A couple of days ago Brandy's Dell laptop crashed and crashed hard. When it tried to boot just a blank black screen. All the diagnostics you could get to from the BIOS said everything was fine though. But when you tried to boot into Windows... nothing at all. And because it was a budget Dell laptop, no Windows restore/install disks either.
And of course there was no recent backup of her stuff. So the fear was the drive was completely dead and all her stuff would be gone.
This of course happened to Brandy in the middle of the night and she woke me up because she was distraught. After the usual things failed, I decided to try booting from an Ubuntu Live CD. I spent the next three hours or so downloading the ISO image and then burning it to CD.
Then I pop it in the drive, hit F12 while booting to get the menu letting me boot from the CD, and zoom... the disk whirs a bit and up comes Ubuntu just fine. Not only did it pop up right away into a desktop where I could easily find all the things I was looking for, but it automatically mounted the hard drive... which turned out to appear to be completely perfect... all of Brandy's data was there. Then I easily found in a couple clicks that I could mount the drive in my iMac through ssh right there in the GUI and have it pop up nice and easily. (I of course immediately started copying all the relevant data files "just in case".)
All the file manipulation was just there. Firefox was just there. It was all clear and pretty simple to use out of the box with no messing around with the config. Well... one exception... I couldn't get the built in wireless card to work out of the box, or even after searching online for instructions on how to get her specific wireless card to work with Ubuntu. So the laptop needed to be plugged into a wired connection for the networking to work. Which kind of sucks on a laptop. But still... it beat my expectations.
Don't get me wrong, I'd probably get frustrated pretty quickly if I tried to use Ubuntu as my primary OS... it ain't no Mac OS X. But having not tried Ubuntu before, I was impressed by how far the effort to make a usable (for a non geek) desktop Linux has come compared to all my prior Linux exposures (including regularly at work). Pretty good.
Of course, the next day when Brandy called Dell tech support they led her through a series of steps to try to fix the machine, and only resulted in making the hard drive (which had been fine before) completely unmountable from Ubuntu, while still not making it able to boot into Windows. So they mailed her a set of restore disks that will put the laptop back to the exact state it came from the factory in. (Theoretically... well, except for the missing keys on the keyboard that Roscoe broke off... a software update won't fix that.) The disks arrived in yesterday's mail, but she is supposed to wait until they call her to touch it... even though I'm sure she could pop the first disk in, follow the instructions and be fine... but they have to walk her through it. Whatever.
I'm just glad I backed up all her data before she called Dell tech support. Bleh.
And I was impressed with Ubuntu. I'll have to explore it a bit more.
(And yes, I'm partially just making this post right now because I found a small bug in my email notification thingy mentioned in the last post and want to see if the tweaks I made in the last hour or so fixed it.)
(For those who may be curious, my tweaks did indeed fix the minor bug in question.)
Although that comment made me want to adjust one more thing, which I just tried and am testing with this comment.
That adjustment worked too. Woo.