I need to put the boss's brain in a jar that he can carry around.
February 12, 2007 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Can XP Pro be installed on & booted to from an external USB HD - from different computers - without too much complicated adjustment?

Boss has a laptop (older Thinkpad). Boss docks this laptop at office A, and also at branch office B. He also uses it at home and for travel, which means he gets all kinds of his own personal junk on it. It's having problems now when he moves from one place to another (sometimes loses drive mappings, doesn't find the proper domain controller for the office he's in, etc.).

Rather than cart around a laptop that's not operating well, and that I can't troubleshoot because I can't get good information from him about what he's done with/to it when he's out of the office; or having two machines in two offices kept in synch with a third home laptop, I'd like to do something else.

What I'd like to do is get an external USB HD or an enclosure (NOT a Flash drive, but a portable hard disk), install XP Pro and all the office software programs he needs, and have him cart THAT around instead. That way I can get him a simple tower in each branch office and have him keep the laptop at home or for travel. Hopefully, all he'd need to learn is how to change the BIOS boot order if necessary, and he'd be running the same XP install everywhere.

Is that possible with XP Pro? Too much hassle for the user? Will it not solve the problem?

I've done this personally with an Ubuntu Linux install on a pocket HD, but every time I use a new machine, I have to reconfigure the Xserver to get it going, because of the different hardware. I'd rather not have him need to do that.
posted by bartleby to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Doesn't sound like it would help because what he has now is essentially a hard drive he lugs around right?
posted by zeoslap at 12:57 PM on February 12, 2007

Could he just remote desktop into a work box?
posted by zeoslap at 12:58 PM on February 12, 2007

Take away his admin privs and let him work as a normal user.
posted by Ferrari328 at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2007

I was at DEMOfall and saw a demonstration of MojoPac there. It is billed as doing just what you're looking for, though I heard rumors on the show floor that there were still some hiccups with the product.
posted by mikel at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2007

The short answer is no, you can't install windows on an external hard drive and boot successfully from multiple machines.

For one each machine is going to be different, and Windows XP tailors itself to specific hardware when it installs. You would have problems with different motherboards, video cards, etc...

For two, many computers don't even support booting from a USB device.

Third, I'd bet a dollar that XP wouldn't install to a USB device and the hoops you'd have to jump through to successfully get it on the drive would be pretty large.

Lastly, it wouldn't surprise me if this type of use breaks the EULA.

In short this is a very far fetched solution to a problem better solved via remote desktop, revoking of privileges, etc.
posted by wfrgms at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2007

You can accomplish this but it will take a bit of work.

Start here. This is a link to Bart's PE, which is designed to take an existing Windows XP install and convert it into a portable environment. It's mainly designed for creating bootable CD/DVD's but can also be used as a more or less normal desktop environment.

The learning curve isn't difficult but is a little steep. You'll be able to set up the Windows environment in any way you like, with the needed applications and drivers preinstalled, and with the necessary registry entries preset. There are a ton of plugins available which will make setup for various applications almost easy.

This article describes how to install it on a USB key. These instructions should also apply to installing on a USB hard drive.

One advantage of this from a support perspective is that you'll know exactly what he has and you can keep a copy of his portable Windows for troubleshooting.

Another possible advantage: you could give him the OS on a CD/DVD and use the USB hard drive for documents/personal data only. If he's the sort of person who clicks on every attachment and downloads recklessly, this will save you a lot of headaches by keeping the OS completely locked away from him.
posted by pandaharma at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2007

I can't see how a carted-around hard disk is going to get any less crap on it than a carted-around laptop.

If the personal junk is actually making it hard to find the business junk, set him up with separate business personal logons on the laptop. Have the laptop itself, rather than any of your domain controllers, authenticate these logons. Give him a script to click on that does a bunch of NET USE commands with appropriate credentials to map drives and printers onto company resources when he's on a company network. Hell, you could even give him another one to remap drives and printers for his home network.

The "lock it down at any cost" mentality is what makes people hate their IT departments.
posted by flabdablet at 2:30 PM on February 12, 2007

blarg. ...separate business and personal logons...
posted by flabdablet at 2:32 PM on February 12, 2007

A few more possibly useful links on Lifehacker here:

Portable Applications - Lifehacker
posted by Boobus Tuber at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2007

That MojoPac thing looks like some kind of virtual PC. You can get the same kind of thing going for free with VMware Player and EasyVMX, if you think that will float your boat.
posted by flabdablet at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2007

For what it's worth, I gave up on Bart's PE after spending the better part of an evening trying to make a boot CD. It's the most unfriendly piece of software I've ever dealt with, and the help on the website is scarce.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:29 PM on February 12, 2007

Here's an article on how to get XP installed on a USB drive to be totally portable. You just have to remaster your XP install disk with a bunch of complicated manual changes, install XP on the USB drive with all other drives unplugged, and make sure every machine your boss wants to use it on can boot from USB...nice and simple, eh?

Installing and booting Windows XP from USB drive -- Guide
posted by DarkElf109 at 10:06 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

That article looks totally excellent, but the resulting Windows installation will very likely not be terribly portable. If you go this route, make sure all the PC's your boss is going to plug his brain jar into are the same make and model, or you may run into problems with HAL compatibility.
posted by flabdablet at 4:27 AM on February 13, 2007

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