On Linux, Booting Up, and Frustation

I spent the last two days wallowing in sorrow, trying to get my computer to run again.

Two days ago, I decided to install ArchLinux. I was attracted by its minimalist design. All I wanted was a terminal, so that I could build it up however I liked. Plus, it’d be useful to be able to use Linux natively. Currently, I use Putty to connect to the CS Linux machines to do homework. Its fine and all, but I can’t do as much as I like that way. For example, its nigh impossible to work on GUI applications this way. Plus, Arch is what the cool kids use.

The Arch installation process is a far cry from Ubuntu’s. It’s not pretty and involves a lot of low-level wrangling with partitions and configuration files. First off, I had to search for an hour online to find the correct kernel flags that allowed me to even start the installation process. Setting up the clock was the only simple part about the process. Then came the partition selection step. Since I didn’t know the Linux names for the partitions on my system, I had to use the  Ubuntu LiveCD’s gparted utility to find out. I also used it to create a partition for the Linux install. It was much easier using the LiveCD’s  lovely colorful interface than having to endure the process of doing it on the command line.

Then, I had to configure the mount points. I had never heard of a mount point in my life. At this point, I probably should have called it quits, but I kept going. I did as Lifehacker’s guide suggested and set the swap and root partitions. Choosing and installing the packages was a breeze after I discovered how to select the ones I wanted. Then, I had to go through a bunch of config files and make minor changes. No biggie.

The final part was installing Grub, which lets you choose which OS to boot into, and that failed spectacularly. By spectacular, I mean without any cause and an inexplicable error message. I tried for another hour or two to find the golden solution on the internet to no avail. Arch had conquered me for I was not worthy.

At this point, I could still boot into Windows as if Arch didn’t even exist on the drive. Since GRUB wasn’t installed, it went straight into booting Windows.

Since I was defeated by Arch, I decided to install Ubuntu. I wanted to run some Linux distro. Besides, installing Ubuntu would partially redeem me, I thought. The installation process was a million times simpler than Arch’s for sure. It took care of most of the details for me.

But alas, I fire up the system and I can’t get into Windows! It gave me a blue screen. Isn’t it ironic that the supposedly beginner-friendly distro was the one to mangle my computer? Ubuntu, on the other hand ran fine and dandy. I proceeded to spent the next day feeling depressed at the situation.

The first thing that came to my mind was recovering it with the Windows 7 installation disk. I go through the maneuvers and try to do startup repair, but it doesn’t recognize that I have Windows installed on the disk. What? Ludicrous! Unfortunate…

I used Ubuntu to mount my Windows partition and was glad to see that everything was there. If worse came to worse, I could just backup my files and nuke the drive, or so I thought. It became obvious that it was a problem with booting up. All of the Windows files were fine as they hadn’t been modified in any way. The bootup information was messed up. Somehow.

I just cared about making Windows boot up again at this point. Linux was nice to have but definitely not as essential as Windows. So, I proceeded to recreate the boot information for Windows via the command prompt on the recovery console. Or tried to, at least. That process pretty gave me a bunch of error messages. But, hey! It made me lose access to Ubuntu and fated me to bluescreen when loading Windows over and over. What a productive effort!

Then, I backed up my files, realizing that repairing the master boot record was probably not going to happen. I deleted the Windows partition and tried to install Windows using the CD. But it wouldn’t recognize my partitions! Essentially, I couldn’t tell it where to install! I tried for a while to find drivers to get it to recognize, but to no avail. Then, I tried to change the BIOS settings to change the hard drive controllers. Nope. The setting couldn’t be found at all!

Let me take a second to explain my disk’s structure at this point. The first partition was about 100 kb and gparted didn’t recognize it. I have and never will have any clue about why it was there. Next, comes the 200 mb boot partition that Windows made for some reason. Then, the 450 gb main Windows partition. The 25 gb Ubuntu partition and the 1 gb swap came after.

So there was a bunch of weirdness going on with the drive. I read on some Windows forum that in an attempt to make the disk play nice with the installer, wiping the entire thing with zeroes would be a good idea. I decided to try the next best thing; I deleted all of the partitions and created one NTFS gigantor. I was ecstatic when the installer recognized the partition. Can’t argue with Gigantor staring you in the face, eh Windows?

I proceeded to install Windows 7. I was so fearful that it wouldn’t work after everything else going wrong, but it worked perfectly. Then, I realized that I installed the 32-bit version, so I had to redo the install again. I spent more than five hours after that loading my files back and installing the software I needed. The only good thing that came out of this debacle was that all of the tens of gigabytes of random stuff I had accumulated over the past eight months. On the other hand, I spent one day messing up my computer, another day fixing it, and a third day getting it back to how it used to be. Three days in spring break gone down the drain.

What lessons did you learn, children? Don’t mess with a computer that you can’t afford to lose. Install Arch only if you know what you’re doing. Even Ubuntu can mess up your computer. Whose fault is it for not being careful? Mine, all mine. I admit that as a I shed a torrent of tears.

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