Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Knoppix Saves the Day

I stared at the screen in disbelief. The blue background and white letters told the entire story, even without reading the details. My computer had chosen this moment to puke up it's guts and die on me. In the middle of work for a client, I was left flying blind and without backup. I felt utterly abandoned, and more than a little resentful at the little box. Hadn't I found it, hidden in the most unlikely of places - Aldi's? Hadn't I taken it into my home, an off-brand laptop from some backwater part of Germany, and breathed life into it, filling it with all manner of software - not to mention my precious data? And hadn't I suffered the repeated, loud and colorful sniping from friends and co-workers who relished asking if I found it in between the bartlette pears and and the shitaki mushrooms? After all that, to do this to me! It was almost more than I could handle.

I finished work at the client site and trudged home, morosely trying to figure out what to do next. You have to understand, I'm no lightweight when it comes to PC repair. I have worked in PC for nearly 14 years, working with every flavor of Windows Microsoft has ever put out (yes, I have worked with Windows 386, which came on 5 1/4" floppies bundled free with Aldus PageMaker!). I have an arsenal of tools, utilities, and tricks up my sleeve that would make McGuiver blush with shame.

So I knew that this was a serious case. I had already gone through several reboots, safe mode, repair disks, and the recovery console. That operating system wasn't coming up. What I didn't know was whether my data was still there or not. The computer booted partly before it showed the blue-screen smackdown, so maybe there was hope.

The challange was how to get the machine to show what it had, and then get it off. I was running Windows2000 on an NTFS partition with compressed folders. A DOS boot disk was not going to help here. Then I remembered Knoppix.

I had downloaded it the other day after a review in Lockergnome (listen up folks! If you never sign up for any other newsletter in your life, sign up for Lockergnome - - whether you are a PC novice or an old fart like me, the information you find there will SAVE YOUR LIFE!!).

Knoppix is a version of Linux that runs completely from a CD. You don't have to install anything. Not only that, but it's Linux, which means:
A) it is network friendly.
B) it can read just about any disk format, including NTFS compressed stuff
C) It is hotter than snot.

If this worked, I knew I would have one of those priceless moments when I could non-chalantly say "Oh yeah, I just booted into the latest Debian distribution, fired up the SSH server and FTP'd them from my other system. What's the problem?" Then sit back and watch my other alpha-geek friends trying to look un-impressed through the haze of admiration.

As it turned out, using Knoppix was almost rediculously easy.

The first thing is that Knoppix started up without a hiccough. Now you could argue that Knoppix (distributed by a group in Germany) had a leg up on my German-made Medion laptop, but now I've run that CD on so many systems that it's just not the case. It will run on anything. And it looks slick. Even that silly-pudgy penguin logo that all Linux software uses had a James Bond-like sheen to it. As if to say "Sure, I'm a penguin, but one with a license from the Queen to kill if I have to."

The second thing was that it read my hard drive without a hitch. Whatever problem Windows was having, Linux wasn't impressed nor phased in the least.

And the third thing, truly a reason for celebration, was that this single CD had enough tools to let me turn my laptop into a secure FTP server. After that, I just had to connect from my desktop and pull everything over. If I had wanted to, Knoppix would have let me burn a CD, or put the files on floppies. In all, the entire rescue operation took about 2 hours, and that includes time for the learning curve.

Suck it up and take it, Bill Gates. Let's see your Windows recovery disks do that!
So this is the start of a whole new era. The point of this blog is to post technical snippets I find in various places, random thoughts and musics of a technical nature, and more.