December 11, 2000, 11:23 AM — Microsoft's second version of Windows 95 included a new disk format, FAT32. FAT32
broke the 2-GB disk size barrier -- finally, Windows could recognize larger volumes. It
also used disk space more efficiently than the older FAT16 when storing small files.
Microsoft used a different file system for Windows NT: the NT File System (NTFS).
NTFS eliminated the 2-GB barrier too, but also included many features unnecessary in
Windows 95, including file and directory security and permissions. Of course, NT
couldn't read or write FAT32 (without third-party add-ons) and Windows 95 couldn't read
or write NTFS (again, without add-ons).
This resulted in some unique storage arrangements for systems that needed to be set
up for dual boot, but also required disks larger than 2 GB. A computer could have some
disks available to only one of its operating systems and some available only to the
other, with very little common space. It was often an interesting adventure to get a
large file from a FAT32 partition to an NTFS partition on the same computer.
Recently, Microsoft released the long-awaited Windows 2000, which continues to
support the NTFS -- indeed, some features of Windows 2000's Active Directory require an
NTFS partition. But Windows 2000 also has built-in support for FAT32.
Why is that a big deal? Most servers run a single OS, and don't need to dual boot.
Why worry about FAT16 or FAT32?
Because if you format your primary NT boot partition as NTFS, you could end up in a
world of hurt.
Consider this scenario: An incorrect device driver is installed on an NT system. The
driver causes the system to fail with a blue screen within seconds of any login
attempt. If the boot partition is FAT16 or FAT32, you can boot with Windows 98's FAT32
Emergency Boot Disk and fix the driver. If the partition is NTFS, you may have
problems. Windows 2000 does have more emergency boot options than NT does, including
safe mode and a boot disk set, but I haven't had enough experience with those features
to put my fate in their hands.
Of course, there are safety measures you can take. My favorite is to install
two copies of NT or 2000 on the boot partition. (I normally keep both copies
on the same drive, but it's better to put them on different drives.) One is the normal
OS that runs day in and day out. The other lives in a different directory and remains
pristine. When the first copy of NT becomes corrupt -- note the use of when,
not if -- I can boot to the other copy and make repairs without resorting to