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How to clean install Windows
It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it
By Red Squirrel

Windows, being the standard and all, is not like any other operating system. It gets ďused upĒ with time, and starts acting strange. This varies between versions, in this how-to we will assume you are running Windows 98, but the procedure should be the same with any other version s. When Windows starts acting up, there are temporarily solutions you can do such as defragment, and run scandisk, but you should be doing these regularly anyway. There are also hundreds of patches and fixes on the Microsoft site, but most of them make it worse. For newer operating systems, itís less the case, but for Windows 98, running Windows Update will render your PC useless, until you do a clean install.

Before doing a clean install, you should always make sure that everything is normal. For example, that you cleared your temporarily files, and cookies, and oh, your history Ė surprising how that grows fast. Also make sure you donít have a virus, by having the latest virus definitions in place.

Other then windows getting ďused upĒ, other reasons to clean install would be, if you got a virus and it could not get cleaned by the anti-virus software, for example. In that case, the best solution is to clean install before it gets worse. Sometimes you even want to clean install to get rid of junk. Most modern uninstall programs are not properly configured by developers of certain software and leave things behind. Sometimes itís the uninstaller itself that has flaws. Ether way, even if you removed all what you donít want, thereís usually junk left behind, waiting to cause problems. If you do a search for a programís name after deleting it, whether you search in the registry or on your hard disk, youíll be surprised at what you will find thatís left behind, other then data from other programs (ex: if the last file you opened with MS Word was part of what you uninstalled, there will still be an entry, but it will be for MS Word, and not that program).

So letís begin with the clean install procedure, but first, we got to backup! A clean install deletes EVERYTHING! So yes, even your address book, your favorites and even your pictures that you put in My Documents. Most people tend to have more then one partition, if itís your case, you can simply move all that stuff there, well organized. If you have a single partition, it is a good idea to make at least 1 more. Ask about it in our forums if you donít know how. Iíll be writing an article on that shortly. Ok, back to backing up, another place you can backup stuff would be floppies. But only small things like favorites, and some small word documents could fit there, if you have lot of Mp3s and warez (which is illegal anyway) then you are out of luck, anti piracy people will be happy of your situation!

Assuming you know the basics of copy and paste, this should be easy. First, letís start with the favorites. In win98, open your C drive, browse to C:\windows\ and look for the favorites folder. When you found it, click on it and press CTRL+C or you can also right click and chose copy. Now browse to the place you want to backup your files and once you are in that folder, press CTRL+V or right click and chose paste. I also forgot to mention, that if you have a CD writer, you could use a CD-RW to save your files like if it was a floppy, but slightly 471.01449275362318840579710144928 times bigger (assuming itís a 650MB disc).

Then, for the following folders, you will want to do the same: C:\my documents\ C:\windows\desktop\ (if you have things on your desktop you want to keep, note that most shortcuts wonít work, but if you save downloads and stuff Ė back it up!)

There may be other files you want, but it all depends on what you want to keep, and where you usually save your stuff. This is a good time to consider doing a cleanup in your stuff, also.

No wait! Donít format yet!!!

You probably want to keep your address book contacts and emails right? Thought so. Youíll have to create a folder in your backups and call it something like ďcontactsĒ, open OE or Outlook or any other email program you use should work the same way, go to your address book and select all your contacts, then drag them into the newly created folder. For your emails, you will have to do the same, select all of them, and do a ďdrag and dropĒ into a new folder (so they donít get mixed up with contacts!). Also, some email programs have an export feature, but I never found one that works great. Kind of like backing up a MySQL database and forgetting the MySQL folder Ė not good.

This is the base of what most people would want to backup. I advise that if itís your first time, donít do the format right away, as you might miss last minute things, but if you wait a bit and keep browsing your C drive, you may find stuff you forgot.

Now that everything (hopefully) is backed up. Time to swipe it clean! For this, you will need an acid based substance, preferably with a pH of 2 or lower, heavy duty 5HP steel grinder (250VAC model proven to work better, for best results, make sure it is approved for industrial use) and in worse case scenarios, you might need a Tesla Coil. You can build this yourself, or get them already made. These devices create extremely high voltage electro static lightning, basically, itís just for added effects. ÖJust kidding! All the material part is just a joke! Hopefully you read this through before following the steps. Hereís the real way to do it!

After making sure that everything is backed up, reboot your computer in ms-dos mode, or boot off your win98 boot disk. Whatever Os you use, you need this disk, itís the only way we can reinstall your operating system afterwards, unless your computer supports booting off CD-ROM drives (most do) but most newer Osís donít have ms-dos mode so you have to boot off the disk anyway. Ether way, you probably need the disk.

Once you are in Dos mode, remember that if you forgot to backup something Ė it will be too late, unless you go back, and type the following: Format C: and press enter. You will be confronted with a scary looking message, this is to make sure that you are absolutely sure about it so ask yourself again if you forgot anything. (I did mention that this operation deletes everything on your C drive right?).

While the format is undergoing, and you watch the percentage meter, try not to think about your files, maybe go get a snack or check whatís on TV, chances are, if you forgot something, you will think of it now! Ether way, you will notice once you need it! I did give enough warning about this, make sure you donít forget anything!!! Done it too often when my parents and me shared the same PC Ė itís not funny.

Once the format is complete, insert your operating systemís CD in your CD-ROM drive and remove the win98 boot disk unless your computer canít boot off CDs. Reboot your computer. (just press CTRL+ALT+DEL, or reset, itís not bad to do that in dos mode).

Then you will be confronted with your Operating systemís setup screen. To this point, simply follow the on-screen instructions and if you are not sure what to choose, keep the defaults, but everything is pretty much self-explanatory. The thing about most Microsoft Os installations, they are always bugging you for information, so you canít leave your computer for too long and come back when itís over. Depending on the speed of your computer, this entire procedure could take about 1 hour. On a 486DX2, it takes about 3 hours and a half just for the copy files part (which happens to be the quickest part of the entire setup), Iíve tried it before, the day after, I put it online as a temporarily server during a major upgrade and script kiddies remotely fried the motherboard with a hack attack! Talk about a waste of time installing Windows!

Once the installation is complete, you are now on a fresh desktop! Nowís the long part: you have to install all your programs such as word processors (I still donít see why ms-office does not ship with windows, money hungry people!) and you will also have to restore your favorites and everything else you backed up. Most programs can be installed by simply putting in the disc and, like your OS, following the instructions that come on the screen.

Once you are done this, congratulations! You now have a fresh installation!

-Red Squirrel aka Ryan

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