Friday, June 14, 2013

A recovery partition, isn't

I just got home it's 3AM and I'm expected to show up for work again in about 5 hours.  I still haven't had dinner unless you count a power bar and whatever stale fare came out the vending machine at the job site.

In short, I'm mad as hell...


Over a common but perpetually unanswered complaint.

Why sell a computer with an operating system you can't fix?  Of course I refer to the now common practice of OEM's shipping PC's without a viable copy of the operating system to restore the PC to a functional condition. 

Yes, yes I know, most of them have "Recovery Partitions," too bad if the hard drive it lives on dies.  Oh,  they might include a "Recovery CD" to take your computer back to that fresh "as-delivered" condition.  So long as you don't mind the outdated bloatware and the loss of any hope of recovering the data you may have stored on your PC it's kind of an option.  See, the recovery disks don't recover anything, they operate on a "scorched earth" policy meaning they wipe your hard drive.  Bye bye data!

It's a known annoyance but when you have to deal with these issues in a business setting it gets worse.  All the above apply and what should have been a "quick fix" turns into a major project.

The truth of the matter is that most "Serious" problems with the Windows operating system can be resolved by simply popping in a compatible copy of Windows and clicking a few buttons. 

For example, have you ever seen the dreaded  "inaccessible Boot Device" error?  It will stop you cold.   Unless you changed your hard drive type in your computer's BIOS that one usually means your PC doesn't know where to find Windows on your Hard disk.  A condition fixed in about 10 minutes with a full copy of Windows.  Without one a fix that means starting over again.

I'm not sure if it's just laziness or OEM's being cheap but buying a PC today virtually ensures disappointment at some point in your ownership because of this kind of short term thinking.

Now add to it Microsoft's continuing demand that any repair to the operating system require a full copy of the Windows operating system on an installation disk.  Since most copies of Windows in the world have come on OEM PC's with "Recovery Partitions" instead of full copies of Windows media your options are limited.

In spite of that, at some point in your ownership you will still be prompted for the "installation disk."  You'll either give up and resign yourself to the aforementioned scorched earth policy or go out and buy another copy of Windows.  A fully functional, installable and complete version that you should have received in the first place. 

If you're in a large corporate environment perhaps Windows comes as an image from the IT department making such concerns irrelevant.  Considering most business in the U.S. tends toward the "small" side that's not an option for you unless you want to invest 6 figures in a corporate IT system to service 10 people.  You're better off just buying another PC in that case.

The fix? 

You can buy a full copy of Windows and keep it around for emergency fixes but that can be an expensive proposition for something that is just going to sit on a shelf most of the time.
Another option?


I'm not talking about those "recovery disks"  we already know they're nothing but the tools of desperation. 
Instead I'm talking about becoming familiar with drive imaging software like Acronis True Image, Ghost or the open source CloneZilla.

These programs take a snapshot of your entire PC's hard disk and store it as a file somewhere safer than a "recovery partition" which is usually in the form of an external disk drive.  The Western Digital Passport drives  serve the purpose well.  With newer PC's coming with USB ports capable of 5 Gigabits per second (USB 3.0) transfer rates the process moves along even faster.

 Another benefit is that you don't need any Windows media to get back up and running when things go wrong.  Hook up an external backup device, boot the imaging software and restore your saved image from your external or network device.  When the restore is complete you just reboot and continue working.
Some imaging software will even allow you to "mount" the image.  Which means you can access the individual files saved in the image so you can recover accidentally deleted items.  All this assumes that you regularly make or update your images.  An acceptable assumption unless you're embracing the "scorched earth" policy of obsolete software and hours of updating. 

It's a policy you should be insisting on if you're forced to deal with the conflicting motivations of OEM's and Microsoft.  It scales well too with Enterprise versions of imaging software like Acronis True image able to back up an entire office of PC's automatically.  Some will even allow images that can be updated daily further reducing down time.

In short, in a few minutes you can be back up and running instead of a few days. 

With all the hype over purported advancements in technology there's still plenty of opportunity for it to let you down.  We still don't live in the world of "Computer, fix thyself."  Until we are you're going to have to take some responsibility for your own computer continuity policy and imaging is the best way to do it.

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