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Using Ubuntu Linux to Rescue Windows

Getting Ubuntu, Finding Your Windows Files

  • March 22, 2010
  • By Eric Geier

Did Windows crash beyond repair? If so, you probably want to get your files off of the drive before you erase everything and reinstall Windows. This tutorial will help you do exactly that.

We're going to use Ubuntu's LiveCD mode. Ubuntu is a popular Linux distribution that's a free and open source alternative to Windows. The LiveCD mode lets you boot into and use the operating system (OS) without installing anything on the computer. You should be able to view your files and copy them to another drive, backup to discs, or transfer via a� network. Now let's get started!

Download and burn the Ubuntu CD

Most Linux distributions aren't on the shelves of your local stores. You have to make your own CD unless you want to order them online. If burning CDs isn't your thing, consider using a USB flash drive. If you're trying to rescue files from a dead computer, you'll obviously need to use a different PC that works. If your computers aren't up, you might try a friend or neighbor.

The first step is to download the Ubuntu CD image. Then you need to write or burn the ISO file to a CD, or even a DVD if supported. You don't just copy the file to the disc like you would with other files in a data CD. You must use a feature that burns the image directly to the CD so it's bootable. In Windows Vista and earlier, you can use a free application like ImgBurn. Windows 7 includes native image burning; just double-click the ISO file. If you're using Linux, your desktop may have native image burning. When using a Linux distribution that uses GNOME, like Ubuntu, you just have to right-click the image file.

Getting ready for the rescue

If Windows crashed and the hard drive you want to get the files from is still in the PC, you can perform the rescue from that computer. However if you want to access a hard drive that's already removed, you must first put it back into the computer you want to use for the rescue. Since the LiveCD won't change your system, you can pretty much do it on any computer.

Once you have the CD ready-to-go and a machine to use, insert the CD and restart the computer. It should automatically bring up the Ubuntu boot menu, first prompting you for your desired language. If it doesn't show, verify the BIOS is set to allow booting from CDs.

On the Ubuntu boot menu, select Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer. Remember, everything is loaded from the CD; give it some time to boot up.

Once Ubuntu has booted, you should first make sure you can access the drive where the files are located. Click Places on the top menu and select Computer. This is like My Computer or Computer in Windows. You should see an icon for each drive (and their partitions, if multiple exist). Double-click the desired drive to open it up.

If Windows didn't shut down correctly the last time, you might get an error like "Cannot Mount Volume: Unable to mount the volume" when you try to open the drive. If this is the case, you can force it to mount the drive. First, make a note of the drive path (such as /dev/sda1) given in the details of the error message; you'll need this later. When you're ready, follow these steps to manually mount the drive:

  1. We're going to use command-lines, so open Terminal: click Applications > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. To switch to root or administrator mode enter: sudo su
  3. Create a directory to mount the drive: mkdir /media/disk
  4. Finally, mount the drive with this command, while replacing /dev/sda1 with the correct path you noted from the error message: mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /media/disk -o force
    If the drive is using the FAT32 file system instead of NTFS, you can use the following command instead: mount -t vfat -o umask=000 /dev/sda1 /media/disk
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