One of Linux's best attributes is how malleable it is -- it's possible to create distributions that contain nothing but what you need, and fit them on everything from a floppy disk to a business-card-sized CD.
Some of the best distributions are the ones designed to accomplish very specific tasks, such as turning a system into a router/firewall without having to install anything.
If you need a system recovery solution that doesn't cost anything and works from a single CD, there are a few Linux-based solutions. One of the best is an ongoing project called the Trinity Rescue Kit, a system-recovery toolkit based on the Mandrake 9.1 distribution of Linux.
The Trinity Rescue Kit contains drivers to provide access to almost every commonly used variety of network, mass storage or system hardware. Utilities included allow for network access, shell/command-line sessions, access to just about every file system in common usage (including read/write access to NTFS 5.0), disk test tools, undelete tools (for all file systems including NTFS), partition management applications and even a virus scanner.
Non-Linux users can get started with the kit by using one of the many pre-written scripts included on the disk. For instance, the winpass script polls every available hard disk on the system for Windows installations and resets administrator passwords. This could obviously be used in a destructive fashion, but only if someone has physical access to the console; always restrict physical access to a computer whenever possible!
There are a few limitations, mostly because of the way NTFS is not fully supported in Linux. F-prot, the antivirus product, cannot clean NTFS partitions due to write limitations of the NTFS driver in Linux. Any files that are infected should be deleted if detected through this system.
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!
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