Having figured out last night how to rescue files from a corrupt Windows computer, I thought I’d share it in the event anyone else faces a similar situation.

The situation is this: Your Windows computer will not boot and it has files you need desperately.

This happened to my wife’s Acer netbook, running Windows XP. It became infected with a stubborn virus. In attempting to repair it, a Windows system file, “services.exe,” was deleted. With that file gone, Windows would not boot — not even in safe mode and not even trying the “last known good configuration” option.

To the rescue came Ubuntu, a free, open source, Linux operating system. Ubuntu lets you create a bootable USB stick. (You can also create a bootable CD, but the netbook has no CD drive.) You do not even need to install Ubuntu on the computer; you can run the OS right from the USB stick.

To do this is ridiculously easy. (Of course, you’ll need a second computer to create the bootable stick.) From the Ubuntu main web page, go to the download page. It walks you step-by-step through the process of creating the bootable CD (and it is only a couple steps). The only thing you need in advance is a stick with at least 2 GB of space.

Once you’ve prepared the USB stick, stick it in the corrupted computer and start it up. Depending on how your computer is set up, you will probably need to first change the boot order. How you do this depends on your model of computer, so you should check the manual. With the Acer, you simply hit “F12” after turning on the power and a menu appears letting you change the boot order. Select the USB stick and you’re good to go. (You can also go into the BIOS, which you do on the Acer by hitting “F2.”)

Ubuntu loads quickly and is extremely easy to use. In fact, once you try it, you may wonder why you’re using Windows in the first place. It even comes preinstalled with a full LibreOffice suite (compatible with Microsoft Office), the Firefox browser and other essential applications.

Most importantly, it gives you full access to your files, so you can easily get access to key files or entire folders. For my wife’s netbook, I connected a USB external drive and simply dragged her must-have files there.

While I was in there, I reinstalled the Windows system file that had been deleted. The whole process took less than an hour.

As for the infected Acer, my wife’s decided to just wipe it clean and reinstall Windows — safe to do now that she has recovered all her files.

  • Great tip Bob! I need to file this away for future reference.

  • Thanks for this great tutorial. As a full time Linux (Ubuntu) user, we need more people like you highlighting the significant advantages that open source and Linux can bring to multiple handy situations. If you can put up with the learning curve, you just can’t beat the free software and second to none community.

    I’m super impressed that you would do this!

    • Is it even much of a learning curve? Ubuntu seemed to me to be quite intuitive and easy to use — not to mention fast.

      • Ubuntu is intuitive! However, there can be difficult frustrations for the new user. I consider myself an expert and I still want to pull my hair out sometimes.

        The great part about Linux is the wonderful community. If you are an expert Googler then there is no reason why you can’t be successful with Linux.

  • K

    OMG! Is this for real?? I will try this to my corrupted computer. I didn’t reformat it yet. I hope I could still retrieve my important files. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Jordan

    Hi, can you please elaborate on how you accessed the files on the Windows part of your computer using Ubuntu? Could you also please elaborate on how you were able to install Ubuntu onto the computer without destroying the hard drive, unless it was previously partitioned. I’m in a similar bind and would love to know what you did.

    • It’s been awhile since I did this, but as I recall I just used the file explorer within Ubuntu to file the files, much the same way as you’d use Explorer in Windows.

  • Bert Leen

    It is very easy techniques to recover corrupted data file from your computer without any hard disk format and windows repair process. Use Kernel for windows data recovery software to recovery complete data from windows NTFS and FAT partition.

  • ben

    Bootable Linux “mini-kernels” are the best. There are a lot out there for sure. I started using Clonezilla almost by accident. It’s a free imaging tool (AWESOME in itself) but has shell access also! I’ve used it for quite a few sysadmin-y tasks from changing root password on inherited systems to recovering files from a non-booting Windows computer. Thanks for the tips! I’ll have to check your suggestions out, but you know how sysadmins are usually creatures of habit 🙂 And Clonezilla seems to keep up to date with various raid card and hard drive drivers (which makes sense..it’s an imaging tool)

    Video of me using clonezilla to copy files from non-booting windows laptop


    Video of changing root pass