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There are plenty of reasons the average Windows user may want to create a Linux live CD or USB stick before it’s too late. A USB-based distribution will be speedier (you’ll need Unetbootin) or you can simply burn a CD/DVD with something like ImgBurn.
If you’ve not got one yet and are interested in the potential benefits then read on.
For the purpose of this article I’m going to keep it simple and stick to the most widely used Linux home desktop distribution – Ubuntu. This version of Linux includes a live CD from which you can use or install the operating system, as well as plenty of software to start you off. If your interested, you can learn a bit more about Linux from the MUO ultimate guide to Linux.
There are hundreds of free Linux distributions available, so it can be quite tricky choosing the right one. Ubuntu is a simple, easy to use distribution with a straight-forward interface making it perfect for newcomers. Driver support is also excellent, and driver issues are the last thing you need when you’re trying to fix existing problems.
Scenario 1 – Windows Won’t Boot
Whilst you can often resolve issues with Windows via a Windows CD/DVD, not everyone has one. Luckily enough, you can also have a go at fixing your Windows partition with Linux. You’ll need a few tools, notably lilo and ntfs-3g which are readily available in the repositories if you’re using Ubuntu.
You can then have a crack at repairing a corrupted NTFS file system and fixing the Windows master boot record. You can find full instructions on how to do this here.
Scenario 2 – Windows Is Dead
So you’ve tried fixing what you can and nothing seems to have helped – looks like you need to re-install Windows. But oh no! You’ve (foolishly) left some vital documents on your Windows partition and you’re not formatting till you’ve got them back. Step in Linux!
Even if your Windows installation is butchered beyond repair, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to both access and backup any data you had on that partition with a live CD. Many distributions will detect your Windows filesystem, allowing you to mount the drive and recover your data via a nice friendly GUI.
We’ve covered mounting and accessing a Windows partition through Linux here.
Scenario 3 – Isolating Hardware Issues
Another handy use for a live CD is the ability to check whether or not your PC is suffering from a hardware or software fault. If Windows won’t play ball, and Linux loads fine then chances are you’re looking at a software fault (at which point you could try and fix and recover).
Of course if Linux doesn’t work either then you may have identified a hardware issue. Some live distributions come with diagnostics tools on the disc, such as Ubuntu’s inclusion of Memtest86+. Even if you can’t isolate the exact piece of hardware giving you grief, your live CD has saved you some time so you can take the next necessary steps.
Scenario 4 – I Badly Need The Web!
So you’ve accepted that Windows is dead and gone, got your data back but now you’ve realised your boss has been waiting for an email for 2 hours, and you’ve got no functioning OS on your PC. Insert your live CD, connect to a network and use your live CD’s built-in web browser to send that email – tragedy averted.
Wireless internet might be an issue for some users as additional drivers are often required. If you find yourself in this boat then a direct connection via Ethernet should provide network and internet access.
Scenario 5 – My C:\ Drive is Full of Fail
If you’ve got a nasty case of malware poisoning and the idea of booting Windows only to watch it eat all your data doesn’t appeal, Linux might help you out.
Linux is a very secure operating system, with some distributions being more secure than others. Generally speaking viruses do not affect Linux, so most Linux antivirus applications are designed to stop the spread of malware between Windows machines.
It’s no lie that most malware and viruses are geared towards the Windows operating system, and being able to scan your Windows drive within Linux is very useful. Justin has written an article regarding the validity of a Linux antivirus and the best tools for the job.
When it comes to PC security, maintenance and recovery it really does pay to be one step ahead of the game. If you’ve got a spare USB stick you’re willing to sacrifice (2GB or more) then you’ll find loading speeds and boot-up time to be faster than a CD counterpart.
You won’t know how useful that live CD can be until you really need it!
Have you got a spare live CD in the drawer? Do you use a USB stick? Which distribution? Has it ever saved your bacon? Let us know in the comments below.