When Desktop Disaster Strikes, Linux Rides To The Rescue - InformationWeek

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6/13/2008
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When Desktop Disaster Strikes, Linux Rides To The Rescue

A friend in need, the saying goes, is a friend indeed. And the next time your Windows PC goes belly-up at the worst possible time, your new best friend just might turn out to be a Linux rescue CD.

A friend in need, the saying goes, is a friend indeed. And the next time your Windows PC goes belly-up at the worst possible time, your new best friend just might turn out to be a Linux rescue CD.Linux is a popular choice for PC recovery and repair tasks for several reasons. For one thing, it is highly portable: Most distros offer "live" versions that can run entirely from a CD or other compact media. Some distros are so compact that they will fit on a USB drive or even on a set of floppy disks -- and still leave plenty of room for a suite of repair and recovery tools. That's helpful, since Linux supports a vast array of tools suitable for diagnosing PC problems and -- above all -- retrieving data from mangled, all-but-useless hard-disk file systems.

Of course, there is also the fact that a typical Linux rescue CD consists entirely of open-source software. It won't cost you a penny to use, and it allows developers to adapt the code to suit their needs. Many popular Linux "rescue" distros, for example, are actually stripped-down, customized versions of familiar distros such as Debian, Knoppix, and Mandriva.

This is a big topic, and there are a lot of options to consider when you select a Linux-based rescue CD. None of them, however, are as important as this one: Pick one soon, preferably today. And don't just burn a copy, put it on the shelf, and forget about it: A few hours or research learning how to use these tools on a damaged system could save you a lot of worry -- and a lot of money -- when disaster strikes and your data is trapped inside a brain-damaged beige box.

Here are a couple of highly regarded Linux rescue CDs to get you started:

- System Rescue CD. This popular rescue CD, built on a customized Linux kernel and Reiser file system, is designed for ease of use: Its hard-disk partition tools, for example, are graphical and do not require users to configure them before putting them to work. It includes a suite of useful, up to date utilities, including such staples as GNU Parted (a tool for creating, copying, and managing disk partitions) and Ntfs3g (which enables both read and write access to NTFS partitions -- a must-have for Windows users).

Of course, "ease of use" is a relative term when you're dealing with these kinds of tools; at the very least, check out the quick start guide and think about how you'll need to tackle some of the most common PC disaster-recovery tasks.

- Trinity Rescue Kit. If TRK can't jump-start a dead PC, or at least allow you to offload your precious data, then it's time to call the undertaker. This distro, which runs on a bootable CD or USB stick, or over a local network connection, was developed especially to deal with repair and recovery operations on Windows systems. In practice, that means that TRK sports an imposing suite of tools for dealing with malware infestations, including five malware scan engines and two rootkit scanners, among many other applications.

While TRK is powerful and very highly regarded among IT pros, however, be warned: Almost all of its tools are exclusively command-line based. If you're serious about putting TRK into your PC disaster-recovery toolkit, plan on spending at least a few hours -- at a bare minimum -- getting acquainted with it. And rest assured that the time you spend working with it now will pay off in a big way if you ever have to deal with a half-croaked hard disk threatening to wipe out reams of vital business data.

If you're looking for a little more info to help you get started choosing and learning how to use a Linux rescue CD, check out the howto guide on the Trinity Rescue Kit site; while it can be difficult reading at times, it still sheds a lot of light on how to begin working with TRK. I also suggest reading this guide to data recovery posted on the Ubuntu Linux site; although its focus is on using specific utilities to recover data from a Linux system, every word is directly applicable to the task of using a Linux recovery CD to access data on a crippled Windows PC. Finally, this two-part guide to becoming a Linux system rescue guru on LinuxPlanet.com is also packed with good information that will benefit any PC power user -- although I sincerely hope you'll never have any reason to use a bit of it.

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