Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How Linux Can Help Windows Users

There is a feeling that Linux and Windows are mutually incompatible, much like the protagonists of Rudyard Kipling's poem, which begins “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. However, Linux, due to somew of its unique features like being able to run completely from RAM, may be of great help to Windows users. Here are some examples:

  1. System backup and recovery: Has your Windows system crashed due to some errors? Has it become unbootable due to some malware unwittingly downloaded, so that you have no option now but to format and install Windows all over again? But you have useful data in your disk, which you would like to have and which you think is probably lost?

    Enter Linux Live CDs. Just pop in a live CD, backup your important files from the Windows partition onto a pen drive or another device, and then, you are free. Puppy Linux and Slax are great for this. You can also use the SystemRescueCD , which is a wonderful Linux system built for just this purpose. SystemRescueCD also has partimage, by which you can make iso images of your partitions and save them and later restore those partitions (like Norton Ghost). Besides this, the SystemRescueCD also has the Clam Win Anti virus and Chkrootkit root kit detector, so that you can diagnose if it was actually a piece of malware which was responsible for the problem.

  2. Partitioning: You want to partition your disk, or perhaps, resize your partitions? Partitioning a disk certainly helps you if your Windows system crashes later, when you can just format one partition and reinstall Windows onto it. Well, all the live CDs (including the ones mentioned above)have partitioners, and pretty advanced pnes at that. They are easy to use, but you just have to remember that in the Linux world, the partitions are not labelled C:, D:, etc, but rather hda1, hda5 etc.). You can also have a live Linux system having just Gparted, which is the most commonly used program for this purpose.

  3. Stay safe from malware you cannot avoid: You are (rightly ) protective of your Windows system, and use it for doing your routine work. However, you use your pen drive in your work place in such a computer that may be infected with viruses and malware (Do not tell me this does not happen, this is a regular feature with me, so much so that I have decided to take over the computer in my department as an administrator). But you NEED to share the Office work at home. What do you do? Risk your computer getting infected? Scanning with an anti-virus before using the pendrive or portable hard disk is certainly feasible, and will protect you in most cases, but then again, anti-viruses are not 100% effective. A very good solution is to make a Linux partition just for the purpose of your Office work. I have found it to be a very effective solution for one colleague of mine.

    If there are files for applications which do not work with Linux you can save them onto the Windows partition and then reboot into Windows. However, for such work, virtualization is more convenient. I personally use Innotek VirtualBox on XP, but there are others like VMWare server and VMWare Player out there. You install the virtual machine on your computer, (easy, just like any program) and then install a Virtual Linux system. Just log into the virtual Linux system and transfer your files to it. Then, using another (clean) pendrive or other removable drive, transfer those files into Windows. Then shut down the virtual machine. Simple, convenient and you are saved the irritation of rebooting. You can also safely surf the internet from your virtual machine, though it is associated with performance overheads.

  4. Linux based machines can serve as effective firewalls for your Windows machine. Hardware firewalls like Yoggie Pico are effective in protecting your PC. It has the added advantage of not slowing down your computer. Of course, if you have an old computer you do not use, you can use it as a hardware firewall by installing dedicated distros like IPCOP, Smoothwall or Gibraltar on to it . For more information, look here.

Linux can give added niceties that to a Windows user who is unwilling to give up on Windows. Live USB sticks allow one to carry ones files and access them securely anywhere. GeeXbox allows one to transform an old computer to a media center. These two Oses are not necessarily mutually incompatible, and it is only religion in the form of ones OS choice which prevents interaction between these two systems.

Your thoughts?

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