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Got Linux?


I would like to begin by sharing a few of my personal experiences of using a Linux Distro. I have been running a Linix Mint Distro since Linux Mint 5 which I installed on an older computer that I configured as a dual boot system. The Linux Mint 5 Operating System was my default OS and a Windows OS was my secondary. Because of my interests, I do a lot of research at times and I never know what kind of sites I will land on and what the site may do, or attempt to do, to my computer's OS, applications, or data. As a result of this known risky behavior on my part, I researched how I could best protect my Windows OS based personal computer from the consequences of this risky behavior. The solution that offered the most effective protection was, to my surprise, to use a version of Linux when I was doing research and therefore engaging in risky browsing. I also found out during this research that using a Linux distribution 'live CD' was the safest way to conduct any online banking or other such transactions.

The 'live CD' boot configuration can also be used to troubleshoot an unresponsive computer system as a first step for isolating hardware issues from operating system or application issues. Once launched and loaded into RAM, the 'live CD' makes use of most of the computer hardware except the hard drive, allowing for hardware stability testing. The 'live CD' can also be used as a form of data recovery. While in the 'live CD' mode of operation, the Windows installation file system can be mounted and data files can be written to a CD/DVD or to a USB flash drive that has been inserted and mounted.

This OS has been one of the most stable OS I have ever used. It runs fine on older computer systems and has served me very well. Although it cannot replace my Windows operating system because of some of the specialized software I use, it is more than capable of fulfilling the requirements of many computer users. Linux Mint includes the LibreOffice Suite of office applications and many other useful and fully functional applications including GIMP, a digital photo-editing program. I currently run Linix Mint as a virtual machine on computers that meet the minimum hardware requirements. For more information, please refer to the article below entitled Let's Explore Virtual Machines.

For any household where much of the time on the computer is spent browsing, especially if the browsing is by teenagers or individuals who are not adept at preventing moderate to severe consequences from browsing, then a Linux OS is a one stop solution. I am including a few links that will allow you to explore further information about Linux and the wide range of distributions (Live Distros) that are available as free downloads. If you are curious, many of the free downloads are .iso files that allow you to burn a 'liveCD'. The 'liveCD' allows you to run Linux from your CD drive without installing it on your hard drive. Just bear in mind that the Linux OS will run much slower from the CD than if it was installed on your hard drive. Take it for a test drive; you may be pleasantly surprised.


Linux Mint Website

Linux Mint Demo Video
Search your player interface for the fullscreen option if you wish to view the video in fullscreen mode.

1st Cardinal Rule: Create a Backup!


This guidance applies to personal computing on many levels. First and foremost, there is the question of your operating system. If your operating system came preinstalled on your computer and your purchase did not include an operating system installation or restore disc, then you need to inquire if and how you can make a backup of your operating system files on a media separate from your computer system. Generally, the files are backed up as a hard drive image file that serves as a restoration disc. If the system hard drive in your computer fails, the restore disc provides you a means to restore your operating system if you choose to replace the hard drive and return the computer to service. Otherwise, the cost of returning the computer to service may require you to purchase a replacement hard drive and a replacement operating system.

The next form of backup I will discuss involves downloaded content. If you have downloaded data files, applications, or any other file types, then be sure to back these files up on a media separate from your computer system. If you do not and something goes wrong with your computer system, then you may lose your files. If the files were mp3's or applications that you purchased, you may be required to repurchase some of these items. Even if you are not required to repurchase, the time involved in restoring your collection to its former state can be daunting. In my personal experience, I have grown fond of free applications or utilities that I installed and then deleted the installation files, only to lose the installation because of a system failure, and then was unable to find the installation files online so I could reinstall the application or utility. Don't let this happen to you. Always save the installation files and back them up on a media separate from your computer system.

The final form of backup I will discuss is your data backup. Of all the types of file loss or corruption, the loss of data files is the worst. Operating systems, applications, and utilities can be replaced, your personal data files cannot. During the 17 or so years I have been serving as a technology facilitator, the loss or corruption of data has been the source of most of the calls for service from the clients I serve. The anguish and stress of losing cherished digital photographs or critical data can seem overwhelming. All of the despair caused by the thought of loss could so easily have been avoided by one simple act, back it up! I recommend backing up your most valuable files on a few different media types. CD or DVD backups are a primary form, but with the reduced cost of external hard drives, flash drives, and cloud storage in recent years, I also recommend considering this form of backup. For large media file collections and critical data collections, they can be an invaluable media for backups. I have clients who have purchased a fire safe as a means of further protecting their local backup media.


2nd Cardinal Rule: Create a Disc Image!


This guidance, if you are a Microsoft Windows Operating System user and if you have done a good job of backing up your operating system files, application files, and data files, is all about time and frustration. If you have ever conducted a clean install on a computer, then you are aware of the time and attention to detail that is required to effect a complete setup of the operating system, system drivers, application software, and any connected devices. If we only needed to do this once, while the task can be time consuming, the rewards of using a clean machine make the task bearable. However, as you probably know, computers do not remain clean machines very long.

Over time, errors or malware take their toll and before long our lightening fast machine shows signs of sluggishness or instability. At times, running utilities to repair and purge our computer system of errors or intrusion help, but at last we are faced with the unpleasant task of reinstallation.

