The Absent-Minded Perfesser: Using Linux to save Windows Data

By John Philips

 

Don't even think about switching operating systems! Think about adding them to your skills repertoire. Knowing how to use a variety of operating systems is not just an advantage, it is one of the most important computer skills the ordinary user can have. Here's how I used my knowledge of Linux to save data from one of my Windows computers.

 

Last summer a four month old Toshiba laptop was passing out at unexpected moments, crashes that were like computer narcolepsy.  Preparatory to backing up before sending the machine in for a checkup,  I ran defrag. After the defrag it refused to boot. Even booting in safe mode I got the following message:

 

"STOP: c0000218 {Registry File Failure}

The registry cannot load the hive (file): 

\SystemRoot\System32\Config\SOFTWARE

or its log or alternate. It is corrupt, absent or not writable.

 

"Beginning dump of physical memory

Physical memory dump complete.

Contact your system administrator or technical support group for further

assistance."

 

Then I had to unplug both the cord and the battery to get the computer to respond at all. I figured the defrag command must have sent the software configuration files to a bad sector on the hard drive. A bad sector was probably what had been causing it to die unexpectedly on me in the first place.

 

The first lesson of this mess, if you couldn't figure it out, was to run scandisk before defrag, just to make sure you don't send critical data to a bad sector of the boot hard disk. I should have known that,  because I've been running both for years, but . . . (um) . . .well,  

I forgot. :-(

 

I don't think I'll ever make that mistake again. But now my problem was how to save data from a computer that wouldn't start at all. I did have the book manuscript I'm working on backed up to a zip drive, but I wanted to get my mail files out of the hard disk so I could contact the authors (it's an edited volume I'd been working on for years and several of them had changed their addresses) and for general archiving.

 

I could boot the computer with an old WIN98 boot floppy but it didn't recognize the hard drive. The Recovery [sic] CD-ROM that came with the computer threatened to wipe out all the data on the hard disk before booting up. It was not the regular Windows recovery disk that I had gotten with other Windows computers, but something specially created by 

and/or for Toshiba.

 

Toshiba does not allow upgrade of the HDD or even touching that part of the machine. If I removed the HDD to try to recover data (which would involve investing in some strange screwdrivers) Toshiba would not replace it. The guy at customer service told me, not for attribution of course, that my best bet was probably just to void the warranty and 

remove the HDD. If I sent it in to them for repair they would not send me back the old HDD from which I might (or might not) be able to recover any data. Had I bought the computer and did I own my own data or not?

 

On my previous machine (Fujitsu) I upgraded the HDD myself, and I cannot understand why Toshiba is so touchy about their hard disks. (So what are they gonna do with it? Put it in another laptop for another sucker?) I was very reluctant to void the warranty on a new machine but I didn't know how else to save my data.

 

Luckily I had a "technical support group" to contact for assistance.  Yes, I posted my problem to the Tokyo PC User's group online help and got assistance from Jim Tittsler and others. Jim's advice turned out to be the most useful. He suggested making (or acquiring) a Linux rescue  CD-ROM or the Linux bootable business card (www.lnx-bbb.org).  Unfortunately I'm in a remote location (and having unrelated problems on my CD-R/RW) so I couldn't get or make a CD-ROM or the lnx-bbc very  quickly. Jim did give me a clue, however, that got me what I needed. In  his words:

 

"There are a few runnable Linux distributions that will fit entirely on  a floppy or two.  Those that run from a CD-ROM obviously give you much bigger toolsets to work with."

 

I went to Linux.org and searched the "distributions" section for a likely minimal distribution. The most useful looking one was called "Tom's Root & Boot" at:

 http://planetmirror.com/pub/tomsrtbt/start_here.html/

Using this Linux "root and boot" disk I was able to boot the machine with the OS resident in RAM, and mount the HDD as read-only to access the data and send it out elsewhere.

 

Unfortunately the computers in my office were not linked together on a LAN, so I could not send the data out to another computer. I did have ftp space on the Hirosaki University ftp server, but the root & boot floppy I was using had only a minimal set of drivers. There was no ftp daemon with it. I was able to mount floppy disks and send various small files (like family photos from my digital camera) out to a floppy disk.  This was time-consuming, and it only worked with small files. The mail folders I wanted to save were way too big, even for a zip drive.

 

Luckily I found a site written by someone who had a similar problem: 

http://not.toms.net/twiki/bin/view/Tomsrtbt/CopyingSomeDataFromACrashedNTPartitionForDummies/ .

I got an old 100MB  Zip drive that fit onto the printer port, and was able to mount it.  Then I used tar and bzip to compress the mail files and folders and sent them out to the zip drive. I put it on the Linux desktop in my office, uncompressed it to a folder, and made that folder my mail folder in Mozilla. Voila, my huge mail folder was restored.

 

Of course I wouldn't have had so much mail to back up if I hadn't neglected to dump all the spam I was getting. That's another lesson from this mess. Be diligent about deleting spam as soon as it comes in.  It takes up space you can't always afford to lose.

 

And my next big project will be putting my office computers onto a LAN so I can back up directly, without all this hassle.  As soon as I get that slide scanner transferred to my Macintosh G4, that is.

 

The tomsrtbt FAQ is at:

 http://planetmirror.com/pub/tomsrtbt/tomsrtbt.FAQ

 

(Send comments, criticisms, questions and suggestions to the Perfesser  at <philips@gol.com> .

 

John Edward Philips, Ph.D. http://www2.gol.com/users/philips/

John Edward Philips <http://human.cc.hirosaki-u.ac.jp/philips/>

Department of International Society, Hirosaki University, Japan