Home Users Have It

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-04-06 Print this article Print

Tougher"> But for home users and small businesses, things are harder. Its not practical, for reasons of cost and expertise, for them to set up a robust imaging system. As a result, as with so many other areas of computing, theyre stuck with the sub-optimal solutions.

Even if they spent the money for the network hardware, home users couldnt really do images the way enterprises do. The right way is to use a base install image, in combination with necessary device drivers and a tool named sysprep, to effectively automate an installation of the operating system along with needed applications and other files. This is out of any home users or small business league.

What they can do is use a tool like Norton Ghost and cheap external storage to store a known good image of an installed system. A huge external USB hard drive can be purchased for as little as $100 and, with Ghost set to re-image periodically, provides the most practical backup system around. Periodically it might make sense to burn an image to a CD-R or DVD-R.

Restoring an image from such a setup involves booting off the Ghost CD and restoring the most recent image known to be safe. This can be a difficult decision of course, but theres no way around it. If you go back to an old burned image, you might lose documents.

Im not sure what the best way to solve the home user issue is, but it needs to be solved. In an era of rootkits, you just cant trust cleanups. Probably some variation of the Ghost and external drive I mentioned is the best choice, although it is a complicated option. It also has the advantage of being a real backup solution, with access to individual files if necessary.

Another option for home users is System Restore, which takes a snapshot of the operating system and user customizations periodically and at important events, like application installs. Unfortunately, its not completely trustworthy; its possible for malware to mess directly with the backups, and it doesnt clean up some areas of the system, like the inbox.

Rootkits have been around a long time and affected UNIX long before they affected Windows. I dont blame Microsoft for malware that ruins a system to the point that its hard to clean up reliably. Any badly administered system can be put in the same position.

If I blame Microsoft for anything, its for focusing most of its solutions in this area on the enterprise.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. More from Larry Seltzer Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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