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In Praise of Clonezilla

To really understand this article, you have to understand how things work around our house. It's pretty simple - I am forbidden, under penalty of grievous bodily harm, from touching my partner's computer unless I am specifically asked to do so.

To really understand this article, you have to understand how things work around our house. It's pretty simple - I am forbidden, under penalty of grievous bodily harm, from touching my partner's computer unless I am specifically asked to do so. It is a rather old HP desktop, which we got second-hand through a friend (thanks again Ueli, it's still working great), and it does exactly what she wants. It is running Windows XP, which bothers me a bit, but did I mention that it does exactly what she wants, she knows exactly how to use it, and if I attempt to change or "improve" anything on it I am likely to lose some vital bodily parts? In all honesty, seeing what people have gone through with "updates" to Windows Vista, Windows 7, MS Office 2007 and MS Office 2010, it would be difficult to argue that her attitude is wrong, or that it has not paid off by saving her a massive amount of lost time over the past four or five years, and what, exactly has she missed out on?

Anyway, she recently asked me to take a look at it, because it was complaining about low disk space. I checked, and sure enough it had something silly like 400 MB of free space. I looked a little deeper, and saw that it had a 40 GB IDE disk drive! Yikes! Yes, you read that right. As I said, it is old, and I haven't touched it for years. So, it was obviously time for an upgrade. I talked to her about the possibilities - a new computer, or a recycled computer again, or I could build a mini-desktop for her... but all of those involved a lot of work, and a lot of disruption, and a lot of trial-and-error getting all the necessary software and applications set up on the new system. It would make a lot more sense to just swap to a larger disk drive.

That was when I saw the announcement on DistroWatch of a new release of Clonezilla. I haven't looked at Clonezilla in quite a few years, but if I could use it to just copy everything to a larger disk drive, that could be great. I dug around in the closet, and found an unused 320GB IDE disk drive, and an external 3.5" USB/IDE disk enclosure. I downloaded the Clonezilla ISO, and burned it to a mini-CD - it's only 125MB. I took all that down to her computer, connected the USB drive and booted the LiveCD. Everything is very obvious. It asks quite a few questions, to make absolutely sure that you are doing what you want/need/intended. I used "clone from drive to drive", and it did exactly that. It took about 30 minutes to copy everything, including bootloader, partition table and 37 GB of data. When it was done I swapped the disk drives - HP have done a very good job of making removing and replacing drives easy - hit the power button, and it came right up! Hooray! Wow! That could hardly have been easier.

Of course, because Clonezilla literally copied everything from the old drive to the new, the Windows partition on the new drive was still only 40GB, and was still almost full. I could probably have told it to expand the partition at the same time, but I was using it in "beginner" mode, and I didn't want to risk having something go wrong. So now all I did was boot a Linux Mint LiveCD and use GParted to increase the partition size to 120GB. That took all of two minutes. Just think about that, less than an hour of work, compared to spending several hundred francs on a replacement system, and then most of the weekend reinstalling Windows XP, installing and configuring applications, trying it to see what we had missed or forgotten, worrying about not having copied over all of her data. This was a major win.

By the way, please don't mention this to her, but since I was already running GParted from a Linux Mint Debian Edition LiveCD, I took the opportunity to set up a little partition at the end of the new disk drive and install LMDE on it. Just in case, you know... if something should go seriously wrong, I can always boot Linux to sort it out. Not that I would ever go in there and touch her computer, now that it is working again. But just in case, you know...

jw 22/1/2011