Mac or Linux users, this post is not for you. However, if you are one of the approximately 75% of computer users worldwide who use Windows XP, it is likely that at some point in your computing life your machine will be compromised somehow by a virus, spyware, or some other nuisance that you didn’t ask for. Chances are you will wake up one day, turn your machine on, and it won’t boot, or something very strange may appear to have taken over your computer.

It is quite likely that at some point your computer will become so “gunked up” that it will be inoperable. You may or may not have done something knowingly risky (like installed pirated software, or gone to some questionable website), but short of abandoning Windows, all of us would be smart to be ready for the inevitable.

This post is NOT about my favorite security tools, or anti virus software, or spyware cleaners. It’s also not about backing up your files or best practices for safe computing. Rather it’s about a set of tools that are free that can be used to bring your machine back from the dead: Ultimate Boot CD for Windows.

Plain old CD-Rs are a read-only media. Why that’s important is that, even if you hard drive is wholly infected with awful stuff, you can boot from a protected environment and have access to tools that can help you recover. Since the early day of Windows 95 it has been possible to boot your computer from CDs. Microsoft was kind enough to leave a hook in Windows XP for developers to create CDs that are 100% capable of running the entire OS.

Several smart and resourceful folks have banded together to create and maintain the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. This is the internet at its best, as the instructions and tools required for making your own version of this CD are free and readily accessible from the website, http://www.ubcd4win.com/.

Once you create the CD, you will be able to boot a sick computer using it, so you can get online, as well as get to your precious files, so you can copy them onto a CD or an external drive. It will also allow you to choose and run a long list of useful tools (many of which are free, others in trial form) that will allow you to clean up spyware, viruses, run diagnostics, and recover from serious disasters of all kinds.

For copyright reasons, UBCD4WIN is not available commercially, or as a complete download. Rather you will have to download their special utility software from their website. Using this wizard based application, along with a copy of Windows XP Service Pack 2 CD (doesn’t have to be registered), and a CD burner, you will be able to create your own copy of the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. Periodically, you can update your disk image using their utility and create a new CD with the latest tools.

I have a copy of a recent burn of the Ultimate CD for Windows in my computer bag at all time — and have been glad to have it.

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