The cloud saved my Windows 8 disaster

With Windows 8 back up, what about Ubuntu?

If there is one lesson I have learned in my life, it is that nothing ever goes easy. So why I thought it would be an easy fix after I messsed up my Windows partition while installing Ubuntu on my computer is beyond me. I guess I will never learn. Thank goodness the cloud saved my bacon.

After trying to fix a Windows 8 boot error myself I brought my laptop into the local Mom & Pop repair shop. I asked for someone who was familiar with Linux and disk partitions. I left the laptop and the next day the tech called me with the bad news. I had completely overwritten the Windows partition (I know, pretty stupid of me). I now had a really big Ubuntu swap file and a 400GB Linux hard disk. The tech said there was a Windows 8 boot partition, but no Windows to boot up. Not good news at all.

He said that since I had just installed Ubuntu, he should be able to recover the files on my disk except the ones that might have been written over during the Linux install. I said that would work, told him to just grab those files and leave Ubuntu on the machine so I could set up a new partition for Windows. Not too bad. 

Just when things were looking up, there is that good old Murphy's Law again (who is that Murphy guy, anyway?). The tech called me the next day (Saturday) and said he scanned the disk and found that there was nothing to salvage. Now, maybe he's not a great recovery expert, or maybe he is, but it was what it was. At this point, I had to realize that I had to pay the piper for my silly stunt. Windows and my files were toast on this machine.

I was looking at a clean install of Windows, and I guess I would see just how good my backup solutions were. What backup, you ask? Well, I had a backup in depth strategy. I had Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive on the box. Plus I had a 500GB Pogoplug appliance on my home network and Pogoplug cloud. The problem was that although I had all of that available, what was actually being backed up? Primarily I had my documents folder, pictures, video and music that was important. But I am getting ahead of myself. More about restoring from backup later.

The other problem was that I really liked running Ubuntu. Even when I put Windows back on, I wanted to keep Ubuntu on the machine as well. But talking to my friend Billy Austin of iScan Online, he told me that running a dual-boot setup was kind of dinosaur-ish. It would be better to run Ubuntu in a virtual environment. That made a lot of sense, as opposed to having to reboot the computer to switch between them. So I decided I would install Windows and run Ubuntu in a VM.

Having already bought Windows 8, I had my activation key and figured I just had to reinstall Windows 8 to get up and running. Well, not so fast - here's that Murphy guy again. It seems Microsoft only sells Windows 8 upgrades over the web. You need Windows running on your machine to use it. I called the Microsoft support number and they tried to get me to fork over another $199 dollars for a DVD of a full Windows license. I refused and was getting frustrated. This little adventure had already set me back more than a few dollars.

Then I remembered that I still had the license key for the Windows 7 that came with my laptop. I asked the Microsoft rep if I can download Windows 7, install that and then upgrade to Windows 8. For the first time in this whole ordeal, I caught a break. She said that was possible and would not cost me any additional money. So it was a bit clunky, but I downloaded and installed Windows 7, then downloaded and upgraded to Windows 8. I had to reformat my drive and wipe everything, but it worked. A few hours later, I was running Windows 8 again.

Now, I realized that my Toshiba laptop had a lot of Toshiba files that I had wiped out. So I spent the next few hours download and installing Toshiba-specific files. It was harder because Toshiba's support site is not that good and my laptop model is not technically on the Windows 8 upgrade list. But I was able to get the network, video and sound drivers all working well, and that is all I needed.

Running Microsoft Office 365, it was easy to reinstall my Office apps. As for my other apps, it was actually refreshing to only install those that I know I really use. It got rid of a lot of bloat on my machine. Now, though, it was down to the nitty gritty. What could I hope to have restored in the way of my files?

The easiest restore was my music. Between my iTunes match and Google music, I actually had two complete copies of all of my music files. I choose to leave them up in the cloud and not take up the GBs of space on my laptop. The next thing was my pictures. Between Shutterfly and my iCloud photo stream, I had my photos. What was missing were the graphic files that I use for my blog posts, for instance.  Those, I am afraid, are lost unless I go back to my blogs and download the image files. Frankly, they are not that precious. Most of them were taken from Google image searches, anyway.

Next was the My Documents folder. This was the trickiest. Since I was using Office 365, I had been storing a lot of files in SkyDrive. That turned out to be a blessing. Without problem, my files were still there. The files, of course, that I put in Dropbox were still available, and those that I had shared on Google Docs were there. Finally, my Pogoplug had a good chunk of files. Both the local Pogoplug appliance I have and the Pogoplug cloud had files. I restored those and that was the overwhelming bulk of my files. A few files from the last day or two before the crash are gone and the odd file that I did not store in a regular location are also gone. All in all, though, it could have been much worse.

It is a testament to how ubiquitous cloud apps are, at least in the consumer space, that without really trying too hard I actually had copies of almost all of my files. I have now also updated all of my cloud backup locations in case this ever happens again.

So I am back up and running. A little worn for the wear, but wiser for sure. The next question is about Ubuntu. I installed Microsoft Hyper-V on my Windows 8 desktop. I can now run an Ubuntu VHD. Does anyone know where I can get an up-to-date VHD? Let me know. Also, I would be interested in your thoughts about running in a VM versus a dual-boot, or should I just stick with running it of a USB stick?

Many thanks to all of the commenters who gave me advice on how to restore my Windows files as well. To those who called me names or thought I was blaming Linux or other such drivel, sorry I wasn't clearer about what happened.

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