The Bootable Maintenance Flash Drive

I enjoy being the tech hero. Relatives and friends come to me with their computer problems, and more often than not, I help them. Their problem gets solved, and my ego goes up a notch. (I can vouch for that last one. --Ed.)

It helps to have the right tools--and unless a friend has a hardware problem, all of those tools fit onto a single flash drive. If a person's system is sufficiently sick, I can boot a Linux variation called PartedMagic from the flash drive. From there, I can retrieve files off an unbootable PC, check the condition of the hard drive, and scan for malware.

Not that I always have to do that. My special flash drive also contains multiple portable Windows utilities (relatives and friends with Macs are on their own). With these programs I can clean a hard drive, recover deleted files not in the Recycling Bin, properly remove installed programs, check the condition of the hard drive, and scan for malware.

All of the programs I'm recommending here are free, at least for personal use. Some may require licenses if you're a professional.

Creating a bootable flash drive is remarkably easy. All you need is a flash drive (a 512MB drive will do, with room to spare) and the free . Insert the drive into a USB port, and then launch the installer. In step one, select PartedMagic (it's somewhat near the bottom), and then check the Download the iso option. The download itself can take time; as I write this, the current version is 163MB. Everything else should be clear from there.

Once the drive is bootable, you can copy your Windows programs onto it. But I won't talk about those programs just yet; I'd rather start by showing you what to do in Linux.