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The tip...

Technical tip #50: The USB "gotcha"

I have a client with a Windows 2000 machine and for various reasons from time to time have tried to boot to Safe Mode.  Which it would never do.  There was always another way to fix whatever problem we were working on and the Safe Mode boot was always in the category of “we’ll have to get to that someday”.  Until someday was now.  And it wasn’t exactly Safe Mode that was the problem.  One of the two “on board” (built in) USB* ports stopped functioning so I suggested getting an add-on card that had four more.  We were trying to reconnect a USB scanner and even after installing the new card and the scanner software the scanner would not work. 

(* USB = Universal serial buss)

As I often try, I deleted the USB ports and rebooted.  Without realizing it I had deleted the USB keyboard.  Windows 2000 will not begin reinstalling devices until you have logged on.  You log on by pressing ALT+CTL+DEL on the keyboard.

With the “old” stuff (the old keyboard hole, com connected mice, even PS/2 connected keyboards and mice) the boot program (DOS basically) was all that was needed to get the mouse and keyboard working.  DOS doesn’t speak USB.  USB devices require Windows 98 or higher booted and running.

How can you tell if you have a USB keyboard?  If the end of the cable that plugs into the computer has this icon on it: you have a USB keyboard.

Anyway, oops.

I had noticed before that Norton will offer to build your Rescue set on your zip drive unless you have a USB zip drive.  Things were getting clearer.

I checked the Windows Knowledge Base.  Yup, you can’t boot a Windows 2000 (or XP I assume) machine that needs a log on unless your USB keyboard is already installed.  Note: some machines have a BIOS feature called USB Keyboard Support that gets around this little gotcha.  Problem: if it is not on, you can’t turn it on with a USB keyboard…

Suggestion:  If you use 2000 or XP and require a password to log on, keep a PS/2 keyboard around for emergencies.

If any part of your emergency recovery procedures rely on USB connected devices you should think through how you are going to manage that.  You will need to be able to install at least a minimal Windows system and get it running before you can restore from a USB connected device.


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