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How Windows helped me fix my Linux May 15, 2008

Posted by Nigel Ajay Kumar (NAyK) in Confessions, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, How-To, Linux, Microsoft, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Windows, Working on Linux, Working with Linux.

Last night, my Linux (PCLinux) broke. And this evening I finally fixed it, with some help from Windows.

I’ll be telling the whole story along with what happened in the post below, but before that let me start with a few disclaimers (warnings/cautions etc).

First, it was clearly my mistake in the start the led to the demise of my Linux. I messed around with my partition table. Yes, yes, I know, shoot me!

Also, I’m a linux noob (which means, I’m more than a newbie, but not at all proficient with Linux when things go wrong). So, I’m sure there are easier solutions “IN” linux itself, but I had/have no idea about them… the few solutions I did know, didn’t work out for me… but again… that’s just me. In the same vein, I’m not a windows/Microsoft fanboy (nor a linux fanboy mind you). So my intention is not to start another uneccessary Windows-is-better-than-Linux flame-war!

The distribution in question (the one I was using) was PCLinuxOS (my current distribution of choice). Yet my comments here do not reflect on my views about how “good” or “bad” the distribution is, but this post is more a confessional on how I messed it up (so that someone may prevent themselves from making a similar mistake… or make things easier for us young-ones).

On to the story.

1. Last night I wanted to update my PCLinux (I hadn’t done it for a long time). For those who know PCLinux, they’ll know that one of it’s weaknesses is that it does not have an auto-update function like Ubuntu or openSUSE. You have to manually got to Synaptic and “reload” and then “mark upgrades” and then “apply”. So, I hadn’t done that for a while, and so I decided now is the time.

2. I realised, after seeing the size of the updates that my were too huge, and so I decided to completely wipe out my openSUSE 10.3 partition and use that space for my home directory. (ie. I’d have my programme in one partition, and my documents in another, like I do in Windows).

3. So I went to the PCLinux Control Center, went to Mount Points, and deleted the openSUSE partition. I also, choose to mount the free space with /home and the computer nicely asked me if I wanted to copy my current home folder to the new location. For which I said, “yes.”.

4. Sadly, when I saw the new configuration, I saw that the new /home partition was only the size of the home files (about 1.5 GB) and I had another 3.5 GB free… so I decided to increase the size of my new /home partition.

5. The partitioner didn’t allow it, giving some error that I obviously forgot to write down. Anyway, after a couple of tries, I decided I’d deal with that later (using gparted or something) and I decided to continue with my upgrade.

6. Just before I started my upgrades, I noticed that my new /home partition file size was about 4.5 GB (It should have been about 5) but then I thought, “oh, it did it, cool!” and I continued the upgrade.

7. I had about 700 MB of upgrades to do (yes, yes, I know, long long time). And my slow internet connection took hours and hours to do it.

8. In the process, when it said about 1 more hour to go, I went to sleep, before all the the updates were applied. But my computer battery died out (I thought it would be done within two hours, because I had about 2.5 left). But I think all the updates weren’t applied.

9. When I woke up next morning (today) and started PCLinux, it just wouldn’t let me get into the login or desktop screen. I realised I had done a foolish thing, and didn’t know what to do. (ps. I know at this point I should be able to go into Linux through some text mode thingy and fix things, but that is just too hard. I really prefer the gentle Windows “safe mode” that looks so easy compared to the text-mode Linux).

10. I realised I had failed, and since I had made backups of my PCLinux documents (yipee!) I decided to reinstall. (The great thing about Linux is that it’s so easy to reinstall, unlike Windows, that we can do it more often. Perhaps, that’s a bad thing, actually! :) )

11. Sadly, I had given away my last PCLinuxOS 2007 CD to a friend (I have already given away about 8 PCLinux OS CDs), so I had to download it again (using its metalink which took about 1.5 hrs).  (Thank God for metalinks!)

12. Then, my first reinstall attempt failed at the partition time, because it said it couldn’t read my partition, and if I tried to change it I could loose all my data, “Do you want to continue” it asked! What? Obviously NOT!!!

13. I tried again, same response. Realising that something was wrong in the partition, I decided to use Ubuntu LIVE CD to change my partitions, but no luck. It couldn’t go past my partitions.

14. I tried openSUSE oneCD installation (thinking it would be more powerful), still no luck. It told me that it couldn’t change the current settings and would use only existing settings (which I thought was not good).

15. Then I got my gParted out (the Linux partitioning specialist, a really cool/small programme). But even that failed. It just wouldn’t read my partitions, let alone let me edit them.

