Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Helper

Recently I was working on a computer that had Windows XP on it and had a problem with a critical system file. The system wouldn't let me login to fix the problem, and I didn't have an XP CD handy to go into Repair mode and copy over the file I needed. Luckily, I've started carrying PendriveLinux on my USB drive lately, and it was a life saver!

Mind you, I'm not an expert in customizing this little tool, and that would have made it much easier to perform this operation, but with that little stick and a couple of web searches, here's what I was able to do.

Setting the BIOS to boot from USB, I inserted the stick and booted the default option. After a minute or two, the PC was booting into Linux and figuring itself out. Shortly, I had a GUI and access to the Internet (through the cable modem/router combo the user had set up). From there, I had to update the stick and install NTFS support (unfortunately not a default -- yet), mount the drive and copy over a backup of the SOFTWARE hive in the Windows system files.

The nasty details: In order to get at the NTFS partition, I had to load up the ntfs-3g drivers from a version of the stick called "Lenny" (Debian based Linux distribution). I had to edit the apt sources.list file and replace "etch" with "lenny", then apt-get update the works (which only took a moment). apt-get install ntfs-3g and I was done setting up.

Granted, this isn't amateur stuff -- but for semi-support people or even the pros, it could be a useful tool to carry. The only other ways to access an NTFS partition (that I'm aware of) are to use a DOS NTFS driver (which is a bit of a pain to try fit onto a single floppy, although USB drive booting is becoming a more common option) or something like the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows (which may be just slightly shady in terms of it's legality).

Apparently, Microsoft bought out Winternals, the company that made the only viable NTFS DOS driver available, and they buried it, so that's not much of an option. The questionable legality of the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows comes into play because Windows XP is only licensed for the one computer you install it on -- it's not made to be portable. Use at your own risk!

So, just to make the lives of ordinary people out there that want to be able to rescue their relatives files, or need to fix their own NTFS without a Windows XP CD handy, I'd like to put out a public request: can anyone update the Pendrivelinux USB image to include NTFS read/write support? Please?

1 comment:

me said...

Just FYI, ntfs-3g is already installed on the most recent releases of MEPIS and KNOPPIX, and possibly several other bootable linux distros (surely ubuntu gutsy gibbon?). Both of those mentioned can be installed on USB flash drives, though it takes a bit of extra work as there are not USB-ready images available of some.