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Move Files from a Failing PC with an Ubuntu Live CD

You’ve loaded the Ubuntu Live CD to salvage files from a failing system, but where do you store the recovered files? We’ll show you how to store them on external drives, drives on the same PC, a Windows home network, and other locations.

We’ve shown you how to recover data like a forensics expert, but you can’t store recovered files back on your failed hard drive! There are lots of ways to transfer the files you access from an Ubuntu Live CD to a place that a stable Windows machine can access them.

We’ll go through several methods, starting each section from the Ubuntu desktop – if you don’t yet have an Ubuntu Live CD, follow our guide to creating a bootable USB flash drive, and then our instructions for booting into Ubuntu. If your BIOS doesn’t let you boot using a USB flash drive, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Use a Healthy Hard Drive

If your computer has more than one hard drive, or your hard drive is healthy and you’re in Ubuntu for non-recovery reasons, then accessing your hard drive is easy as pie, even if the hard drive is formatted for Windows.

To access a hard drive, it must first be mounted. To mount a healthy hard drive, you just have to select it from the Places menu at the top-left of the screen. You will have to identify your hard drive by its size.

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Clicking on the appropriate hard drive mounts it, and opens it in a file browser.

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You can now move files to this hard drive by drag-and-drop or copy-and-paste, both of which are done the same way they’re done in Windows.

Once a hard drive, or other external storage device, is mounted, it will show up in the /media directory. To see a list of currently mounted storage devices, navigate to /media by clicking on File System in a File Browser window, and then double-clicking on the media folder.

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Right now, our media folder contains links to the hard drive, which Ubuntu has assigned a terribly uninformative label, and the PLoP Boot Manager CD that is currently in the CD-ROM drive.

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Connect a USB Hard Drive or Flash Drive

An external USB hard drive gives you the advantage of portability, and is still large enough to store an entire hard disk dump, if need be. Flash drives are also very quick and easy to connect, though they are limited in how much they can store.

When you plug a USB hard drive or flash drive in, Ubuntu should automatically detect it and mount it. It may even open it in a File Browser automatically. Since it’s been mounted, you will also see it show up on the desktop, and in the /media folder.

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Once it’s been mounted, you can access it and store files on it like you would any other folder in Ubuntu.

If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t mount automatically, click on Places in the top-left of your screen and select your USB device. If it does not show up in the Places list, then you may need to format your USB drive.

To properly remove the USB drive when you’re done moving files, right click on the desktop icon or the folder in /media and select Safely Remove Drive. If you’re not given that option, then Eject or Unmount will effectively do the same thing.

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Connect to a Windows PC on your Local Network

If you have another PC or a laptop connected through the same router (wired or wireless) then you can transfer files over the network relatively quickly.

To do this, we will share one or more folders from the machine booted up with the Ubuntu Live CD over the network, letting our Windows PC grab the files contained in that folder. As an example, we’re going to share a folder on the desktop called ToShare.

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Right-click on the folder you want to share, and click Sharing Options. A Folder Sharing window will pop up.

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Check the box labeled Share this folder. A window will pop up about the sharing service. Click the Install service button.

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Some files will be downloaded, and then installed. When they’re done installing, you’ll be appropriately notified.

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You will be prompted to restart your session. Don’t worry, this won’t actually log you out, so go ahead and press the Restart session button.

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The Folder Sharing window returns, with Share this folder now checked. Edit the Share name if you’d like, and add checkmarks in the two checkboxes below the text fields. Click Create Share.

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Nautilus will ask your permission to add some permissions to the folder you want to share. Allow it to Add the permissions automatically.

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The folder is now shared, as evidenced by the new arrows above the folder’s icon.

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At this point, you are done with the Ubuntu machine. Head to your Windows PC, and open up Windows Explorer. Click on Network in the list on the left, and you should see a machine called UBUNTU in the right pane.

Note: This example is shown in Windows 7; the same steps should work for Windows XP and Vista, but we have not tested them.

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Double-click on UBUNTU, and you will see the folder you shared earlier! As well as any other folders you’ve shared from Ubuntu.

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Double click on the folder you want to access, and from there, you can move the files from the machine booted with Ubuntu to your Windows PC.

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Upload to an Online Service

There are many services online that will allow you to upload files, either temporarily or permanently. As long as you aren’t transferring an entire hard drive, these services should allow you to transfer your important files from the Ubuntu environment to any other machine with Internet access.

We recommend compressing the files that you want to move, both to save a little bit of bandwidth, and to save time clicking on files, as uploading a single file will be much less work than a ton of little files.

To compress one or more files or folders, select them, and then right-click on one of the members of the group. Click Compress….

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Give the compressed file a suitable name, and then select a compression format. We’re using .zip because we can open it anywhere, and the compression rate is acceptable.

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Click Create and the compressed file will show up in the location selected in the Compress window.

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Dropbox

If you have a Dropbox account, then you can easily upload files from the Ubuntu environment to Dropbox. There is no explicit limit on the size of file that can be uploaded to Dropbox, though a free account begins with a total limit of 2 GB of files in total.

Access your account through Firefox, which can be opened by clicking on the Firefox logo to the right of the System menu at the top of the screen.

Once into your account, press the Upload button on top of the main file list.

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Because Flash is not installed in the Live CD environment, you will have to switch to the basic uploader. Click Browse…find your compressed file, and then click Upload file.

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Depending on the size of the file, this could take some time. However, once the file has been uploaded, it should show up on any computer connected through Dropbox in a matter of minutes.

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Google Docs

Google Docs allows the upload of any type of file – making it an ideal place to upload files that we want to access from another computer. While your total allocation of space varies (mine is around 7.5 GB), there is a per-file maximum of 1 GB.

Log into Google Docs, and click on the Upload button at the top left of the page.

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Click Select files to upload and select your compressed file. For safety’s sake, uncheck the checkbox concerning converting files to Google Docs format, and then click Start upload.

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Go Online – Through FTP

If you have access to an FTP server – perhaps through your web hosting company, or you’ve set up an FTP server on a different machine – you can easily access the FTP server in Ubuntu and transfer files. Just make sure you don’t go over your quota if you have one.

You will need to know the address of the FTP server, as well as the login information.

Click on Places > Connect to Server…

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Choose the FTP (with login) Service type, and fill in your information. Adding a bookmark is optional, but recommended.

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You will be asked for your password. You can choose to remember it until you logout, or indefinitely.

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You can now browse your FTP server just like any other folder. Drop files into the FTP server and you can retrieve them from any computer with an Internet connection and an FTP client.

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Conclusion

While at first the Ubuntu Live CD environment may seem claustrophobic, it has a wealth of options for connecting to peripheral devices, local computers, and machines on the Internet – and this article has only scratched the surface. Whatever the storage medium, Ubuntu’s got an interface for it!

Trevor is our resident Linux geek, but always keeps his eyes open for neat Windows tricks too.

  • Published 05/14/10

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