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Installing Software Without an Optical Drive
By James Radcliffe
Created 1/22/06

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There are three basic solutions for installing software on a tablet PC without an optical driv:.

  1. Share the Disc Over the Network (not bootable)

Required: A network, and a PC with an optical drive

What we do for this solution is essentially share the optical drive in one PC over the network to, your Tablet PC.  For most this is the easiest method because most users these days have a network readily available, and assuming there’s a network there’s likely a PC with an optical drive connected to it.

First you need to load the CD/DVD into the optical drive in the PC.  Now go to My Computer and right click on the drive with the loaded media, click properties, navigate to the Sharing tab (note if you haven’t done this before it may give you a warning that you shouldn’t do this unless you know what you’re doing, click the message to continue).  Check the Share this folder on the network box, give it a name like Shared Optical Drive (or a name of your choice), and hit OK.

> Note: From this point forward any computer on your network will be able to access the shared drive.  If this is a problem be sure to follow the steps above and uncheck Share this folder on the network, to take it off.

Now get on your Tablet PC and make sure it is connected to the network.  Access My Network Places, and click Add A Network Place, use the wizard to add the optical drive you selected to share.

Now that it is shared you should be able to access it from My Network Places at any time (when your Tablet PC is connected to the network), and it should automatically refresh if you switch the CD, if it doesn’t do a right-click, and hit refresh and the files should update.  If you are trying to install software and are used to auto-run, double click the Setup.exe file or similar to begin installation.

  1. Use an External Optical Drive (can be bootable)

Required: External optical drive (can be purchased by vendor directly, or cheaper by another vendor like NewEgg)

External optical drives are the easiest way to use CD/DVD media and install software to your Tablet PC.  It is however, normally the most expensive.  External DVD readers can be had online for less than $100 now days, but you will likely pay over $200 at your local Best Buy or Circuit City.

External drives are very simple; just plug it into an available USB port, and a power outlet if needed and you’re good to go.  Your Tablet PC should automatically detect the drive and simply add it to My Computer just like a built in drive.  Some drives will even run power through the USB, while this makes them more mobile it eats up your Tablet PC battery faster, if that is a problem other external drives do require a power outlet for use but should not drain your battery.

You can also use an online outlet (such as NewEgg.com) to purchase an external enclosure for around $20, and then a old-fashioned CD/DVD drive (not writer) for $20 creating a budget oriented $40 fully functional external enclosure.

The one trick with external drives is not all external drives are bootable.  Trial and error has revealed it appears the enclosure, not the drive itself, is what determines if it is bootable.  This creates the advantage to making your own external drive in that if it is not bootable you can (assuming you can’t return anything) get a new enclosure for around $20 instead of being out the larger amount for a pre-assembled external unit.

> Note: Optical drives that are packaged or sold by your Tablet PC vendor should be bootable unless otherwise specified.

> Note: You want your optical drive to be bootable (and external optical drives are the only bootable method) in the event you have to A) Use your factory restore CD to, restore your tablet to factory settings… or B) Complete an entire re-format.  These should be the only times you would need your optical drive to be bootable.

  1. Create an Image (not bootable)

Required: Image making software (like Alcohol 120% or VirtualDrive), image emulation software (Alcohol 120% includes one, Dameon Tools is another), access to a computer with an optical drive, and a method to transfer a large file from that computer to your Tablet PC.

You will need to use your particular software User-Guide for most of this process.  What you do essentially is use software to create an exact copy of the CD in the form of a file (normally a .iso) that has to be read by an optical drive emulator which then can access the CD as if it were being read by a real optical drive.  The biggest disadvantage to this method is that CDs can run around 700mbs, DVDs around 4gbs… transferring files of that size, even over fast networks, can be tedious.  A benefit however is you can carry important CDs (as files) with you as you go, so for example if you need to install Microsoft Word content to use some feature while your in a meeting, you can do so without having the physical CD with you… This however of course requires heavy disk space since the CD file tends to be around 700mbs.

> Note: The legality around creating CD images is grey.  You should be fine as long as you only make (and do not share with anyone) images for CDs you physically own, and only install it on the number of machines that matches the number of licenses you own (most software you purchase includes one license).  It’s simple, if your honest and fair you should be fine under the law, if your not… then user beware.

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