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Windows 2000 XP and Server 2003 Recovery Console
In Windows 98 you had the option to boot in to a command prompt (DOS) window to troubleshoot and fix a system. This capability is not available in Windows 2000/XP/2003 natively. However Microsoft have an optional component which you can install on your machine called the Recovery Console. This has been removed from Windows Vista and later versions (including Windows 2008 and higher) - see more information from Microsoft here.
The recovery console is also available from the CD, if you boot from the disk then you will get the option to use the Recovery Console. However it is much more convenient to have it already installed on the system - especially if access to a installation CD could be difficult.
To install, you will need an installation CD-ROM for your operating system, or a copy of the i386 stored locally or on your network.
It is best to be connected to the Internet when installing the console as the application will connect to Microsoft's web site to get the latest files.
Note: If you have installed a service pack on to your machine, then you need to use an installation point that contains the service pack. Windows 2003 64 bit edition will give you an error message if the source installation files do not have the service pack but the destination server does.
Reducing the Boot Menu Countdown
Once the console is installed, a boot menu will show for 30 seconds. You can remove this or cut the time down by editing your start up options.
Changing Access Permissions
After installing the recovery console you should use the Group Policy editor to change the access settings so that you can copy files to a floppy disk in the event of a problem. This setting needs to be changed before you have to use the recovery console.
Computer Configuration, Windows Settings, Security Settings, Security Options, Recovery Console, Allow Floppy Copy and Access to all drives and folders.
This setting can either be made via the local policy, or if you are a domain administrator, make the change in your Domain Group Policy so that it applies to all machines with the recovery console installed.
Automatic Logon to Recovery Console
You can also configure the recovery console to automatically logon. This is by modifying two registry keys.
Modify the keys "Security Level" and "Set Command" from 0 to 1. After pressing OK, the value will be 0x00000001 (1)
Removing the Recovery Console
Removing the recovery console is a little more involved.
Microsoft have a number of Knowledge base articles on using the Recovery Console.
Windows 2003: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=326215
There are no equivalent articles for Windows Vista/Windows 2008 and higher.
If you are installing the recovery console on to a domain controller, then you may want to read this article from Microsoft about resetting the password. http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=239803
If you get an error message about "The Password Is Not Valid" when you try to login to the Recovery Console, then you should look at this article from Microsoft on resolving the problem: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=308402