Tools for the job (Part 1) - File Systems, Live CD and live USB distros

6/1/2012 2:42:01 PM

When Windows fails, the supplied Windows tools, while very good, are not always able to recover a system. Leo Maxwell looks into how Linux-based tools are increasingly being used by Windows Techs.

Linux and Windows may be very different operating systems, but it’s surprising how the use of Linux-based tools is spreading in the Windows world.

Many PCs now come with a sort of MiniOS, based on Linux, which can be used to browser the internet and play media without booting into a full-fat OS such as Windows. But there are many other ways that Linux can become a valuable tool for the Windows Tech.

File Systems

While Windows is mainly limited to Microsoft disk formats, namely FAT and NTFS (although both have more than one version), Linux can recognise and access over 30 different file system formats, which makes it the ideal platform for disk tools.

From corrupt partition tablets to severely infected machines, Linux tools come in handy when the host system won’t boot. Because of the plethora of tools available, it’s sometimes tough to sift through the cruft and find the ones that are usable.

Some of the tools mentioned in this article are cross-platform, but many are Linux native, and the live CD versions are exclusively Linux-based.

It must be stated now that improper use of many of these tools without adequate knowledge can make things worse, and irreparably damage a Windows installation. Above all, read the documentation!

Live CD and live USB distros

The most effective tool in the recovery armoury is a live distro. Many distros such as Ubuntu, OpenSuse or Puppy Linux can be booted direct from a CD or USB stick. They can be useful in diagnosing whether there’s a hardware or driver problem with, for example, a network connection or a graphics card.

Description: The doggy distro, booted from a USB stick

The doggy distro, booted from a USB stick

Most Linux distros will connect to the internet as a matter of course at boot time, not requiring any drivers to be downloaded and installed. A range of distros have emerged, tailored to function as emergency rescue toolkits. They can widely, from command-line basics to full-blown desktop OSs that give a wide range of tools to mend an ailing OS. The larger ones like PartedMagic, are aimed at more recent PCs with 512MB or more of RAM, and an i686 (Pentium4 and above) CPU, but there are stand-alone ones that are meant for a single job, such as Clonezilla, for example, which are far less demanding.

Some of the functions that these tools can offer include:

o   Format internal and external hard drives

o   Move, copy, create, delete, expand and shrink hard drive partitions

o   Clone your hard drive, to create a full backup

o   Test memory for bad sectors

o   Get on the internet to search for answers, or to download replacements for missing, damaged or faulty Windows drivers

o   Gain access to non-booting systems in order to rescue important data, or to repair a broken OS

o   Run anti-virus scans from a read-only medium, while your OS is not running

o   Benchmark your computer for a performance rating

o   Securely erase your entire hard drive, wiping it clean from all data

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