Thursday, my daughter’s Dell Inspiron laptop was working fine. She finished as usual, just closing the lid, which puts the laptop in suspend/hibernate mode.
Friday evening, she opened the lid, and got … nothing. It was plugged into power, the indicator light was on, but the screen remained totally blank. She tried moving the mouse, clicking buttons, pressing keys. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Finally, in desperation, she hit the power button.
When she booted it back up, she got the comforting splash screen, then it cleared, and … nothing. Just a little blinking cursor in the upper left corner.
Saturday, she called me and said, “I need help.”
I gathered up my usual live-CDs: Knoppix, PCLOS-2007, Minime-2008, Mandriva One; and headed over to her place. I had her run through the problem once more, and this time she indicated that in the last day’s troubleshooting, she had gotten a message once or twice about a corrupt or invalid filesystem. deciding to stick with what I am most familiar with, I pulled out my Minime-2008 CD, and booted her laptop. Same thing: blank screen, blinking cursor. I inserted the CD and rebooted. She watched over my shoulder. I went into the PCC and opened DiskDrake.
“See that large green block? That’s your Windows partition. Says its ntfs. Let’s see if we can mount it. Hmm. It says it’s not a valid filesystem, and can’t be mounted.”
She told me that she had done a data backup on Thursday, so she would lose no data if we re-installed. Fine. Where’s the XP disk? She didn’t have one. And we couldn’t even get to the repair console on the system. But she needed to get a system up and running, so she could do some newsletters for Monday’s Girls Scout meeting, among other things. She also wanted to get online and check her email, etc.
“Go ahead and install that PCLinux thing.”
Okay. A few quick checks (What kind of modem? A Broadcom blah-blah-blah. Etc.), and I went back to PCLOS, and installed it on her hard drive, where “C:” used to live. “You now have internet connectivity. Give me a few minutes to do a system update.”
After the updates, I installed a few things automatically, like fonts, Win32 codecs, dvdcss, etc. Then I asked her what her immediate needs were. A PDF-generating publishing tool for the newsletter. Scribus fit that bill. A music player: Amarok. “Can this play DVDs?” Kaffeine. MSN/AIM/IRC. I gave her both Kopete and Pidgin. I also installed OpenOffice, since I knew she had had MSOffice on the old system. Firefox3 for a familiar browser. Then I handed it to her.
She opened Scribus first. “Hey, I can use this!” She closed that, and stuck in a DVD movie. A moment later, a dialog popped up asking her what she wanted to do with it. She clicked “Play with Kaffeine”, and sure enough, there was her movie. This really started her laughing. Her live-in boyfriend had recently installed Ubuntu 8.04 on his desktop, because he wanted a good multimedia machine, and he thought “Elisa” looked interesting. But he could never get it to work. And now she was playing movies on her laptop, while his desktop system couldn’t.
Of course, this morning I learned that she called her tech support friend, who is shipping her an XP recovery CD. A lot of her data is locked up in proprietary format files (not just MSOffice), and she needs to run those programs to get at the data. So later this week, she is going to be reinstalling XP (which should prove to be a lot more work). But, until then, she has a more-than-functional laptop to keep her connected and productive.
And she kept the Minime CD to give to her boyfriend. ;)