Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to recover files when Windows will not boot.

Yesterday, some friends called me with a problem. They had an old laptop that would not boot. It would power up but they couldn't get into Windows. Now the big problem was that they had a lot of pictures of their grandchildren on the laptop and no backups. I asked them to drop it off at my office and I would see what I could do.

Once I had the laptop, I tried to get it to boot. It started to go into Windows but would then throw up a blue screen. I tried rebooting in safe mode but still no luck. The laptop was one that their daughter bought used. They were going to replace the computer and all that mattered was getting the pictures off.

What I did was download a copy of Mint Linux. Most Linux distributions boot into what is called a live CD so just about any of them will work. I selected Mint because it has gotten a lot of good reviews and I wanted to try it out. It worked really well and automatically mounted the Windows hard drive and USB drives. I have to say that it may have been over kill for this task, but I was impressed by how easy it was to use.

Once I downloaded the ISO file, I burned it to a CD and then put that CD into the laptop and booted it.  Once booted, I had a really easy to use desktop.

 I then clicked the icon called Computer.

 Then I clicked on the hard drive.

Once I found the files they wanted, I just copied them to a flash drive. If you have network access you could email them, upload them to Dropbox, or copied them to a shared folder on the network.

When I was done, I burned an extra copy of the files to a CD and returned the laptop, the CD, and the flash drive to my friends. I did take the time to show them how to boot into the Linux live disk to get any other files off that they might need.

Over all I was really impressed by Mint. In the short time I worked with it Mint was super easy to use and did the job as needed. I am going to have to download a full ISO and play with it some more, but it looks like a really good replacement for Windows for some people.

For the less technical folks, here is some additional information you may find helpful.

What is an ISO file?
An ISO file is an image of a CD or DVD. You can recreate an exact copy of a DVD or CD from an IS0 file. You can tell and ISO file because it will end in ".iso".

How do I make a CD or DVD from an ISO file?
Well on the Mac or Linux it is tends to be pretty simple as both systems have the ability built in. Lifehacker has a step by step guide for the Mac here. On Linux it will depend on the distro you are using, but if you Google it, you will find the instructions. For Windows XP or Vista, you will need to get a program. My favorite is called ISO Recorder and you can find it at the link provided. It is free and I find it very easy to use. You just put a CD or DVD into your burner and right click on the the ISO file and select the write to disk option. ISO recorder does not seem to handle DVDs under Windows XP but most live Linux disks are available as a CD. Not to mention that it takes a lot less time to download a CD than a DVD. Windows 7 can write an ISO to a disk with no added software by following these instructions.
You must have a drive that can make CDs or DVDs but those are pretty much standard on most computers.

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