July 16, 2006
So, you want to try out a new operating system. Good for you! But, before you pop in that CD or DVD, there are a couple of things you need to know. Some of these may sound like an unnecessary pain. Trust me.
There may be some people out there who've installed more different kinds of operating systems on most computers than yours truly, but I haven't met them.
First, back up your data. OK, everyone tells you that. Let me take it one step further: Make certain you can restore your data.
While it's not as big a problem as it used to be for PCs, when backups usually meant tape rather than CDs or DVDs, it's still a heck of a mess when you try to restore your system and you find that your backup disk contains unreadable garbage.
If you're making a big change, say Windows to Linux, and you think you may want to go back again, you should move up from a simple backup program to a system restore program.
These programs essentially take a photograph, an image, of your hard drive. With them, you can restore your entire system even if the new operating system doesn't leave a trace of your old system. For Windows users, the programs I recommend are Acronis True Image 9.0 Home and Norton Ghost 10. For Linux, I like Ghost for Linux.
The Linux option isn't as easy to use as the Windows-based tools, but Sanjay Majumder has written a handy guide to using Ghost for Linux. With it at hand, you shouldn't have any problem mirroring your system.
I spent the better part of a Saturday helping a friend recover data from a crashed/corrupted Windows XP hard drive. He actually backs up his data on a regular basis, but this time, he'd neglected the task for about a month. No biggie, of course, since we were able to recover the data, which is a story that I plan to tell soon, as it proved quite instructive to me. Short version: I used a Knoppix Livd-CD to recover the data because every Windows based OS failed to recognize the drive.
I know that I belabor the benefits of Linux around here, but I don't actually care which operating system you use. What I do care about, and beat my students over the head about, is backing up your frigging data. DVD burners cost less than $50-if you look hard enough- and external 160 Gb USB 2.0 hard drives can be had for around $105. You have no excuse for not backing up your data.
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