Tag Archives: Linux

Recover a disappeared Windows partition

A client recently complained that his Windows XP computer had run slowly for weeks and now Windows wouldn’t start. Following power on, the Windows XP splash screen appeared for a few seconds, followed by a system reset. This sequence would repeat in an endless loop.

A low-level check of the disk revealed no bad sectors and Memtest86 revealed no bad cells. I used an Ubuntu (a Linux distro) boot CD-ROM; Ubuntu couldn’t see any partitions on the hard drive(!). This is not good news. I booted from a BartPE1 CD-ROM. It couldn’t see any partitions on the hard drive either. I booted from a Windows XP setup CD with a view to doing a repair install, but it could not see a Windows partition or system on the hard drive. Uh-oh.

BartPE screenshotThe cure for this sick pup? Boot from a BartPE CD-ROM, go to the command prompt, and enter the command CHKDSK C: /F. On this disk, chkdsk needed nine hours(!) to repair the NTFS partition and its table. At the 19% point during phase 1, the screen didn’t update for more than an hour. Several times, the PC seemed to have frozen. I was tempted to shutdown BartPE, but the PC’s drive activity light indicated that something was accessing the hard drive, so I allowed it to continue.

After nine hours, chkdsk reported that it had finished repairing the disk and exited to the DOS prompt. I rebooted the PC. Sure enough, Windows started and ran. A quick look revealed tbat the 160 GB disk had 0 (zero!) bytes free. This sick puppy needed more attention, but at least its data could now be salvaged.

I don’t need BartPE often, but when I need to access an NTFS partition and run a Windows or DOS command on a machine that can’t boot Windows, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

  1. BartPE (Bart’s Preinstalled Environment) is a lightweight variant of the 32-bit version of Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, similar to Windows Preinstallation Environment, which can be run from a Live CD or Live USB drive. – from Wikipedia

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695


Matriarch of system administration is missing at sea

Evi Nemeth, who authored text books on Unix system administration, is missing while sailing in the Tasman Sea (infamous for treacherous winter storms) from New Zealand to Australia. Born in 1940, since 1980 she taught computer science and networking at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since retiring in 2001, she’s sailed her 40-foot boat everywhere. In New Zealand, she hopped aboard a friend’s old 70-foot wooden sailboat with six other people. The condition of the boat is controversial: Lost yacht Nina an unsafe ‘lead mine’. The boat and all aboard her has been missing since June 4, when they radioed that they’d run into severe weather.

Evi NemethEvi’s UNIX System Administration Handbook was published in 1989. I found it an easy to understand useful reference. She later wrote a Linux administration handbook. I like the fact that she seems to have lived by her own rules, in a cabin heated by a wood-burning stove outside Boulder. It was destroyed this year in a forest fire, but she planned to rebuild. I hope that she’s found soon.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

International Space Station switches from Windows to Linux.

ISS TORU docking system
TORU docking system aboard ISS used to manually dock Progress freighters to ISS

This paragraph opened a recent story on ExtremeTech.com:

The United Space Alliance, which manages the computers aboard the International Space Station in association with NASA, has announced that the Windows XP computers aboard the ISS have been switched to Linux. “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable.”

Apparently computers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) already run various distributions of Linux. I’m not surprised: once installed, Linux is more stable than Windows and techies enjoy having its source code freely available so that they can modify it to suit the mission. Its biggest problem, in my opinion, is its hundreds of dialects.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

China commits to a localized Ubuntu

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has signed an agreement with Canonical to develop a version of Canonical’s Ubuntu desktop operating system for use throughout China.

imageThe new operating system will be named Ubuntu Kylin. Today more than 90 percent of China’s desktops are estimated to be running Microsoft Windows.

Canonical stated,

Ubuntu Kylin goes beyond language localisation and includes features and applications that cater for the Chinese market. In the 13.04 release, Chinese input methods and Chinese calendars are supported, there is a new weather indicator, and users can quickly search across the most popular Chinese music services from the Dash. Future releases will include integration with Baidu maps and leading shopping service Taobao, payment processing for Chinese banks, and real-time train and flight information. The Ubuntu Kylin team is cooperating with WPS, the most popular office suite in China, and is creating photo editing and system management tools which could be incorporated into other flavours of Ubuntu worldwide. . . Future work will extend beyond the desktop to other platforms.

Development of Ubuntu Kylin will be done at a facility in Beijing by programmers from the China Software and Integrated Chip Promotions Center (CSIP), the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), and Canonical. They’ve named the facility the CCN Open Source Innovation Joint Lab.

