I just spend an entire week coming up with a viable/reliable/easy way to build a base XP image, back it up and restore it so I can eliminate the need for Virtual PC (VPC)-based demos. At this point I am very glad I have a ThinkPad. Once I discovered their recovery CDs, I was able to build a base system very quickly. But it did not have XP SP2 or the dozens of updates since then. These CDs also did not have the dozens of upgrades to the IBM-provided components that make the ThinkPad sing. Fortunately, IBM has also been working on this issue. I discovered a (relatively) new program called the “ThinkPad software Installer”. This replaces the older application that never did work correctly. Unfortunately, this program would not run when installed. It seems that the people at TechPower Solutions (here in Redmond) did not bother to reset my serial number and system type on the motherboard when they fixed it a couple of months ago. That took another day to get fixed. Fortunately, the guy that did this (very sloppy) work has gone into the Marines. Anyway, the software installer works kinda like Windows Update except that it checks for updated versions on every IBM-supplied tool, utility, or driver. It also can update the BIOS. This is (IMHO) very cool.
Now that I had an updated/current/stable XP base image to work with I (naturally) thought that Norton (Synmantec) Ghost would be able to backup the drive/partition and let me restore it. Ah, no. While Ghost 9.0 (the latest) could backup the partition (if the moon is in the right alignment), the restored version would not boot. I called the so-called support people at Symantec and discovered (as many, many people have discovered) that their support staff in India is, well, terrible. They are barely understandable and can’t do anything but read a script or ask someone else for help. Don’t get me started on them again. After hours on hold, I gave up and dug through Google and the IBM site for help. The bottom line: it can’t be done viably, reliably or easily. Yes, I tried Partition Magic and it thought my perfectly functional drives had errors. It had no way to fix the problem or even tell me what was wrong.
I also discovered that my Thinkpad would not recogize a couple of older drives (12GB Toshibas) for some reason. IBM says they aren't supported. Sigh. I went out and bought another 7500 RPM Hitachi 60GB drive.
To get around some of these issues, I called IBM support and talked to someone in the deep south--Atlanta. Wow, what a difference. The people were professional, smart and made some great suggestions—and I speak Atlantian (and Texican, Mainian and several other US dialects) so they were easy to talk with. I also did not have to wait on hold (at all) during peak hours. I described the problem(s) and they suggested their own backup program. I said I did not want to use it as it requires me to dedicate a big hunk (up to half) of my hard drive to the backup image. And what happens if I want to use another drive or the original drive fails? They assured me that the new program (released in January) would be a far better solution.
I installed the new IBM Rescue and Recovery beast (about 900MB). It could not have been much easier. There is a major problem with it though. I pointed the application at my 120GB USB drive and when I started the backup it unceremoniously formatted it. I lost a ton of stuff—fortunately all backed up elsewhere (I think). I think the program should warn you that it’s going to format the drive twice and require a note from your mom before proceeding—especially when it finds data on the target drive. I’m going to send some mail to IBM about this. The program backs up the hard drive very fast and restores even faster. It also made the USB drive bootable. This means the next time you boot the system with the USB attached, the Rescue and Recovery program (which is also integrated into the boot loader) boots into a recovery mode. By integrating the R&R program into the boot loader, you can restore with a virgin hard drive and a DVD or backup USB.
It seems that the R&R program is also usable on other systems. While I have not tried it (yet), I think it will be a great way to perform systems backups that can actually be restored—unlike some other products. Where are those Ghost Busters when you need them?