Sunday, December 18, 2016

Recovering programs after a crash when on a boat

Running InfraRecorder, select "to a Disc Image"
When I'm traveling on the ICW I use my iPad for about 90% of computing power on board and it has served me well. However, the remaining 10% is very important and consists of publishing the blog every night and occasional route planning. So it was very unsettling when my laptop died with a hard drive crash. That experience led to the previous article on how to recover from that disaster when isolated on a boat.

I now want to cover how to better prepare (than I did) for such an unsettling experience. Following the previous article, I now had my laptop up and running with the new hard drive but nothing was loaded except Windows 10. I had all my old passwords stored on my iPad so at least that was not a problem. I started loading programs:
- Email:  I just used the mail program which comes with Windows 10. It's not very pretty but it gets the job done.
- Browser: Win10 comes with window's Edge browser but I like Google Chrome, available for downloading (I used Edge for that first download)
- I signed into Google's Blogger site and I was up and running on my blog.
- Cloud Storage: I downloaded Google Drive and after sync'ing I could access all my old data, nothing was lost. I also had access via my iPad without interruption during the crash.
- I downloaded the latest Norton Security program and activated it with my Norton password.
- I downloaded Quicken (no charge for the download) and activated it with my Quicken password. Now I was reconnected to all my accounts although I already had access via my iPad.
- Next was a download of InfraView, a very useful free, photo editing program for about 95% of my photo editing needs (cropping, resolution reduction for the web, etc.)

After clicking "to a Disc Image" you get to name it and where to save it
At this point I started to run into trouble. I use Adobe CS4 for more advanced photo editing and that disk was at home in New York as were the disks for Microsoft Excel, Word, and Publisher. On the iPad I just use the Apple corresponding products of Numbers, Pages and Keynote (but not a Publisher counterpart). They work well on the iPad but I needed a PC solution. I've found the Microsoft Office 2000 versions of Excel and Word have more than enough power for my uses and they're paid for, no monthly fee like the new products. My copy of Adobe CS4 also has no monthly fee, a thing to be treasured.

I never found a way around the problem of not having the installation disks while on my boat. One option is to download Apache Open Office  as suggested by Fred Brillo with the same capabilities as the Microsoft Office suite and best of all it's free. All data can be exchanged to and from the Microsoft suite, the formats are fully compatible. However, if you still want to stick with your favorite office suite as I did, then I did find a solution and it may be of interest to those cruising in remote places when you suffer from a computer meltdown. Whether it's just a disk crash or a complete loss of your laptop, you will need those installation disks for your fix. I don't know if you've noticed or not but most new laptops do not come with a CD or DVD reader anymore. Luckily, you do not need one if you plan ahead. The solution is to read all installation disks you might need while at home on your desktop computer with a CD reader attached. Use InfraRecorder to transfer the contents of the disk to an ISO file. The program is free and does not contain malware or ads like many similar programs. Let's be clear on one point, this is perfectly legal since the programs are protected with product keys which you have to know to activate the programs. You're just making a more convenient format for installation on your laptop. If you don't know the program keys anymore (lost, forgot, etc.) then they can be recovered from a computer with the programs already installed, like your desktop at home. The best program to use is Belarc Advisor. It prints out a complete listing with product codes of everything stored on your computer and more. It is free and safe, no malware or viruses. Needless to say, store the output in a safe place. I put my copy in the cloud on my Google Drive where I can always access it.

To install a program, right click on the ISO file and select "Open with" and "Windows Explorer"
I then opened InfraRecorder and inserted the first installation disk, in my case I started with Microsoft Word. For each disk it will ask you to name it and where you want to store the resulting ISO file (that's the file type, e.g., xxxxx.iso). So I transferred Word, Excel, Publisher and Adobe CS4 as ISO files to my Google Drive which I can access anytime I have an internet connection. I can also just store the ISO files on a USB thumb drive if desired or on my iPad for easy access.

After right clicking on "Windows Explorer" you're presented with the disc contents. Click on an EXE file, either SETUP.EXE or INSTALL.EXE
Now comes the best part. Windows 10 can read an ISO file just as if a CD drive was reading the disk. The path to do this depends on whether or not you have another program as the default program to open ISO files. You won't see the option to Mount the ISO disk if you have another program as the default choice in Win10. To get around this, just right click on the ISO file you want to install and hover with the pointer over "Open with" and you will see a selection labeled "Windows Explorer". Left click on that option when the mouse pointer is over that option. Then double click on either Setup.exe or Install.exe, the choice differs between install programs. You can now proceed to do an install.

So the next time (hopefully never) I have a crash or lose my laptop, I can reload my Microsoft and Adobe programs from the ISO files stored in the cloud on my Google Drive just using Windows 10 as described above.


Fred Brillo said...


In a pinch, if for some reason you couldnt get your Microsoft office programs to work, I would suggest that you try "Open Office". Its open source applications that work just as well, if not better, than MS Office. They're generally alot smaller than their Microsoft counterparts and are just as intuitive. Best part is that they are absolutely FREE and 100% legal. The suite can be downloaded at There are both, Windows and Macintosh versions.

The downloads are malware free.

Bob423 said...

Fred, I've used Open Office and it's a fine suite of programs. It's just that I've gotten used to MS Office 2000 and I have a copy anyway now. While I was without MS 2000, I just used my iPad and WordPad which still comes free with Win10.

Fred Brillo said...

But for those who might find themselves in your situation, but without the ability to load licensed copies of MS OFFICE, Open Office is a great alternative to get them though till they can reload their own legal copies.

For those of you who might try Open Office, the application formats are all totally compatible with MS Office apps and some have additional functionality that MS OFFICE does not have.

Im a national account manager for a Global IT Company. For personal use, why buy the MS OFFICE product and pay through the nose when Open Office is just as good, if not better in alot of respects than MS Office...and its a sailors best friend....its free.

Bob423 said...

Thanks Fred, good post and a good option for those without access to their preferred office programs. I'll update the post with a link.

Jim Healy said...

Bob, there's a MUCH easier way... Ditch Windoz, adopt a Mac, convert to OpenOffice... Weekly or so, do a time machine backup (equivalent to System Restore)... No more install discs... And, you get compatibility with your iPad, too...

I did all this 8 years ago... Best technology decision I ever made!


Bob423 said...

Jim, that is certainly an option but I had a PC laptop instead of a Mac. All my other computing devices are Apple (Pad 4, iPad Air 2, iPhone 6) which have been pretty stable, but not perfect. Even though Apple maintains a very tight grip on design releases of both apps and iOS's, bugs still creep in. I'm currently fighting a non-rotation bug on my iPad only solved by a reboot. By this point in time both OS's are stable which was not always the case. In the world of tablets you can't beat Apple for the variety and richness of apps vs Android or Microsoft. In the world of laptop or desktop computing, it's Microsoft with the greatest variety. If all you need are the capabilities of an office suite, then it doesn't matter.

What defeated me in my recovery process was the unilateral decision by Microsoft to turn off the saving of automatic restore points in Win10. In all previous versions a restore point would have been saved that I could have used to regain the use of my laptop assuming my hard drive was still functional. Further complicating the recovery was that the F8 access to he recovery menu was also turned off by default. I now have both turned on.

If your hard drive does crash, then you will still need either your program installation disks or an equivalent download from the cloud for either Microsoft or Apple products.