First, the problem. After installing LMDE (Sept. '09 edition), Windows boot failed with a message about a missing or corrupt hal.dll file. I ultimately solved this by deleting the LMDE partitions (/, /home, swap) and re-installing.
I am not sure if the issue started after I ran Mintupdate and installed the 600+ updates available as of around December 20, 2010. If so, then it's just one more "issue" with installing the 9/10 edition and installing all 600 updates while accepting new versions of files when the updater prompts you. "One more," because after doing so, I lost the Mintmenu and had to reinstall. I am still waiting for advice on another thread to see how to handle the LMDE updates (the famous 600) as I want to avoid going through this again. (!)
At any rate - if that isn't confusing enough - here are the standard steps I tried in order to resolve the hal.dll issue. All of them failed.
1. booted to Windows Restore console and ran the "expand" command from the DOS prompt, as suggested in various Microsoft and other help guides. Failed to resolve missing/corrupt hal.dll issue.
2. From the Windows Restore console, issued a bootcfg /rebuild command. At the "install to boot list" prompt, answered Y, at Load Identifier prompt, typed "Windows XP Professional," and at OS Load Options prompt, entered /Fastdetect. This failed to resolve the issue.
3. From the Windows Restore console, ran fixboot. Failed to fix issue.
4. From the Windows Restore console, ran chkdsk /r. Failed to fix issue.
5. Booted Windows install CD and at the prompt, pressed Enter to install, then R to repair. Failed to fix the issue.
6. From the LMDE live CD, copied the hal.dll file from the Windows Service Pack 3 folder (c:\windows\servicepackfiles\i386) to c:\windows\system32. (This was recommended in preference to restoring the hal.dll file using the expand command as in step 1 above, since the older hal.dll file is known not to work with Service Pack 3.)
None of these attempts worked. Re-installing LMDE fixed the issue and now I can boot normally into Windows. This tells me that somewhere along the way LMDE caused the issue - and it wasn't LMDE install that did so, but the updates - i.e., running the 600+ updates with Mintupdate, and accepting each prompt to install a newer file.
I wonder if the issue is related to the Mint desktop issue. Before I ran Mintupdate, I executed the commands that Clem recommended to fix the Mintdesktop issue. I.e.:
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sudo rm /var/lib/dpkg/info/mintdesktop.prerm
apt install mintdesktop
BTW, I couldn't tell when those commands are supposed to be entered, in order to prevent the mintdesktop 3.2.2 bug. I entered them before running MintUpdate with the 600 updates and accepting defaults at the prompts. That's when I began to get various error messages after entering my username/password and booting into LMDE (I didn't write them down), and lost the MintMenu.
Anyway, kind of a mess, and a strong dissuader to Linux newbies against installing the 9/10 release of LMDE - or perhaps any other editions going forward? After all, Clem does warn that LMDE is more fragile than the standard releases, being subject to more breakages and requiring more than newbie skills to manage. I'd love to run LMDE to escape Ubuntu and its hand-me-down bugs. But at this stage it seems there are problems, with no clear descriptions of fixes. For example, having to search far and wide to find the simple answer to the question of when to enter the Mintdesktop 3.2.2 bug fix commands, much less any other fixes, is kind of a barrier...