16. Thankfully, in all this, my Windows was still working, though by then my Windows boot was lost. I used super GRUB rescue (some boot rescue programme that I had lying around, it’s a spanish version that I can’t read, but I know a few buttons are press-worthy and times my windows boot has been restored.). And yes, this time I was able to get back to Windows.

17. And here’s how Windows helped me fix my Linux… I went straightway to MyComputer <right click>, “Manage” and then “storage” and so my partitions. Windows cannot normally read Linux partitions, but it does show that some partition exists (represented by a blank).

18. I deleted the Linux partitions, all of them, including the swap drive.

19. And then I used gParted to format the partitions to ext3 and swap….

20. And then I installed PCLinux, which worked…

21. And then I upgraded… and I’m currently typing on my updated/upgraded PCLinuxOS.

Moral of the story… keep your windows copy handy! No seriously, I was actually surprised that my partitions were so messed up that Linux distributions couldn’t read then.  Usually I use Linux to SOLVE my partitioning problems (Especially a programme like gParted) and this was the first time I had to do it the otherway. I wonder what went wrong. Perhaps, my messed up partitioning process (first) and then compounded by my error-red update/upgrade. Whatever, I’m thankful that my computer is now working… bootloader, windows, linux et al.

My Linux wish-list (which obviously is only a wish list because I have no money to give to Linux to get me these things… not even a measly dollar… because I live in the ‘3rd’ world!)… is:

1. I want a system restore in Linux!

2. I want more graphical help in fixing errors in Linux (something like a Windows safe mode).

3. I want better partitioning control, perhaps with more detail… something that actually shows where one partition ends and where one begins (like the good old fragmenting days of Windows 95)… it shows graphically exactly what bytes (sectors) are where and what to move. I’m thinking something that can be moved around like building blocks… so that we can visually see what we’re doing, rather than as lists and numbers.

4. I want automatic backups of the things that need backuping… but that’s the lazy option I guess. But what I mean is that the partitioning control centre said I should backup my partition table, but I didn’t know how to do it (I still don’t). It would have been nice if it asked instead, “do you want me to help you backup your partition table?” and then I could say, yes or no.

5. I want world peace…

ps. Please (linux fans) don’t shoot me for this post. I love Linux you guys, I really do. And I’m just shooting my mouth off, without actually contributing in support forums etc. I know, I know, I’m a bad person. I’m going to Linux hell for this, but can I appeal to linux-mercy and linux-grace.



1. anon - May 15, 2008

I’ve been using exclusively Linux for the last five years or so, and I’m actually a little ashamed that you thought Linux fanboys would jump all over you for this post – not saying that they won’t, just that it’s a shame that you have to worry about that :)

It seems that you know what you’re doing with computers, but are just new to Linux. It does have a steep learning curve as soon as you move away from the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth it – it’s nice to be able to do almost anything possible with your PC (I heard someone describe Linux as “an OS for grown ups”)

2. Gijs - May 15, 2008

Good story about small things that combine into personal disaster. Some questions, though:

1. Gigabytes of updates. You really don’t update often ;) Aren’t those stored in /tmp or /var/cache instead of /home? So why did you move your home folder in the first place?

2. You ended up deleting all your Linux partitions, thus erasing everything in your home folder also? You reinstalled a fresh PCLinuxOS, but to call it ‘fixing’ would be far too positive.

Well, I’ve experienced something quite similar (see URL).

3. NAyK - May 15, 2008

To Gijs: thanks for your comment.

1. Gigabytes of updates? No, no. It was about 700MB of updates. The reason I was moving home to another folder was because I just felt more memory for my documents folder would be a good thing; also it freed me up for further installation experiments, like installing another Desktop environment etc.

2. You’re right, “fixing” sounds a little too positive, and yet, my own personal view of Linux at the moment is that it should work. Most of my work is done in Windows. So, when Linux does not work, there are many ways I can “fix” Linux to work, for eg. install another distro etc. I know this is a broad definition of fix, and yes it can be confusing. I guess in this post, Windows “fixed” my partition reading problem. But in my practical view, now that Linux works, things are “fixed!” :)

4. happylinuxguy - May 15, 2008

From the description of your story, it sounds like you could have deleted the partitions from Linux as well.

“Then, my first reinstall attempt failed at the partition time, because it said it couldn’t read my partition, and if I tried to change it I could loose all my data”

You deleted the partitions from windows anyway, so what’s the difference.

