Recovering a system which has crashed or otherwise fails to boot is a task which every technician will be very familiar with and it’s never a fun time for the owner of the uncooperative machine or the tech tasked with attempting to revive it. Fortunately there are a number of so called “Live CD’s” around which make recovery and other maintenance tasks relatively easy and needless to say, no IT technician should ever leave home without one (or several) along with something to actually run it on!
Commonly, LiveCD distros come with a range of useful technician tools such as diagnostics, forensics, benchmarking, antivirus, disk recovery, security tools and more to help the admin successfully complete whatever critical tasks need to be done to get the system running again or at least to safely recover the data stored there.
Linux is one of the more popular choices for LiveCD’s but there are others including for Mac, Windows, BSD and other Unix systems and even one for Amiga if you happen to have an old Amiga machine that needs some attention. These days, despite the legacy name “Live CD”, most such distros also work just as well on flash drives, dvd’s or hard disks and being able to install a fully bootable OS on a tiny USB stick is always useful!
One of the more popular LiveCD’s around is Knoppix and in fact there are many others around which are based on it, such as Hiren’s which is mentioned below. Knoppix is based on Debian and was first released way back in the year 2000 and has had frequent releases since then. It works well with a very wide array of hardware. It also has over 1000 tools included which should be enough to keep anyone busy and hopefully you will always be able to find the tool you need for the job at hand.
Hiren’s is an extremely popular one and, as previously mentioned, it is based on Knoppix which in turn is based on Debian. It includes Mini Windows XP amongst countless other Windows & DOS utilities making it great for accessing and fixing troublesome systems running Windows.
Ultimate Boot CD
The Ultimate Boot CD is another popular choice and it works great for repairing Windows and Linux systems and is in fact based on Linux like so many others. It features a good selection of tools to cater to most technician tasks for system recovery.
Ubuntu has been a popular choice as a desktop Linux OS for a good few years now and one of the reasons for that was their creation (and even shipping to your house) of a CD with which you can install the OS or even just run it directly from the CD itself. This LiveCD mode is actually the default and certainly helped encourage people to give it a try since they wouldn’t have to risk actually installing or ruining their existing system to do so. The Ubuntu LiveCD is still popular today and they also provide a helpful page explaining how to use it for various recovery tasks.
For a purely Windows solution there is WinPE which stands for Windows Preinstallation Environment and is actually a slimmed down version of Windows itself which can be used for system recovery and deployment.
If the above list of Live CD’s does not satisfy you, there is a nice long list of alternatives here which covers just about all the important ones – of course there are probably countless others made by those who fancied having their own custom LiveCD and you could also roll your own as well, using tools like Live Linux or YUMI if you really feel the need.