Knoppix Hacks: Use Knoppix to rescue Windows

In Knoppix Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, author Kyle Rankin explains how the Knoppix CD can be used as an indispensable, multi-purpose tool for administrators. One of the many things Knoppix can accomplish is

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rescuing Windows. In this e-mail exchange, Rankin provides instructions for using Knoppix in place of the Windows Recovery CD.

What are some instances where the Knoppix CD could be used to rescue a Windows machine?

Rankin: I've found that Knoppix has almost all of the functionality of the Windows Recovery CD in terms of system repair, plus a lot more. You can scan a system for viruses, back up files from any directory on the system to removable storage like a USB drive, and can even reset the Administrator password and edit the registry all within Knoppix.

Why not use the Windows Recovery CD?

Rankin: Most people that I've run into who use the Windows Recovery CD have been frustrated with how limited the functionality is. For instance, you can't copy a file to a floppy. You can't edit text files. You can't even browse outside of the %SYSTEMROOT% directory and root folder (for most system this is C:\ and C:\Windows), which means you can't recover your documents and settings from it. When you are trying to recover a system, one of the last things you want is for the recovery tool to get in your way, and that is what the Windows Recovery CD does, once you try to use it past its boundaries.

Why, in your opinion, has Microsoft taken away many of the settings off their recovery CD?

Rankin: I can only assume that they removed the functionality for security reasons. It can't be for space concerns -- edit isn't that large, and neither is adding the ability to copy to a floppy. It's also possible that they simply decided that the features they allowed were the only features they wanted people to have from the rescue CD.

Hack #72 from your book talks about how to back up files and settings. Would you describe a scenario where Windows might be unable to boot?

Rankin: There are any number of scenarios that might cause a Windows system to be unable to boot, such as important system files that are corrupted, a broken boot loader, physical hard drive errors, and of course viruses. I actually introduced Knoppix to a friend of mine because her daughter accidentally loaded a virus onto her system that prevented it from booting. I was able to describe the few steps to recover the data to her and she went home with a Knoppix CD and a USB drive and was able to drag and drop all of her important data (irreplaceable pictures and tax records) onto the USB drive.

What are the steps to using Knoppix to back up your Windows files when Windows won't boot?

Rankin: The first step is to boot Knoppix. One of the best ways to recover the data is to plug in a USB drive of some sort.

  • When the desktop loads, you will see at least two hard drive icons on the desktop (one for your hard drive and one for the USB drive).
  • Click on the hard drive icons to open them up and figure out which drive is which.
  • Right-click the USB drive icon and choose "Actions > Change read/write mode" so you can write to the drive (it's read-only by default for security reasons).
  • Now find the files you want to back up and drag and drop them to the USB drive. When you are finished, shut down the system and remove the USB drive.
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Expert Mark Hinkle discusses the Knoppix Live CD in his advice for helping users switch from Windows to Linux desktops

Is it necessary to go online to complete the Knoppix installation when you do this, or does Knoppix really just run right off the CD?

Rankin: Knoppix really does run directly from the CD with no installation necessary. If you like Knoppix and want to use it permanently, you can install it to disk -- but it's completely optional. Now, if you do install it, you will want to get Internet connectivity just so you can get software updates, but for the most part you don't have to have Internet access to boot and use Knoppix.

If someone tries out Knoppix as a recovery tool and really likes it, would you recommend installing it onto a hard drive as the primary operating system... or using another Linux distro?

Rankin: While many people have installed Knoppix in this way, nowadays there are a number of other Debian-based installs that I think are easier and work better in the long run including the Kanotix install (another live CD) and Ubuntu.

Kyle is a system administrator for The Green Sheet, Inc., the current president of the North Bay Linux Users Group, and the author of Knoppix Hacks. Kyle has been using Linux in one form or another since early 1998. In his free time he does pretty much the same thing he does at work -- works with Linux.

This was first published in July 2005

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