntu a shot, they wanted to go with Kubuntu.

The void approaches:

I burned a DVD of the latest 12.04 Kubuntu release, and stuck it in the wonderful old IDE DVD-Rom, happily using the boot menu to choose to boot off the DVD.

Hmm, went straight to Windows…well I can’t install from Nothing here, so what do I do?

I thought, “Maybe a bad disk”.  I’ll try another, right?  Nope, no good.

Maybe bad DVD-Rom?

Okay, I’ll try another device.


Struggles get worse:

Right…well, this is why we use USB sticks in modern times, yes?

I mean I still do have a couple floppy drives here, but I don’t even know if they work – or if the floppy media I still have works, for that matter.

With a little help from our friends who made Linux Live USB Creator, I got that Kubuntu DVD on my 32GB SanCruzer thumbdrive, ready to rock. (Note, SanCruzer built-in thumbdrive software has to be removed first!)

Alright, let’s get this puppy squared away…and we boot, select “USB-ZIP” from the boot menu choices…and…Isolinux is unable to find the kernel image…great.

Well, now that’s frankly obnoxious.

A challenge is called:

I try some suggested tips, like copying isolinux.bin / isolinux.cfg to syslinux.bin / syslinux.cfg, under the syslinux folder, (provided a syslinux.bin / syslinux.cfg didn’t already exist) – nope, no good. Tried copying syslinux folder under /boot on the thumbdrive…nope, still won’t have it.

Alright, maybe the hardware is just mad at FAT32 on the USB? Well, let’s format a 4GB thumbdrive with FAT16 and plug the smaller version of Kubuntu 12.04’s CD-Rom image on there, and give that a shot…nope, same thing. I even tried UNetbootin, yet had no further success with this USB creator, either.

I take another approach.

I’d been meaning to get a PXE server out of the way locally anyhow, so I followed a quick guide on getting a free Windows PXE server configured.

I was going to use Clonezilla, but my other system isn’t ready for that yet.

Well, I got the quick and dirty PXE server up in Windows, and set the jerk-of-a-system to boot off the network, and…

It boots into Windows, again.

I can’t boot from CD, or DVD, or USB, or even Network for that matter…

What a wonderful challenge!

The fight begins:

How on Earth am I going to install an operating system?

Most sane engineers would suggest to scrap it and get new hardware – that your time would be better spent elsewhere, like flaying lead paint off a ceiling without safety equipment, but we’re chock full of crazy, aren’t we?

I went on a wild attempt by getting Wubi to install Kubuntu from within Windows. I thought perhaps there might be a way I could migrate the Wubi system permanently, and there was, however, I needed a free partition to perform it.

Then I thought to my self, “Self, you could probably resize that Windows partition to free up space…”

I might have been right, using the free MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition, except it couldn’t do the job…

It couldn’t shrink the partition it was a part of, it didn’t even have to explain it in plain English.  I could just see it clear as day, as it crashed during the shrink attempt upon reboot…

Creating Something, from Nothing:

I stumbled upon the solution to my needs with a blog post on how-to geek.

Behold, Plop Boot Manager!

My new mission, install Plop Boot Manager to the Master Boot Record of the hard drive, from within Windows.

I then reboot the system, and am suddenly thrown into space…millions of miles away from Earth.

What happened? Have I died and gone to space heaven?

Wait, what’s that strange glowing thing in the upper left corner of my vision?

A boot menu!

This is it! I can boot from Anything now!

Well, my USB thumbdrive is plugged in, let’s give it a shot.

Hmm, seems everything is frozen after EHCI loaded…hit the reset button.

Back into…Space!

Open Setup > Boot Manager, and there’s an option for “force usb 1.1” – let’s try “Mode 1″…

Voila! I’m able to finally boot off my USB key, and install Kubuntu 12.04! Hooray!

An ounce of prevention:

Now, how can we prevent this problem again?

I’ve got the Grub2 boot loader coming up now, instead of Plop Boot Manager.

Ah, some instructions, excellent.

Note: As a tip, if /dev/sda1 was actually /boot itself, you can erase the “/boot” part in the instructions, so that the “.com” file is the only thing it reads from. Also, you’ll have to make sure the “root” is properly specified.

I follow these instructions, reboot, Install the Plop Boot Manager. Reboot again, and now Plop comes up.

I can’t boot off my hard drive anymore…cool!  Wait…oh no!

Well, I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention to the giant red warning here:

“Warning Linux users: Install LILO or GRUB to the boot sector of your Linux instead of the Master Boot Record (MBR). The Plop Boot Manager is not a Linux loader and cannot start Linux without LILO, GRUB, Syslinux and similar! See Linux Boot Managers.”

Fortunately (sarcasm), it seems they also have in the documentation, a detailed account of how to do this:

“LILO, GRUB / grub4dos, GRUB2: I had no time to write some short descriptions how to install them to the boot sector.”

What? But your documentation was looking awesome! How uh…?

Filling the blanks:

Not to fear…just boot off that USB key (we know how to do this, at least).

Enter recovery mode/single user mode, set root as the hard drive partition we want to have the boot sector written to (such as, for example, /dev/sda2, if /dev/sda2 has the subfolder /boot).

With a little grub-setup magic, we can boot off that hard drive in Plop Boot Manager!

A reboot brings us back into Plop, and now I can boot off the hard drive back into Kubuntu…

Job is Done!

Everyone’s happy, and we even got to take a trip to space for a while.

2 Responses to “The Higgs-field of Installations, or Installing Something from Nothing”

  1. Wonderful entry! Well written! You are such a smart man, and very cute too!

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