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Due to updates, my machine can no longer boot properly. I am no Ubuntu guru. I do not have a week to spare diagnosing the issue. I just want to retrieve important data from this machine's hard drive and get a working computer again ASAP.

What should I do?

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Need to know what you did to "FUBAR" your system. Upgrade packages? Install another OS? Answers may vary depending on scenario. – papashou Apr 28 '12 at 5:21
Ideal answers here would crosslink backup questions, and especially questions/solutions that involve data recovery. – Jorge Castro Apr 28 '12 at 5:42
@JacobJohanEdwards; yes but there are all kinds of FUBAR. Is it because GRUB can't load your kernel? Or did a disk check give errors? Display adapter not working? etc. – papashou Apr 30 '12 at 1:16
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Don't panic!

The chances are great that your personal data is fine. Please try the steps below. If anything doesn't work or seem right, you can bail with no risk of data loss.

  1. Obtain an Ubuntu installation medium. (LiveCD or LiveUSB)

  2. Turn off your system, insert the installation medium, and boot it, selecting "Try Ubuntu" when the option comes up.

    Screenshot of "Welcome" stage of Ubuntu installation. The options here are "Try Ubuntu" and "Install Ubuntu".

  3. Click "Home Folder" in the Unity launcher. In the window that then appears, you will see a "Devices" section, under which are images of storage devices (both in your computer, and attached).

    Screenshot of mouse opening "Home Folder" in the Unity Launcher. To its left, the "Home Folder" window shows *SYSTEM* and *FACTORY_IMAGE* as "Devices".

  4. Select each device, in turn, until you find one that contains folders like bin, boot, cdrom, dev, etc, and home. Select home.

    Screenshot shows the last window. Now *SYSTEM* is mounted and the above folders are included there.

  5. In this folder, you will find the home folders of all users of your unbootable system. Copy all important data in these folders onto the internet, onto a portable usb drive, onto another hard drive, or even onto Ubuntu One. After you are done, click the arrow button next to your hard drive to unmount it.

    Screenshot shows mouse hovering over arrow to the left of the *SYSTEM* device.

  6. Click the Install Ubuntu button to begin reinstalling onto your machine.

    Screenshot shows "Install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS" icon on desktop, and in launcher.

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If you're going to mark this as a duplicate for wubi problems, you'd better add a step on how to recover wubi data. – bcbc May 18 '12 at 6:14
@bcbc What question precisely are you referring to? – Jjed May 18 '12 at 6:34

Fastest method, without knowing ANY details on what the issue is:

Tools: - External Hard Drive - A Live/Rescue CD burned to disk.

Boot up the Live/Rescue CD, attach the External Drive and begin copying pertinent data.

Once done, eject the external disk.

Attempt a fresh re-install with your favorite Linux distribution (Ubuntu) and see if you have a working system. This should be good assuming you don't have hardware issues, and may have messed the software or configuration somehow.

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