A horror story with a potentially happy ending.

Michael Richter ttmrichter at gmail.com
Sun Jan 1 07:36:17 UTC 2006

So, I use PartitionMagic 8.0 to move a few things around for the
ever-expanding Ubuntu portion of my hard disk.  Then the god-awful happens:
in the middle of applying my changes, Partition magic gives one of its
ever-helpful error messages ("Error #705 applying changes.") and stops.
Since what I was doing was a minor change (blowing away a swap partition to
ready myself for some reshuffling), I didn't panic the way I should have.

Whatever error #705 was (if that was indeed the number), it should have been
more explicit.  It should have read "Error #705: you are royally screwed!".
Because when I finished my Windows session and went to move back to my
Ubuntu side, GRUB had an effing conniption and... I had no drive.

Now since I am primarily a Windows user (and all my software and work sits
under Windows as a result), my natural reflex was to pull out my Windows
recovery disk to see what I could do.  What a damned joke.  Apparently, to
Sony, "recovery" means "erase everything on the whole disk and put back in
the vanilla install".  There was no option of any kind to try and restore
the MBR or any such thing.  Just a snide "it is advised to back up your
critical data before proceeding"-style message.  Bastards!

Luckily I have Ubuntu.  And, more specifically, I have my Ubuntu LiveCD.
Which I booted and fired up GParted in.  To see that I have.... no
partitions.  Time to go hunting.

Having a fully-functional system despite not having a functional hard drive
has its advantages.  Sure it may be slow as all Hell on a CD, but it works.
And it lets me surf the net to find possible solutions before giving up and
losing literally years of data.  Ordinarily I'd have to go to another
computer (say in my classroom) to research solutions and download things and
even mess with the hard drive (after removing it), but the Ubuntu LiveCD
rendered that unnecessary.  On the same crippled machine I could do whatever
I needed to do.

Well, a bit of research later, I got gpart and a few other similar tools.
Of those, gpart was the most useful.  It found my partitions and even
restored them.  But for a slight hurdle: it couldn't find my extended
partition, so all my logical partitions were elevated to primaries.  All
four of them.  Plus my Windows partition.  You can see the problem....  So
while all the partitions were found, only four of them could be saved.

Luckily one of them was my swap partition.  I could lose that for a while.
So I restored the four partitions holding data and rebooted.

GRUB still had a conniption.

Of course that was to be expected in lovely hindsight.  /dev/hda5 was the
partition with /boot on it before the disaster and now it's /dev/hda2.  I
tried a few dead-end approaches (including an attempt to hand-patch the GRUB
stage 1 and 1.5 levels because I just COULD NOT convert these primaries to
logicals!) but they were fruitless.  A total waste of time and energy.  So I
went to bed.  (4AM by this point.)  Next morning I had my epiphany: I had an
external USB drive with stuff I was meaning to turf for a long time on it,
so I did.  I made it a 40GB ext3fs drive instead and went to work.  Into the
shell I went and mounted the three Linux partitions with data.  Then I
tar/bzip2ed the data from each one onto the external drive.  I used GParted
to make the old partition setup again (extended plus four logical) and just
untarred the files back into the appropriate partitions.  A quick reboot and
try again.

It still failed.  But at least the error message was different.  #15
(couldn't find file) instead of #22 (couldn't find partition).  Back to the
LiveCD and back to the net to figure out how to bring GRUB back to life.

A brief aside: GRUB is a great piece of software with really crappy
documentation full of jargon with little cross-referencing.

Anyway, this was proving fruitless and basically beyond me.  I just don't
think the UNIX way -- and have no desire to start.  (I'm more a devotee of
the Stanford school of thought
<http://www.jwz.org/doc/worse-is-better.html>than of the New Jersey
school of thought, this despite my distaste for
Lisp.)  So I did what any sleep-and-caffeine-deprived moron would think of
after nearly 20 hours of working on a problem like this: I put in the Ubuntu
install CD and let it, through some judicious work, bypass the installation
of actual packages and repair GRUB for me.

So here's where things stand now.  GRUB is saved.  Ubuntu works (with a few
annoying glitches -- I may just reinstall the system and restore my /home,
taking the opportunity afforded to modify my partitioning scheme or even
play with LVM/EVMS for fun).  Windows is deader than disco -- it won't boot
without a BSOD and the BSOD vanishes before I can even read it only to
reboot again.  And again.  And again.  I have some ideas for recovering it
that would make a grown man cry, but ... here's the thing.  I may not do it.

Oh, let's face it I probably will.  I'll do Sony's version of "recovery",
restore my vital data (which is sitting on that handy external disk -- the
partition can't be booted, but it reads just fine!), and then uninstall
everything under Windows but for the few applications left which don't have
a suitable Linux alternative.  (That list shrinks regularly and consists now
of mostly games.)  I'll wind up with 5-10GB devoted to Windows and 30GB
devoted to Linux.  And Linux -- Ubuntu -- will be the OS I use most of the
time now.

And all this because PartitionMagic decided to be actively user-hostile.
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