Will this open-source effort stop Microsoft in its tracks in China?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Linux helps rescue a damaged Windows disk

When all seemed to be lost for a Windows PC, Linux saved the day.

drawing by Russ Bellew
Contents of client’s disk

I was given a client’s Windows XP Pro PC with a hard drive with 50,000 hours of power-on time. This machine is mission-critical: it functions as both a server and a client for a 2-user version of Quickbooks and runs a proprietary point-of-sale system. The client had almost run out of storage space on the drive’s System partition. It was overdue for replacement.

There are 3 disks in this saga:

  1. The original disk
  2. The second (larger) disk, to which I hoped to copy the programs and data from disk 1
  3. A third disk, which I found was necessary


There are a number of programs that make the cloning process easy: Drive Image, Norton Ghost, and Acronis True Image. Each boots from the CD-drive. I used Acronis True Image. All went smoothly until I tried to boot from the new drive: it wouldn’t boot. No error message. Nothing. I repeated the cloning process, with the same result. I replaced the original disk and booted from it. The BIOS reported “An operating system can not be found”. Uh-oh. I had a computer that wouldn’t boot from either disk 1 or disk 2.

Has system hardware failed?

At this point, I began looking for hardware problems. Flaky memory can cause boot problems. I removed the four memory sticks, cleaned their contacts, and tried again. No joy. It was late Saturday night so I booted the DOS Ultimate Boot CD and ran memTest86 overnight.

By Sunday afternoon memTest86 had looped through all memory 6 times and found only one bad memory cell during just one of its 6 passes. I chalked this up to a random cosmic ray hit. The problem wasn’t memory.

Partition Magic won’t load partitions

I wasn’t sure what my next step would be, but I guessed that I’d need the surface of another disk to work with, so I bought another (250 GB) disk and installed Windows XP Pro on it, followed by Partition Magic, and hung both damaged disks on the same machine. Partition Magic reported that the original disk had no partitions on it. Partition Magic wouldn’t load when the second disk was installed, complaining that the disk’s System partition was too damaged. Yikes!

Linux (Ubuntu 10.04) to the rescue

I booted from a Linux (Ubuntu 10.04) Live CD and examined the disk with Ubuntu’s gnome disk utility. To my relief, it allowed me to mount the damaged partition. I rebooted Ubuntu with disk 3 and learned that while Partition Magic wouldn’t always mount partitions that had been created by gnome’s gparted (gnome partition editor), gparted and gnome disk utility would always mount partitions that were created by Partition Magic.

Partition Magic and Ubuntu’s disk tools co-operate

I used Partition Magic to create a new primary (bootable) NTFS partition on disk 3, installed both disks 2 and 3, booted from Ubuntu Live CD, and mounted the damaged System partition on disk 2. Then I used gnome’s disk utility to copy the entire contents of disk 2’s damaged System partition to the new NTFS partition on disk 3. I performed a similar operation for disk 2’s Data partition.

Then I just needed to boot from disk 3 (using the copy of Windows that I’d just installed on its first partition), run Partition Magic, move the partitions around and rename them so that it would boot from the System partition into which I’d just copied all those files. Crossed my fingers, restarted, and . . . it worked!

What had happened to disk 1?

Both Windows’ Partition Magic and Ubuntu’s gparted reported that it had no partitions on it(!) — that it was all “unallocated”. It appears that the sectors where its partition table and MBR (master boot record) are located failed during the cloning process. Cloning a disk works it pretty hard, reading every sector from sector 0 to its last sector.

Summary of our 3 disks after this saga:

  1. The original disk is scrap.
  2. The second disk will be used to provide an image backup
  3. Installed and working in client’s computer.

All that remains is to create an image backup from disk 3 to disk 2, and everyone can sleep peacefully.

All’s well that ends well.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Mint.com helps manage personal finances in the cloud.

Count your coins with mint.com.


Aaron Patzer worried about his personal finances, and wanted to be sure that he received maximum return on his resources. He tried Intuit’s Quicken and Microsoft Money, but discovered that neither could dynamically track interest rates or move funds so that he’d receive the highest returns.

Since he couldn’t find anything to manage his finances the way that he wanted, he decided to create a web-based application that could. He wrote it in Java, used the open source MySQL database, and called it www.mint.com. He obtained venture capital, rolled it out in 2007, and sold it to Intuit late last year. It’s supported by advertising and is available for free.

Mint.com allows you to see graphs of your spending, income, balances, and net worth. Track your checking, savings, credit cards, PayPal, investments, retirement accounts . . . ANY personal account. Graphically compare your spending historically or geographically. (“How does my water/trash bill compare with other households in my city?”)

It appears that Mint.com has focused on on-line security.

