Top 10 tools to use when your laptop or notebook goes belly-up or worse:
You got that laptop so you could travel with all your data and necessary programs, right? Problem is: laptops are vulnerable to all kinds of ugly scenarios: they’re easy to steal (Digital sleuthing grows on business, home fronts) they’re fragile; they catch fire; they break when dropped. Parts for laptops are usually proprietary and can take weeks to obtain; laptop repair requires special tools, special training and sometimes, off-site maintenance. Worse, when you’re on the road, and your laptop won’t boot, you’re pretty much out-of-luck, unless you’ve planned for it.
A friend of mine had this happen to him yesterday and he told me it was a major inconvenience. His laptop stopped booting and turned into a BSOD, no matter what he did. This doesn’t mean he’s dumb; most of us don’t back up: ‘Why Smart People Do Dumb Things” (Like Not Backup Their Hard Disk’; we are naturally shortsighted:. Perhaps, we jeer at the back up gods: we may secretly want to fail. Maybe we don’t care. (maybe his cats pee’d on his computer; he has two cats, but he tells me it was a mysterious failure; perhaps, but then again, I doubt he’d tell me if they did: Fact: Cat urine and laptops don’t mix )
Maybe we’re too busy updating our computers with windows patches; there’s isn’t enough time in the day to do it all, let alone ‘back up’. If all we do is ‘pencil sharpen,’ get organized and ‘back up’, we never get to the real meat of our job: creative thinking and problem solving. Let’s face it: not backing up is a way of thumbing your nose at those ‘getting things done’ (GTD) fanatics. We refuse to fit in that straight jacket. It feels good to not back up; it’s the geek’s equivalent of not wearing a motor cycle helmet. You know it’s stupid and unconscionable, but it’s a way of expressing your adamnant independence. Well, it feels good until that inevitable day: Traveling by airlines? You Can Claim Your Busted Laptop on Carousel #2 [Design News] )
Tools you can count on for the inevitable day your laptop rebells or disappears:
1. Image is everything! Anticipate disaster and create a disk image of your laptop. Many corporate companies do this automatically before they issue a laptop to an employee. When should you disk image? A good rule of thumb is: just before you travel, before every major change to your operating system, before you move your laptop, etc.
Does your laptop have a battery? Toshiba, Sony? Dell? start worrying: (Toshiba offers to exchange 340,000 batteries; Sept 19, 2006; Defective Sony batteries prompt a Toshiba recall)
Read a review of Acronis True Image vs. Norton Ghost, two of the better known backup drive imaging companies. If you are cheap and like cheap thrills and want to play with fire: go ahead and try a free backup imaging program, but only if you don’t care about your data. (but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll try free tools; thank goodness I don’t work for Homeland Security.) Acronis’ press release for laptop road travel safety tips.
2. Use a small USB drive for imaging your drive. Today’s tiny USB drives have larger and larger capacity: today’s 12 gigabyte USB drive will soon replaced by tomorrow’s 500 gigabyte USB drive. Slip a USB imaged drive of your laptop into your pocket or stash it somewhere safe. Now if you leave your laptop in the back of a cab, at least you have a backup of your precious files. If you have an extremely large drive, other external drives or even DVDs can serve as backups:
Backing up isn’t hard to do [Microsoft Windows XP expert help: John Canfield]
3. Online Storage to the rescue: LifeHack.org reviews 90 online storage systems. Thank god for those GTD nerds; they have it all scoped out for you. You can automatically back up your hard drive. Today’s external drives often come with really good back up software. Although my Seagate 160 gig external hard drive didn’t, it cost me less than $90; it makes sense to invest in one now, because the prices are finally reasonable for everyday computer users.
4. Use web online tools and use your laptop as a backup for your online stuff: If security isn’t your top issue and your data isn’t worth a hill of beans, (you know it isn’t, right?) why not do your computing online. Most of us can safely use an online spreadsheet, word processor, organizer, or email application. Go here to read about Google’s Office web applications and others [Zdnet.com]. Just about anything we do on our computer alone can be replaced with an online application that also offers the convenience of collaborative tools for sharing with others. That makes more sense than ever, now that laptops are increasingly banned by airlines: Virgin Airways bans Dell and Apple laptop batteries
“… Except that it’s [web2.0] actually happening today all over the place and you can use it now (see BaseCamp, BackPack, del.icio.us, Flickr, Kiko, DropCash, Meebo, AjaxOffice, Bindows and dozens of others if you’re not sure.)…” [Dion Hinchcliffe's Web 2.0 Blog]
On the other hand, if your work must remain confidential, please don’t use these tools.
5. Use a temporary system for weekend travel: Email your backup files to yourself: this may work if you have a Gmail account with over 2 Gig of space. Dropload offers 100MB temporary storage capacity for a file. Other backup storage systems are available, with nominal monthly subscriber fees. Backup Your Files To An Email Account [CyberTech News]
6. Run diagnostics with a Live CD to recover files off a non-booting computer: Recovery is somewhat dicey, with a dead laptop. For most of us, (well, okay, me), opening a laptop means breaking something else and making things worse. However, you CAN run diagnostics which won’t harm your laptop and possibly, if you can’t boot your laptop, you may be able to copy off your files, EVEN if your laptop won’t boot! There are many diagnostic distros (distributions), most of them Linux software, which may do the job for you: a “live CD” may help. Even if you only use Windows, Linux is your friend. I can’t guarantee your success, but at least you can try to recover your files without disturbing your hard drive’s integrity.
Tip: there are some simple data recovery file tools out there: Ycopy ignores uncopyable files and doesn’t have to be installed. Ycopy bypasses uncopyable files and allows you to recover all your files off a damaged drive. It remains a simple, unsophisticated tool for just this purpose: to copy files.
7. Windows is your friend too, if you know what tools to use: 10 things to do when Windows Won’t Boot
“… Greg Shultz put together this list to help you identify and resolve the boot issue. His suggestions include: Use Last Known Good Configuration, Use System Restore, Use Recovery Console tools such as Bootcfg, Fixboot, and Fixmbr, Disable automatic restart… “ [Tech Republic] (Note: article requires free membership signup to view)
8. Keep your backup off-site: If another Hurricane Katrina hits and you lose your home, you’ll still have your files, if you have a backup offsite. You’ll still have those digital photos of your family. Ditto for a house fire or other home disaster. Use your company’s network, or your online email, or an offsite storage system. (easier said than done, however)
9. Use Windows One-Care, if it’s installed: Microsoft One Care Forum Restore after OneCare Re-install (I don’t personally use One Care; I purchased One Care, but I’m cautious about installing it. I guess I just can’t let Microsoft One Care be my mommy… just yet. maybe I’m stupid, I dunno. Just look at these googled One Care Problems: and these are on Microsoft’s own site. )
10. When all else fails, ask your company’s tech support if they imaged your laptop: Chances are they did and you are home free. Turn in your laptop for a freshly minted one, imaged and refreshed by your hardworking tech support. That’s what my friend did, after he recovered his files from his non-booting laptop. If your company didn’t create an image for your laptop, look like a genius and recommend this article to them.
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