Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When things go all to hell...

When things go all to hell, have a backup plan...

    A lady friend named Sandy owns a nearby bar. When she began screaming one late-October afternoon, a number of us abandoned our pool game and rushed to her back room office. We found her raging at her almost-new Dell laptop.
    She'd just tried to save an afternoon's work and the file had apparently disappeared when the program shut down unexpectedly. When she clicked on various icons, nothing worked.
    I stopped her from turning off the computer and offered to try to fix things. She asked what my idea of 'fixing' meant exactly.
    "It means I might be able to salvage your data files, but if you turn the computer off and back on the way it is, it'll probably destroy them when it tries to reboot."
    Sandy wanted to know how I'd do it. I said I had a disk that might let us save all her data files before the machine could destroy them. After some hesitancy and a few questions, she let me take a shot at it.

How I dunnit...

    I went to my bike (Vulcan 1600) and retrieved my own laptop. In its case I keep copies of PCLinuxOS, Puppy Linux, and the Trinity Rescue CD. My first act was to boot her Dell with Puppy, which runs completely in RAM and never touches the hard drive unless you tell it to do so.
    Once Puppy was running, I clicked the icon for her hard drive, located her data files, and asked for a blank flash drive. Within about half an hour I had all the files and their 'temp' files that had been in use when the computer died on the flash. We examined the files using programs that are included with Puppy and found them to be the right files.
    Sandy had been about to send restocking data to distributors, so I downloaded Firefox, imported her 'Favorites' and some other personal info into it, and left her to log onto various websites and upload the info. When that had been accomplished, she wanted to print copies of things. Puppy had her printer on its list, so printing was no problem.
    That left the task of cleaning or restoring her Dell's highly proprietary operating system (the one that starts with 'W'). Before we tackled that, I had Sandy spend some time locating and backing up any other files and folders she might want to keep. While she did that, I went out front and shot pool.
    Only twice did she have to call me in for instructions, and both instances were just matters of terminology. Her operating system called an action one thing and Linux called it something else. After another hour or so, she had everything she wanted on the flash drive and called me back into the office.
    Removing the Puppy Linux CD, I put in the Trinity Rescue disk and turned on the computer. After examining her hardware and booting some essential tools, Trinity Rescue presented us a screen offering a number of actions. I chose to scan her hard drive for common diseases. Trinity found the drive to be very infected. It offered cures with the caveat that some files might be damaged in the process.
    That's when I called a halt and asked, "Do you use this computer for anything but business?"
    Sandy said yes, but as she told me what else she did with it, I told her which actions required programs and which were accomplished through her browser. At the end of her list, I told her Linux could handle all the things she'd mentioned, and that if she was happy with the results, she could forget about her old operating system.
    She didn't want to be without the system she already knew fairly well, so after Trinity finished scrubbing out her hard drive, I defragged it to create some uncluttered space. After I installed PCLinuxOS alongside her old operating system, I told its dual-boot 'grub' to make PCLinuxOS the default boot.
    When we restarted Sandy's Dell, we were presented with a menu offering both operating systems and thirty seconds to choose. If no choice was made, the Dell would boot to PCLinuxOS.
    I created a place for Sandy's folders and files and copied them from the flash drive, then turned the Dell over to her so she could test drive the new system for a while before I left the bar.
    Half an hour later she called me to the bar to give me a check for $100 and a fresh beer. I took the beer, but told her I hadn't intended to charge her for hanging around her bar all afternoon.
    She said, "Just take it. The last time I had a virus, the shop charged me twice that much and they lost everything when they put on a new copy of my operating system. Besides, it looks like I can return my (old operating system starting with 'W') to Walmart for a refund, so it's almost free money."
    Yes, I took the money, and as a final touch, I downloaded Linux versions of her games and added a fancy edition of Mahjongg, which she loved at first sight.

And then...

    Apparently Sandy did quite a bit of show 'n tell about her new setup, because several people from the bar had me add PCLinuxOS to their laptops and computers during the first week of November. None seemed to want to tackle the job themselves, even though a few of them watched me add Linux to laptops at the bar.
    I only charged $20 for each installation if there were no problems with hardware or previous operating systems. After installations, I tested each system by making a copy of the installation CD.
    If they wanted a copy of the Trinity Rescue CD, I charged $5 extra, but I also let them know they could download it. In fact, I recommend downloading it, just to keep up with changes.
    A few had been told -- or somehow otherwise got the idea -- they should have Ubuntu Linux. No problem. I downloaded a copy at the bar and made a CD, then installed it when requested. They soon found it had certain limitations like being unable to play MP3 files without downloading extra programming, but so far there haven't been any insurmountable issues with Ubuntu.
    Some have asked for copies of Puppy Linux, but an equal number have downloaded the .iso file and made their own. Only one has asked me to install it as a third boot option; the rest seem to want it as a backup because they know I used it on Sandy's Dell.

Upshot of all this...

    If you're running (operating system starting with 'W'), chances are excellent a malicious bug will get you sooner or later.
    Antivirus programs are almost useless against truly new bugs; they only know variations of bugs that have attacked before.
    There's no good reason not to be prepared. While your (operating system starting with 'W') is still working, download a free copy of a rescue disk and burn a CD.

    Because most people aren't really very religious about making backups, I won't even mention them seriously here, but you'll want to be able to at least try to save your important files if you can't boot your (operating system starting with 'W').

    Download and burn a CD of the latest Puppy Linux. It's absolutely easy to use. Just click a drive icon to go there and find your files. Put your flash drive or CD in and drag stuff to it with your mouse. You can also use Puppy as an emergency operating system to get online and do almost anything else you can do with any other system.

About PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Puppy, and others...

    They're powerful and they're free. All you have to do is download them and burn a CD or DVD.

    Linux versions in public use today use clickable icons and no longer require command line typing for routine stuff. For the most part, they run just like (operating system starting with 'W').
    Help is also free. A Help file comes on the disk and more help is available at discussion forums dedicated to whichever version.

    One huge advantage to using Linux is the fairly vast number of people who rip into and study every little bit of Linux programming. That's one of the reasons there are so few viruses for Linux; even if someone let a new one loose, someone else would catch it, report it (and very probably kill it) almost immediately.
    That can't be said for (operating system starting with 'W'). A tight group of secrecy-minded people handle all aspects of development. They seem to release only device-specific bits of code to licensed periperal makers. When a new (W) virus appears, it can spread around the world long before a cure can be developed and made available through highly-proprietary companies.

    You've probably seen a commercial wherein the guy pulls another whole car out of the trunk of his wreck. That's what it's like if you have a Linux operating system on hand when (operating system starting with 'W') craps out.
Ed
Ed Howdershelt - Abintra Press
Science Fiction & Semi-Fiction
http://www.AbintraPress.com

2 comments:

  1. I love Trinity Rescue disc. I keep it and a plethora of other Linux installs on a USB via a tool called Sardu -- highly recommend it. Easier to deal with than CDs, works on machines like Netbooks that tend not to have optical drives, and I can keep one on my keychain so I'm never without my 'toolkit'.

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  2. great post , and yes SARDU is a winner

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