To make a long story short, I removed Windows XP from my computer on Sunday and installed Ubuntu Linux instead.
What follows in this (again, lengthy) post is a description of the circumstances that led me to do this. Also, hopefully, you will find some tips here on these points —
With that said, first, let me talk about what happened on Saturday night to my computer, that led me to start on this path less travelled —
For a very long time, my laptop (running Windows XP with all updates installed) had been running very sluggishly. At a certain point, it got to a stage where it would take half an hour or more to boot. So, a couple of months back, I moved much of the data off the main hard disk into an external hard drive (from there, the data went off onto a few DVDs). This improved the situation somewhat [refer this post]. Still, usability of the system was nowhere near what you'd expect on a 1.86 GHz computer with 512 MB RAM. Anyway, I got by for some time like this.
Saturday night, we (me, Varun, parents) were leaving to watch I Am Legend, and before that I forcibly turned off my computer (normal shutdown wasn't working properly). When we returned after the movie, and when I turned on my laptop, it refused to boot. I'd get the opening Windows XP logo, and then after a minute or so, I would get a Blue Screen of Death reporting that I had an UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME. This has happened a few times before, and usually, restarting in Safe Mode or whatever used to help. But this time nothing worked.
An Edgy Rescue, and a Cunning Plan
Fortunately, one year ago, I had downloaded Ubuntu Linux 6.10 (Edgy Eft) [refer this post], and I had the Live CD with me. I had only used it one time previously [refer this post] but had a very good experience with it. So I put in the CD again and started the computer. Like I expected, it started up, running the operating system from the CD itself. I was able to use the system and had access to the internet too. I could even connect my external USB hard drive to the computer, and it detected this without a hitch. Now, my cunning plan was this: to somehow access the data from the non-booting hard disk, and transfer it off to my external hard drive. Then I could do whatever I wanted with the hard drive on the laptop — reinstall Windows XP after formatting it, or experiment with using a Linux distribution as my primary OS. This was a task which was left for the next day, though.
Let us say you have a Windows XP installation and the system doesn't boot. There is one thing you can (and probably should) try first, which is described below. I did, but it didn't work though. If, in fact, the part of the hard disk responsible for booting has become corrupted, you can try and fix it using the Microsoft Recovery Console. If the fault is a mechanical one, and there are weird whirring or clicking sounds coming out of the disk, then you've got a far more serious problem on your hands. Anyway, here are some points on using the Microsoft Recovery Console —
Rescue Operations — Recovering Data from a Non-booting Hard Disk
Once I'd decided that extracting my data using Ubuntu was the best way to go, I proceeded to boot the computer again, with the Ubuntu Live CD. The computer started and I had access to the internet. I connected my external hard disk to the USB port and it immediately showed up in Ubuntu. With great anticipation, I opened a Terminal window, and typed mount /dev/hda1 /mnt, to mount my Windows partition, so that I could access it in Linux. I got back an error saying that only the root user could do that. Oh yeah? So next I retorted with sudo mount /dev/hda1 /mnt, and it mounted the partition successfully.
But, there was a problem now. Though I was able to see my Windows folders, I was not able to open any of them, to copy stuff out! I later learned that Ubuntu mounts NTFS partitions (that was what my Windows partition was) in a restricted-permissions mode. A peek at this excellent article told me how to mount the Windows partition in a way that I could copy stuff from it. I've given the steps I followed in sequence here though, for completeness sake (all these commands are issued at a Terminal Window) —
Success! I was able to browse my Windows folders nicely, and with great anticipation, copied one file. Then, I navigated to my external hard disk, and tried pasting it there. Damn! My external hard drive was also formatted as NTFS! So I couldn't paste the data there. I didn't want to follow another complex procedure for mounting this one in read-write mode, so I went out and bought a 1.8 GB USB drive for Rs 750. This was a FAT filesystem, so no problems. I connected this drive and then started copying stuff off my Windows hard disk into it —
You can click the image above to see the full-size screenshot. There were certain files that I couldn't copy, but I managed to get most of the important stuff off the Windows hard disk. It took me almost the whole day to do this, but at the end of it all I'd copied off more than 3 GB of data, which I would have simply lost, were it not for Ubuntu. This was transferred to my external hard disk on Varun's computer.
