I am home visiting my parents for the holidays. I had introduced my mom, who is a college professor, to Dropbox about six months ago to keep her files synced up between her laptop and netbook, both of which run Windows XP. She uses the laptop mostly at home, and takes the netbook to class with her, among other places. Despite the convenience and utility of Dropbox, my mom still had many important files on a flash drive.

I wanted to borrow the flash drive to test out Debian Xfce live, and she realized that it would be a good idea to transfer the mission-critical files to her Dropbox folder. However, when she inserted the drive into the USB slot on her netbook, she got the dreaded message saying that the drive was not properly formatted. It looked as though all her files were gone, and this was potentially a very big problem because much of the data she needs for her classes was only located on the flash drive.

Fortunately, all hope was not lost. I busted out my Puppy Linux live USB flash drive, booted it up on her laptop, and then mounted the “unformatted” flash drive with no files on it. Puppy’s file manager found all her data in tact, so I mounted the Windows hard drive, navigated to her Dropbox folder, and copied over the files, then booted up XP and let Dropbox sync everything up.

This situation could have been very disastrous. There were over 150 critically important documents, files, and records on that flash drive, and if it failed, semesters worth of work would have been completely lost. If you have files you cannot afford to lose, you need to have some form of a backup system. I love using Dropbox, but other options exist. Even if you only have one computer, Dropbox is a good option because you can then access your files through their website from anywhere you can get online.

Everywhere I go, I carry around a Linux flash drive just in case someone’s Windows file system corrupts itself or becomes un-boot-able for some reason. There have been a couple instances where I have been able to rescue some important files before a computer would be sent to get repaired or replaced all together. It’s always good to have a bag of tricks up your sleeve. If you’ve got a bad virus infestation on a Windows PC, why not boot from a Linux flash drive and scan the Windows hard drive without dealing with painful slowness or other viral troubles? Check out www.pendrivelinux.com for more information.

I wish I could get my parents to convert to Linux. Most of their hardware is old, and most of it barely can function under the heavy load that Windows XP places on it (and by heavy load, I mean, significantly less than Vista or 7 would impose, but still more than this old hardware can handle). Everything they do on computers they could do using only free open source software without too painful a learning curve/transition, but they’re just not quite ready to give up that comfortable Microsoft crutch yet. Maybe someday… If nothing else, I hope this latest incident has nudged things in the right direction.

Have a good one.