Linux-based system recovery distros are arguably the best bet when it comes to sorting out a computer issue where the operating system isn't playing nice, regardless of whether it's from Microsoft, Apple or the world of open-source. That said, Windows is the usual suspect, though not always because it won't boot; sometimes, you just need to run a few troubleshooting programs to diagnose and repair. Which ones? The GEGeek Tech Toolkit takes care of the selection process by providing you with basically everything.
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Windows: If you're constantly being asked to fixed the computers of friends and family you might as well have a few tools to make the process take up less of your time. The free Helge's Switchblade toolkit is a collection of networking, security, system and other miscellaneous portable applications.
There's any number of great antivirus tools that help protect your PC from viruses, but what about when you encounter an already-infected PC? Your best bet is a boot CD, and the free AVG Rescue CD cleans viruses easily.
It may have been a while since you considered using Windows' built-in tools for backing up your data, but for the average user with media and crucial file needs, Windows 7's default backup features look promising. Windows Vista was the first version of Windows to introduce a consolidated Backup and Restore Center, and Windows 7's own backup centre builds on it. The strengths of Windows' own system are its ability to leverage the built-in "Shadow Copy" features to restore previous versions of individual files or folders, and make only iterative backups when necessary—if only part of a massive file has changed, only that part has to be transferred and copied over. It also supports backup to shared network space and external drives, but you'd hope any backup utility worth its salt would do so. In a pretty real way, this backup system is kind of like Leopard's Time Machine—but without all the eye candy. Let's take a walk through the basics of Windows 7's backup system, and highlight the changes since Vista:
Windows only: DriverBackup2 is a lightweight driver-backup tool. The application is portable with a caveat: you'll need administrative privileges for full use. You can opt to backup one or all of your drivers, the backed up files are dumped into a tree structure based on driver name. DriverBackup2 also allows you to restore and delete unnecessary drivers. If you ever hunted for obscure drivers online, when installing legacy or obscure hardware for instance, DriverBackup2 will save you the hassle of searching them out again. For other driver viewing and backup solutions check out DoubleDriver and DriverView. DriverBackup2 is freeware, Windows only. DriverBackup2