Now that my data was safe, I decided to take the plunge and install Ubuntu on my computer. Note: Ubuntu had no problems with my hardware when I was running it from the CD, so I was confident that it would work well when installed. If there had been problems running it from CD, then I would not have installed it permanently. Installation is extremely simple. There is an icon on the desktop that says "Install", and all you have to do is double-click that to start the installation process.
It opens up a dialog that asks you for the language to be used during the install (which is Step 1 of 6 — which means that it doesn't take far more than six clicks of the mouse button to install this OS!), then asks you to select your time zone. You then need to provide your administrator password and such, and choose which partition you'll be installing the OS on. Then comes a crucial step, choosing how you want Ubuntu to be installed.
I had a broken Windows install anyway, so I decided to simply wipe the hard disk clean and only install Ubuntu. If I wanted to have a dual boot system, then I'd have had to resize partitions on the hard disk appropriately. But that is a different story. Anyway, once I selected this option, Ubuntu proceeded to format my hard disk with the ext3 filesystem, and then began installing the OS.
In just a little over 20 minutes, the OS was effortlessly installed. Additionally, you must note that I had my USB drive connected during the install, and I was happily taking screenshots (which I've used in this post).
I then got a helpful message which told me that I could still continue using the OS from the Live CD, or I could restart and use the freshly-installed Ubuntu! I picked the latter option, and was surprised to have my computer boot up in under a minute (like I said at the beginning, I was used to 30-minute boot times!). I've been using Ubuntu for a few days now and have had a very good experience. Pretty much everything works right out of the box, and the system automatically downloaded updates. With the Synaptic Package Manager, I later installed some commonly used applications (xmms media player, VLC media player, etc.). All the screenshots you see with this post were processed with The GIMP, and I used gFTP to upload them. Of course there is more exploration to be done, but for now, I am comfortable using this.
Some Concluding Points
I have no hard feelings against Windows — Windows has been practically the only OS I have used till date (started off with 95, then 98, then XP... for a short time at Chennai I even used Vista as they installed that on my office computer). I did briefly have a dual boot system with Windows 98 and Red Hat Linux 6 for a short time though. I find Windows XP to be the best of the Windows OSs I have used. It ran well on my old Pentium II 333 MHz with 192 MB RAM. And on my laptop I used that for more than 2 years, and had it not been for the hard disk error, I don't think I would have changed OSs.
I must consider myself extremely lucky in this situation. I would have lost much more data than I did, had it not been for the fact that I'd moved off lots of data onto DVDs a couple of months ago. Also, I am fortunate that I had the Ubuntu CD when I needed it. I'd downloaded it one year back, and never thought I would be exclusively installing it on the computer one day. Almost seems like the Shyamalan-type coincidence we saw in Signs! It's also good that whatever hardware I had on my laptop was easily recognised under Ubuntu.
Well, that about wraps up this post. The next thing I have to do is upgrade to the latest Ubuntu version. Currently, I have Edgy Eft (6.10), which I need to first upgrade to Feisty Fawn (7.04) and then to the latest Gutsy Gibbon (7.10). This can all be done easily through the Update Manager though. Things have really come a long way since a few years ago, when if you wanted to install Linux you had to resize partitions and all through a text-mode installer (yes, I did that for Red Hat 5 many years ago). I hope this post was educational in some way! Please remember YMMV [Your Mileage May Vary] in such matters. I was lucky that everything worked out the way it did.
Dark Fate 2 is a singleplayer level for Doom II, replacing MAP01. It's a small-sized hellish level — and there's a walkthrough video as well.
27-year old Taurean (birthday 15-May-82), Assistant Manager - HR at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd in Hyderabad, India. Previously, did Post Graduate Diploma in Management from T A Pai Management Institute (2003-05) and before that, Computer Science Engineering from Sree Nidhi Institute of Science and Technology (1999-2003).
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