But wait; there is a better way! Once you have completed the clean installation of your computer system or you have added your applications to the new computer you recently purchased, now is the time to add one more step to finalize your system setup. Microsoft Operating Systems generally come with the capability to create a shadow copy of the complete installation of the system hard drive files. While this task can be accomplished using Windows utilities, I recommend using a free utility named Macrium Reflect (see link below). This utility provides a user-friendly interface to the shadow copy function and is a means of creating a snapshot of your system files at a given point of time. I recommend using this capability in the following manner and stated purpose.

To begin, you must have one of the following formated for NTFS to be able to use this procedure: a partitioned hard drive, an additional external hard drive, a usb flash drive of adequate size, or a computer with multiple hard drives . There are two primary reasons for the need of a separate media for data and image files. First, the disc image file must be stored on a partition or media separate from the system hard drive partition. Secondly, it is critical that all working and stored data files reside in a separate partition or on a separate hard drive. This is because if and when you do a disc image restore operation, the utility overwrites the entire system partition and nothing of the previous file structure remains intact. Any data or installations added since the disc image was created will be LOST!

Once you have completed your installation, run the Reflect Create Image routine to take a snapshot of your system in its pristine state. Then, if you have exhausted all other solutions to recover a sluggish or unstable system, then just run the Macrium Reflect utility and restore your system to its pristine state. The restore process usually takes about 20 to 45 minutes and is completely automatic once the process is initiated. Preparation for this process involves creating a CD recovery disk or Boot Menu Option that allows you to boot your system and open a version of Macrium Reflect. Next, you select the restore function and identify the location where the disc image is stored and target the system partition where you want the image to be restored to. This procedure can also be used to restore the saved image to a new hard drive. This is useful if you wish to upgrade your system hard drive and not be faced with the task of going through the complete operating system and application installation process.

Finally, before initiating any of these procedures, create a backup of your data! Although I have used this procedure many times on my own systems and on client systems without incident, I always begin by creating a fresh backup of the data if at all possible. This is simply a 'best practice' that I highly recommend to you.


Follow this link to download Macrium Reflect Free Edition


3rd Cardinal Rule: Make Incremental Saves!


As the computer support person for my family and many of my friends, I have been the target of much venting and frustration because of this fact: Computer systems are, by their very nature, prone to instability and failure. This can be caused by many various and transient factors and conditions. Computers are complex brews of hardware and software (code) and user interfaces. Errors, malware, electrical transients, power failure and many other factors can affect them. As a result, a document or project that you are working on, and that you may have invested hours in during this session, can be lost in an instant.

This is why I recommend to others, and constantly practice myself, the best practice of making incremental saves. I usually do this at least 2-3 times an hour, and sometimes more often. The reason I do incremental saves is because, as an author, if something happens, I may never recapture that expression in just that form again. Also, if I am making a major change, then some of my expression may be deleted and lost in the editing process.

This is why I make incremental saves using an ascending file naming convention. This allows me to build a library of versions of any particular file. The convention I use includes the file name, the date, and the hour of day (e.g. filename_5_3_09_11am.doc). This provides multiple versions of the creation process and allows me to time travel, so to speak, through the authoring process by accessing the chain of time stamped file versions in the file library.


Let's Explore Virtual Machines


Server virtualization is a fairly recent movement but is becoming mainstream as IT administrators quickly realize that virtualization equates to utilization. Many server arrays, until recent times, were dedicated to perform a basic mission critical function. This meant that the average utilization of the hardware was as low as 20%. With the introduction of virtualization, the same server hardware can be utilized at 60-85% capacity and even higher. This allows for less hardware duplication and greater utilization of the server hardware that is placed in service.

There are many suppliers of virtualization software. Some configurations run in the place of a server operating system. Others install within the host server operating system as an application. Each guest operating system has use of hardware or host resources. The virtualization software manages this access and utilization. This website is hosted on a VPS account which is a Virtual Private Server. My entire family of websites are hosted within a virtual machine created on a Linux server.

So why should you, as a PC user, care about virtualization. Simple! Because virtualization software is available for your PC. There are many providers of virtualization software. For a comparison of some of the offerings, visit this link:


Some offerings are proprietary and can cost as much as a few hundred dollars. Other offerings are Open Source and are free for personal use. One such free for personal use offering is VirtualBox. I became interested in virtualization for one main reason. As a philosopher, I do quite a bit of research. In my early years this involved hours at local and sometimes not so local libraries. With the advent of broadband, much of my research is now conducted from the comfort of my study in front of my computer. However, some of the links I would follow seeking relevant information would infect my PC and leave me with quite a mess on my hands. In the early days of my PC use, I was uninitiated to the many ways I could protect my computer and facilitate recovery if my computer did become infected.

Enter virtual machines. The beauty of a virtual machine is that its file system is completely isolated from the host operating system. The guest operating system's virtual drive is seen as a single file with an alien file extension by the host operating system (in the case of VirtualBox, a .vdi extension). Additionally, I further protected the guest operating system by choosing a version of Linux since most malware is written to attack Microsoft Operating Systems. I began exploring Linux Mint with the 4.0 release and have been very pleased with it. It is by far the most stable operating system I have ever used.


Follow this link to visit the VirtualBox website:


Follow this link to visit the Linux Mint website:


Support Documents

These support documents should be useful to anyone who chooses to implement the Macrium Reflect Disc Image Restore Solution or the VirtualBox/Linux Mint Safe Browsing Solution.