Linux comes to Windows users' rescue

February 19, 2009 6:56 PM EST
I recently got a note out of the blue from another technology journalist. He wrote, "I know I'm often critical of Linux, but I'm SOOOOO GLAD I installed Ubuntu on my laptop. I installed some patches to Vista and now Vista won't boot, not even in Safe mode. Uggh!"

He continued, "So now I've booted the computer up to Ubuntu and can start figuring out what's wrong. Meanwhile, I discovered a great tool called Unison and I've mounted my Windows drive and I am using Unison to back up everything to a 300-gig external hard drive before I start tearing Windows apart... just in case. I guess I have my afternoon's plans made."

Unison, for those that don't know it, is a handy little file system synchronization program that runs on Windows, Linux, and most versions of Unix. It combines the features of both a configuration management system and a synchronization program. It will also do its magic across networks. So, for example, besides letting my friend do a backup from a dead Windows file system to an external drive, he could have transferred his files to say one of my servers.

Of course, most people don't have a dual-boot operating system setup. If you're a Windows user and you're looking at never-ending BSODs (blue screens of death) and you need help, Linux can still come to you aid.

For these folks, there are several Linux boot discs that come with a complete set of system repair tools. My personal favorite is SystemRescueCd 1.1.5.

I'm not saying that just because it has a great set of features. SystemRescueCd has helped me save systems that were ready for that great junkyard in the sky.

You can boot SystemRescueCd from either a CD-ROM or a USB stick. Once it's running, and I've managed to get it to run on even the most crippled of PCs, you have your choice of the lightweight WindowsMaker GUI or a shell command-line interface.

The distribution comes with many system tools. These include low-level disk partition programs like GParted and sfdisk and disk repair tools like TestDisk and Partimage. For higher levels of file repair, it comes with such programs as Midnight Commander, an excellent file manager based on the tried and true MS-DOS Norton Commander and CD/DVD writing tools such as dvd+rwtools.

SystemRescueCd can be used with almost any PC file system, including EXT2/3/4, FAT (file allocation table), NTFS (NT File System), ISO9660, ReiserFS/4, XFS and the most important network file systems, CIFS (Common Internet File System) and NFS (Network File System). With this version, it also supports GPT disklabel. With GPT (GUID Partition Table), users can use today's big - 2TB and larger - hard drives with more than four primary partitions.

For Windows users, it also comes with a rootkit checker, chkrootkit and the Clam anti-virus program. Clam isn't very fast, but, on the other hand, it's a Linux-based program running off a Linux distribution so you don't need to worry with your repair tools picking up a bug.

The latest SystemRescueCd also has better support for half-dead graphic systems. It now includes Xvesa. This is a generic X Window server that can deliver a graphics interface without needing to know anything about the graphics hardware. When X.org is baffled by a fried graphics system, Xvesa can often get you a display. It won't be a great display, but any graphic display is better than none.

You can also add your own favorite repair programs to your personal copy of SystemRescueCd. My copy, for instance, has Unison on it.

I almost always carry a copy of SystemRescueCd with me in my laptop bag. If you're in the system repair business, or you just want to be ready to bring your computer back to life for the day that your computer goes casters up, you should get a copy of this Linux distribution. You don't have to be a Linux user to want to have the best possible PC repair programs at your fingertips and SystemRescueCd is it.

Oh, and my friend? With the help of Ubuntu and Union he didn't lose a single byte to his Vista blow-up.