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CJ Chitwood 11-01-2008 09:19 PM

Turning a portable drive into a rescue toolkit for Linux + Win and possibly MacOSX
Hello all.

I have what may be an impossible aspiration, but I'm willing to go with it.

Long story (you know me) made short, I have a terabyte of vacant platter real estate and I want to utilize it for a bootable portable drive in a computer repair/service business I plan to start in my home. I realize that I will need to pay special attention to licensing and have the right legal remedies, but that's not the subject of this post.

I can get the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows to support the crashed Windows systems (and install whatever I need into it) but anything I want to add will have to be added at "compile" time before it's "installed" to the drive because the way it works is via RAMdisk (probably not a bad thing!). However inconvenient this may or may not be, it will be sufficient for my purposes.

I also can get the Linux-based ultimate boot CD, but seeing as I have a full TERABYTE to play with, I would not mind running a full Linux distro as a fully read-write installation on the disk (since there are no real virus or other malware threats in linux, there's no need for a read-only install).

If possible, I'd like to have Mac support built in, too, but AFAIK Mac uses Linux-supported filesystems, right? So I should in theory be able to work with this in Linux.

My question, with this information above made known, is how would I go about doing this on a portable drive? I assume I need only two partitions, one with Linux and a bootloader and one with UBCD4Win, possibly a third partition for "temp data" (e.g. end user's data being recovered or system images as backup for when I reinstall a certain corruptable OS).

I know I can install a full WindowsXP or similar on the drive and then install Linux on it and have Linux dual boot, that's a no-brainer. However, with the Windows version being a UBCD4Win, would it work the same way when I go to install Linux on the drive? Speaking of installing, say I want to have an install ISO on the drive for installing to a machine from the USB drive (should a customer want that)... is that doable? e.g., I boot to the USB drive and select "Debian INSTALLER" and get the same effect I'd have had I used the DVDs?

Finally, does this sound like an optimum layout on the drive, or do any of you have some suggestions I might follow? Like, what virus scanners (free or low cost) you trust to find (and remove) the most viruses?

Thanks in advance!


MS3FGX 11-02-2008 01:36 PM

I don't see why it would need to be so complicated. I have never had a problem under Windows that could not be repaired with a Linux live CD. Any work you need to do on a Windows partition should be doable with native-Linux tools, or at worst, a Windows tool running under WINE. The only thing I ever use when doing repairs on Windows machines is System Rescue CD, either I can fix the problem with the included tools or else I just share out the Windows partition over the network and work on it from my desktop machine (in the case that there is some tool that is not on the Rescue CD and I don't want to spend the time adding to it).

I imagine there are probably a few obscure situations that would not be fixable without another Windows environment available, but in that case I would probably just reinstall Windows anyway. I charge by the hour, and it is cheaper for me to backup their data and reinstall then spend all day hunting through MSKB to find a fix for a one in a million error.

As for Mac OS, HFS is supported by the Linux kernel (not 100%, as I recall, but it's usable) and the system itself is Unix based so many Linux concepts apply. Though personally I have not worked on enough Macs to confidently say you could fix any problem from Linux, I have fixed a few using an Ubuntu live CD, so you would have a shot.

To utilize your portable drive, I would just install Debian on it and be done with it. Debian's package repositories are very complete, so assuming you have an Internet connection you should be able to quickly get any tool required to fix whatever problem you might be dealing with.

CJ Chitwood 11-02-2008 01:46 PM

Thank you for the reply!

I think I might very well do that. The main reason I was thinking of using UBCD4Win was for full read+write access to NTFS partitions (admittedly it's been an I.T. eon since I last checked, but at best we had no-filesize-change write access to NTFS and I may decide to write a new file (or group of files) to it). Also, there are a few registry and password tools that I don't know right now are available for Linux (maybe they are, I haven't looked to be sure).

I like Debian as well. I run it on the computer I'm typing on right now, which also hosts my wife's webserver, mailserver, and one day a Samba file and print server (if I ever get the desire to mess with that). The installer sucks, but then when you know what you're doing to can usually get through it without too much hassle.

I think I'll give that a shot.

Thanks again!

jiml8 11-02-2008 02:04 PM


I have never had a problem under Windows that could not be repaired with a Linux live CD.
Registry repair?

MS3FGX 11-02-2008 02:11 PM


I think I might very well do that. The main reason I was thinking of using UBCD4Win was for full read+write access to NTFS partitions (admittedly it's been an I.T. eon since I last checked, but at best we had no-filesize-change write access to NTFS and I may decide to write a new file (or group of files) to it).
This is still true for the kernel NTFS driver, but not of third party projects like NTFS-3G (which is included in live CDs like System Rescue CD). With NTFS-3G, you have complete and stable read/write access to NTFS volumes. It used to be when working on Windows machines I would keep a FAT32 partition on a portable drive so I could swap files between the Windows and Linux environments, but now with NTFS-3G you can not only read all the files from the Windows install, but safely write files to it as well.

What I do now is use System Rescue CD to boot the machine, copy all of the user's documents and important files to my USB drive (formatted with XFS); then after reinstalling Windows on the machine I boot back up with the live CD and write all the files back onto the Windows volume (after scanning them, naturally). It is easier and safer to write the files with NTFS-3G than trying to install support for Linux filesystems under Windows.

In your case, I would still have two partitions on the drive. One would be the root filesystem of the installed distribution, and the other would be a very large data partition in which you could store drive images (before I work on any Windows machine, I always make an image of the drive with Partimage) and individual files. The advantage of keeping the data on the second partition is that you could still play around and try different distributions on the other partition without losing a client's data. You can also mount the second partition to get access to the data easily from your main machine.

CJ Chitwood 11-02-2008 07:56 PM

Okay, I think that will work.

Now, let me go a little deeper.

Something I've been considering is data forensics and recovery of "deleted" files. I've toyed in the past with LiveCDs such as PHLAK and they really focus more on hacking/intrusion than on recovery. I guess incident response is a better term for what I am shooting after. Looking at your System Rescue CD link, I see they have partition management, but nearly all of the LiveCDs I've seen do. I also see in the screenshots basically just a terminal, a web browser, and again a few partition tools. I found their "packages" list, and I see some recovery items in there...

I'll try it out... Worst case, I go and put Debian on my terabyte external on about a 10 or maybe even 100 GB partition and just install the world on it <maniacal laughter here> -- Thanks again!

Wow... I just realized... I have room to install on one 80 GB partition all the apps I've ever used in Linux in the past on my old 80 GB drive; on another 80 GB partition I could (if licensed) install Windows; on another... say, 200 GB partition I could have more than enough room to copy entire collections of user data; and the rest of it I could use to store complete images made of customers' entire drives (at least temporarily until they can be burned to DVD-spans)... all in one drive!

Of course, pretty soon, home and small business users will have 500 GB drives right off the shelf... I knew I should have gotten the 1500 GB drive!

MS3FGX 11-02-2008 10:05 PM


Registry repair?
The "regedit" tool included with WINE is a feature complete clone of the Windows registry editor, and is able to import a registry from another system and then export the modified version back to a standard Windows-compatible file.

There are other tools specifically designed to allow registry editing on Linux, such as the registry editor included in the ntpasswd suite. The registry editor from ntpasswd allows fully interactive read/write operations to the registry from the command line, which may be useful if you are working in an environment without X.

I also understand that some new registry editors are being developed along with Samba 4, to make it even easier to integrate future versions of Samba into the Windows environment.

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