5. deadcabbit - May 15, 2008

“Linux through some text mode thingy and fix things, but that is just too hard” – erm, have you ever heard about googling? And maybe the thing that on Linux the terminal is your friend? If I were you, I’d read a bit about cfdisk, fdisk, single user mode and fstab…

6. Anurag Panda - May 15, 2008

Ways you could have used to recover your PC w/o Windows installed:
(1) Your Live CDs worked didn’t they? Only accessing/modyfying partitions caused it to crash? Right. Then you surely could have used fdisk.
(2)If you even can’t use your live cds you can use an install disk such as of Fedora or SUSE and choose to Delete all Linux partitions

fdisk is a great tool.
In terminal:
sudo fdisk /dev/sdX

and it has helpful interface which is a breeze to use.

I would be grateful if you test fdisk and post it in your blog. I mean you can learn it, it is easy enough.
Also not all linux newbies have Windows installed and they should not get confused that they need Windows to fix Linux partition problems.

Another Thing: Do not be afraid to speak your opinions in your blog. We do not shoot you for any of your posts. We will mark your mistakes, remind your inaccuracies, criticize some of your opinions but that happens ever where not only within the Linux community.
I am disillusioned that you are so worried about linux fans jumping on you, bit ashamed actually.

7. NAyK - May 15, 2008

To happylinuxguy: well, Linux did not show me individual partitions to delete… and only said I could “lose all my data” referring to my entire harddisk. I couldn’t take that risk. Windows on the other hand allowed me to see each partition individually and allowed me to delete what I wanted. (ideally that’s what Linux does extremely well, just this time it didn’t).

8. NAyK - May 15, 2008

To deadcabbit: googling, what’s that? haha!

I would think my post could help you observe different usage patterns rather than try to determine user patterns. Of course googling help, and also writing in forums would not only help me solve my problems, but people like me (the vermin of the earth, perhaps) do not spend too much time trying to find answers to their problems. I’m not a norm, nor am I an anomaly. It would help Linux users, perhaps to see how the people who DON’T google, think and approach problems.

Regarding your fdisk cfdisk, fstab… WHAAAAAAT?

(see the comment below yours, which I think is more helpful)

9. NAyK - May 15, 2008

To Anurag Panda: You’re right. Not all newbies have windows installed (in my world that’s true, but not in all worlds), so there could be confusion. I’m not intending to say that Windows is needed to solve Linux problems, in fact, I’ve always seen that it is the other way around. ie. viruses, harddisk checks, internet problem solving etc.

However, my post here points to my surprise that I wasn’t able to fix things as easily through linux (ie. through graphical mode). Yes, if I knew about fdisk, I would have tried it… and I think I’ll try it when I have a little more time later today or tomorrow… ?

About divergent opinions… yes I do know that blog opinions/views can be criticised. But I guess my disclaimer in my blog points that I recognise a few of my own limitations and close-mindedness, and perhaps we all can move on to constructive critique more important issues pertaining to the content.

ps. credit to the few readers who have checked this post… no one has jumped on me… yaaa!

10. Anurag Panda - May 15, 2008

cfdisk is a very good too, it has a text mode GUI interface if you know what I mean, just like Ubuntu text based installer.
You need root permission to run it however.
sudo cfdisk

11. NAyK - May 16, 2008

To Anurag Panda: Hey I’ve tried my cfdisk… and this is what I got:

FATAL ERROR: Bad logical partition 6 enlarged logical partitions overlap
Press any key to exit cfdisk

for the fdisk I got a command menu and I was supposed to select letters etc. There was an option to delete partition, but I didn’t need to do that, so I didn’t. For “v” (Verify the partition table) I got:

6484 unallocated sectors

Hmmmm. Guess I’m as confused as ever!

12. Anurag Panda - May 16, 2008

What did you need to do in fdisk?
v hardly tells you anything use p to print the partition table.
Use m command for help.

I dunno why you get the error in cfdisk. Did you try running cfdisk/fdisk in single user mode a.k.a. recovery mode.

13. Anurag Panda - May 16, 2008

Somethings really wrong with your hard disk. I suggest you back up your data and create a totally new partition table. At least there is something wrong with that logical partition 6.

14. partition - June 2, 2008

[…] when wrong in his Linux distro PCLinux and how Windows &quothelped&quot fix his harddisk partitions.https://alternativenayk.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/how-windows-helped-me-fix-my-linux/Paragon Partition Manager – hard disk partitioning software.Reliable partitioning software to […]

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[…] full wipe, reinstall Well, I have to say that I respect what this guy has to say. But I am a little offended at the notion that you need windows to come in and save you when things […]

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