Between systems

by Niel M. Bornstein

Somehow or other my PC has gotten itself into a state.

It's a three year-old Dell with Windows XP, and besides the time the CPU fan died I've had little trouble with it.

But the other day the spamware got me.

I try to run Adaware and Norton Antivirus on a regular basis, but something particularly pernicious has snuck in there and caused havoc. Now I can't even log in without being assailed by casino ads, and winlogon.exe crashes on a regular basis.

Given that it has been nearly three years, I've decided it's time to reformat the disk and start over.

But I have two major hurdles to overcome and two logistical decisions to make first.

First, backing up my data. This includes all the photos I've taken in the last year and a half with my digital camera, as well as various book-related and personal documents. This shouldn't be too difficult, if I can get around the winlogon crash. I expect some judicious use of safe mode may be the answer.

Second, I've got to find the Windows XP install disks that I'm sure came with this machine. They wouldn't send out a computer without separate media to reinstall from, right?

Then I need to decide how to partition the disk. This time I'm going to install Linux as well as Windows, and I need to decide how much space to allocate to each OS. It's a 40 gig disk, and the simple answer is 20 gigs for each OS, but I need to think about it some more before making that decision.

Finally, I need to decide which Linux distro to install. Certain parties are pointing me toward Ubuntu, and I'm leaning towards heeding those calls.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to time. When am I going to get around to doing this? It'll certainly have to be before the week of October 25, when I'll be heading out for my presentation at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference; since I'll be taking the iBook with me, I can't leave my wife without any computer technology whatsoever.

Have any advice on setting up a dual-boot system while juggling the competing demands of a day job, writing, and family life?


2004-10-05 05:55:08
Try 3 Partitions If You Are Going To Share Data
If you are going to want to share data between the 2 OS's, you might consider 3 partitions, 1 for each OS and the 3rd for just shared data. Maybe 15GB for the OS's and 10 for the shared. Format the shared partition as a FAT 32 filesystem and both the linux and windows partitions will be able to read and write to it without problems.
2004-10-05 06:20:00
Forget Safe Mode... Use Knoppix
Obviously, since you are posting, you have access to another computer. Take that opportunity to download one of the latest versions of the Knoppix bootable linux distro.

Pop it in and you should have your Windows hard drive mounted in Read Only mode... no crashes and no pop ups. You should now be able to peruse your data and copy the data off to zip disk or a jump/flash/usb drive if you have one.

If you have both a CD-ROM and a separate CD-burner you can boot with the disc in the CD-ROM and then use your Burner to make backups of your data using the excellent K3B package (copy the data to the desktop first).

If you don't have two drives, but you have a LOT of memory... one of the Knoppix boot cheat codes lets you copy the entire system to RAM and then free up the CD-burner tray for making backups or playing movies/music.

If you now a little about samba and have a Windows share somewhere else on your network, you can use the console smbclient utility to move your data (the syntax is kind of like the old text FTP days).

If you have a server that accepts ssh, sftp can get your data off in a jiffy. has a bunch of advice how to do this and plenty of articles exist on the net. Don't hassle with trying to bring up windows and avoid the crashes, just bypass windows all together.

Knoppix is one of the best tools you can have in your Windows support bag of tricks... it even has a virus scanner that you can update in memory and scan really hosed Windows boxes.

2004-10-05 10:00:38
Spam... way more than just an annoyance
Just another example of how spam has become far more than just an annoyance. I know there are metrics estimating how many "person hours" are lost to it, but it's stories like yours--all the time you're going to have to waste fixing your system (albeit making some changes you wanted to make, too)--that stick in my head and make me think, "This has just gotten way out of hand now." I'm sure many other IT people have similar stories of the day the spammers really got to them... Ugh.
2004-10-05 10:37:15
I'm leaving Windows as the primary OS
Due to recent horrific experiences with XP SP2 and my 3+ year old Compaq Pentium 4, I am in the same boat as you. SP2 totally hosed this system, and even after backing it out, things just are in a bad state. Office apps don't work, IE won't open, and finding things in Explorer causes Explorer to die.

I've never had this kind of problem with a service pack before, and frankly I'm not trusting that if I wipe this system and start over, I won't have the same exact problem.

My plan is that I'm going to install a Linux distro. Maybe Ubuntu, maybe Fedora Core. Then I'm going to install VMware 4.5 and install Windows inside that, with the few Windows productivity apps I can't replicate in Linux - Quicken being the prime example.

The transition issue is going to be similar to yours, I suspect - my wife is going to have to learn the Linux desktop.

2004-10-06 09:24:00
Try 3 Partitions If You Are Going To Share Data
Thanks for the suggestion. I had heard that somewhere else as well, and I think it makes a lot of sense.
2004-10-06 09:28:50
Forget Safe Mode... Use Knoppix
That's a great tip. As it happens, I had a Knoppix CD that I burned a couple of months ago, and I popped it in last night.

Following Kyle Rankin's tips, I was able to get f-prot running and scanned the disk. I'm not sure what to do with the results of the scan yet, but it's certainly nice to have the machine working so I can recover data with the CD-burning tools that come with Knoppix.

2004-10-06 10:48:03
Are you photos JPEG? I haven't been keeping up with the GDI/JPEG viruses since I use Macs at home, but is it possible that your photo library could be contaminated?