I don’t bank on-line (call me paranoid), so I can’t vouch for the utility or security of mint.com. Here’s a good review. If I were to bank on-line, I’d use a dedicated Linux machine to do so. One method of doing this is to create a Ubuntu Live CD, and, when I wanted to use my regular PC to bank on-line, I’d shut down Windows, boot from the Ubuntu Live CD, and use Ubuntu’s Firefox web browser to log on to my bank’s site.



Resurrect old hardware with Linux

Dell Inspiron 3500
Xubuntu desktop
Say goodbye to virus, malware, and license problems.

A customer came to me with a low-mileage 1999 vintage laptop which she wished to use for occasional web browsing. (specs: Dell Inspiron 3500. 333 MHz CPU, 64 MB Ram, 4.7 GB disk. Every spec was about one-tenth of today’s PCs!). It was running Windows 98 Second Edition. Microsoft stopped providing Windows 98 updates years ago, and Windows 98 is now very vulnerable to attack. Worse, today’s anti-virus and anti-spyware programs won’t run on it. Shouldn’t she just scrap the laptop?

A very limited resource laptop, but Xubuntu runs fine

Since the laptop was in like-new condition, we decided to extend its life by injecting some 21st century blood into it. We topped up its memory slots with the maximum RAM (a mere 256 MB!) and replaced Windows 98 with Xubuntu 8.10. It’s not Microsoft Windows, but to a user it appears similar, and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics / photo editor, and Mozilla Firefox web browser. I’ve not been able to get its onboard soundcard to work, but everything else works.

There are three big upsides to any Linux-based desktop operating system when compared to MS Windows:
  • It frees the user from constantly worrying about Windows Updates to patch vulnerabilties
  • No anti-virus or anti-spyware programs are needed (Yay! )
  • There are no Windows licensing headaches.
A potential downside is that Windows applications won’t run on Linux without the assistance of either Wine or running a copy of Windows XP within a virtual machine.
If you have a tired desktop or laptop PC — especially one without a legitimate Windows license — consider breathing new life into it with some form of Linux. Most are available for free, such as http://www.xubuntu.org/ I tried Damn Small Linux (too minimal for this case), Puppy Linux (it was okay, but just barely), and Xubuntu 8.04, 8.10, and 9.04. Xubuntu 9.04 added some features but did something to slow response to user inputs. I settled on Xubuntu 8.10. (Xubuntu imposes a lighter load on the hardware than Ubuntu because it has a leaner desktop.)

Try it before you install it

You can first just boot with the Xubuntu (or Ubuntu) Live CD, to see whether it’s acceptable and runs okay on your hardware. (Of course it’ll be slow when booting off the CD-ROM drive.) If so, you can install it on your hard drive from the same CD-ROM.

Oh — one caveat: Xubuntu and its siblings may not install without problems on all hardware. I’m now fighting to get it to install on a 1.1 GHz AMD Athlon desktop PC — I have no idea why it won’t install on this system, yet it installed with almost no problems on the old laptop. Let me know of your Linux adventures, please.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

I love my TomTom GPS. Microsoft doesn’t.

Tom Tom built their GPS devices on the open source GNU/Linux platform, not Microsoft’s proprietary platform.



I’m very happy with my TomTom One 125 car GPS. It’s the best $100 I’ve spent in a long time. (It was on sale at Sears on the Friday after Thanksgiving day. You can find them for that price or less now.) It’s a fantastic product, offering incredible bang for the buck. One reason is that neither TomTom nor its users pay what’s called “the Microsoft tax”; TomTom’s software is built upon the GNU/Linux operating system — not Microsoft’s Windows CE (or whatever they call it this week).

One result of not paying the Microsoft tax is that Tom Tom was able to invest money in a beautiful and functional piece of industrial design and manufacture it to a high standard. So, users benefit.

The empire strikes back

Microsoft is miffed at losing this revenue. It recently filed a lawsuit against TomTom (a Dutch company), claiming that TomTom’s software infringes on eight Microsoft patents, apparently revolving around the FAT (File Allocation Table) and FAT32 file systems. Pundits claim that this lawsuit is aimed at the heart of GNU/Linux: the entire concept of open-source software. Apparently Microsoft chose TomTom — located in Holland — as a target because US legal precedents don’t favor Microsoft’s argument.

Other mainstream consumer devices that sell by the millions (for example, Tivo) have shunned Microsoft in favor of Linux. This lawsuit is equivalent to The Empire striking back at those rogue manufacturers who’ve refused to fall into line and pay “the Microsoft tax”. The outcome of this case will affect how much we’ll pay for cellphones, GPS units . . . and most other devices that are software-driven.

Visit my website: russbellew.com