An Unintentional look at IBM's Rescue and Recovery Software
As I posted a week or so ago, an errant uninstaller corrupted my new tablet's registry. While this was extremely unfortunate for me, because I was forced to work the rest of the day with a pen and paper, I did have a fairly good experience with both IBM's support, and the IBM Rescue and Recovery (RnR) Software.
First, the bad news: RnR was not able to recover my registry. This is not entirely the fault of the system however, as I had not yet created backup discs or created an image of the system to directly restore to - that was my fault. I ended up having to restore to the factory state of the system.
But, the good news: RnR allowed me to rescue ALL my documents to a USB stick, and I didn't lose a single piece of work. After booting into the RnR interface by pressing the big blue button on my tablet, I was quickly greeted with an interface that presented me with lots of options.
Using the rescue portion, I was able to see the entire contents of my hard drive and copy any files I needed to a USB thumb drive I have. Lucky for me I knew what I wanted, because the software doesn't have a list of common places for personal files, or anything that would lead an un-savvy user in the right direction. In any event, I saved everything I needed - not a moment lost.
After triggering the 'restore to factory contents' option of the recover menu [GN2]
the system went on autopilot for about half an hour, working hard and rebooting about 10-20 times. [GN3]
After the script was finished, the system rebooted once more, and I was greeted with the "Welcome to Windows XP TPC" setup screen, and was able to re-enter all my personal information to setup the tablet. After confirming the system was in fact working again, I reinstalled Office and OneNote, copied my documents back from my USB stick, and was back up and running within about 2 hours (which includes all of the recovery, Windows Update, and core apps installation). Not bad at all.
If I had the foresight to create a back image of my system, I'm sure the downtime would have been even shorter, but the fact that I was able to get from a dead machine to one that I was able to work on again in that short of time is simply amazing to me. I lost no work, and was only out about 3 hours of productivity (the extra hour it took me to translate my paper notes back to my system that night should be included here - I'm after a paperless work life, and keeping those notes around would be counterproductive).
While I am quite disappointed that I was not able to recover my system directly because I did not have access to a normal Windows XP installation disc, I do have to give Lenovo points for it's amazing RnR software. As an ultra portable, the x41 tablet has no optical drive, and I'm sure most people do not carry their install discs on the road with them anyways, so the ability to recover from a software failure while on the road is invaluable. I do wish there was a way for me to slipstream my Office and OneNote installations into my 'factory backup' though. If I were able to do that, I would feel more confident that I could lose my Windows installation while on a trip and still be fine, but the RnR's ability to rescue my files so that I didn't lose a minute's work was truly a life-saver.
One main gotcha that I discovered: Upon re-installing the IBM security software, I was locked out of a couple of my encrypted files. A set of AES encryption keys are written to the IBM security chip when it is initialized, and even though the chip survived the reinstall, the security software overwrote my previous security keys and in the process made it impossible to recover my encrypted files. Without installing that software again, I had no program with which to decrypt the files, a major catch-22. The RnR software doesn't have the ability to decrypt files either, so I was sunk. I've now been told that if I had made a backup of the system after I had originally initialized the security software, I wouldn't have had a problem.
Now, what have I learned? If your system comes with a great backup program like mine has, you should get off your butt and use it. Don't wait until you've crashed once to make a backup image - do it right now. You can get an external USB HD for under $80 these days, well worth the piece of mind that comes with a way to restore your system to how you like it, not to how the factory gave it to you.
Those of you who read my GeekNotes may have noticed I'm testing in-line notes with this article. I can't seem to keep WordPress from auto-fixing my code, so it messes up the line breaks. Hopefully I can work that out before the next article is ready. Please let me know if you hate it, love it, or whatever. Thanks.