You'll probably HATE me but this is one area where I actually use a specially created WINDOWS CD which contains a few programs. This version of Windows runs totally from the CD and can run even if you have a Totally hosed up hard disk. It's based on the Microsoft Pre-installation environment Winpe which is used by Corporates for maintaining loads of computers and doesn't even need a hard disk at all to function although you obviously will need to be able to reformat / re-create partitions to recover your system .
To build the cd go to -- http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder
On this CD ( 220 MB) I have the following programs
1) " bootable Skeletal Windows"
2) File Browser -- this can also read / write NTFS files as well.
3) Internet Browser (Firefox Mozilla)
4) Partition Magic
5) Drive Image 20002
6) CD/DVD burning (Ahead Nero)
7) Network support
8) Adobe PDF reader -- in case I need to look at documentation whilst repairing a system.
9) Driver to load if all hard disks are on an external card (SCSI / ATA etc) and none on IDE on mother board.
10) Winzip (if I need to get stuff from the Net while recovering)
11) WS_FTP -- an FTP program like KBEAR --very useful
This system also has USB and firewire support so you can recover using external USB disks as well.
Note that ALL these programs will run TOTALLY FROM THE CD!! so you can experiment with this without having to install anything on your computer. You don't need a hard disk at all to try these out. !!!
Hope this helps -- I'll probably make an ISO available from my site if people are interested.
-- end of addition.---
I always backup my Linux partitions at least 2X a week using DRIVEIMAGE 2002. Forget the modern Bloatware version DRIVEIMAGE 7 or Norton GHOST. A typical 10 GB Linux system can be backed up in around 10- 15 mins to an external hard drive. I burn later to DVD but you can burn directly to DVD -- takes longer of course.
So to recover this is what I'd do.
Boot my special Windows PE CD.
Reformat partitions if necessary
Restore my last backed up Linux partition(s) using DRIVEIMAGE 2002
Now boot your distro install CD and select the repair option --
What you'll need from the repair function is to be able to change FSTAB entries -- you may have changed number / size / position of partitions and of course you'll have to re-install GRUB / LILO .
Most distros allow you a repair option. With SUSE it's easy -- you select installation and then after selecting language and keyboard you'll get the repair option and it will guide you through the process. Just choose check file systems, fstab entries and boot loader.
Other distros will I'm sure have a similar option -- or you can do it manually -- but a bit harder. If you mess the fstab entries up or the GRUB / LILO boot loader you won't be able to boot. Normally it's an easy and painless process.
Once you've done this remove the CD and just boot.
Should work for ANY distro and Windows if you have this on your system as well.
What I'd like is to make the Wincd I'm now using to only have LINUX programs but as it works and is only used in an emergency I'm not sure I can be bothered -- also my network still has a windows machine or 2 on it.
I'm not fazed anymore now by disk crashes, distro updates, lost data etc. as this recovery system works every time.