My laptop, an HP Pavilion 2058ea running openSUSE 11.0 Linux, crashed during the week. I don't remember anything particular happening, I just went to start it and it wouldn't boot up. The disk partitions were only being mounted in read-only mode, not read/write mode, so the boot-up process was failing. I tried the openSUSE automatic repair function, but that didn't help. I decided not to try "expert mode"; I use Linux a lot, but I don't know about all of the internal workings, nor how best to use low-level expert tools to fix this kind of problem.
I keep my laptop regularly backed up these days (since I had a laptop stolen at a drinks event to celebrate my 40th birthday, some years ago), so I could always revert to a backup. However, I'm hesitant about reverting to backups because I've never had to completely restore a laptop from backups. I don't want to wipe my hard disk to test that full backups really work, but because I haven't tested it, I can't be sure whether it will work quickly and neatly, or whether I will find that it has worked 80%, but has left me with a 20% that takes days/weeks/months to resolve.
As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I am careful to partition my hard disk so that I can re-install the operating system without affecting "my files". In particular, almost all of the files I need to preserve are in "/home" or in "/opt" (the latter is where I install programs that don't come as part of openSUSE). I have these both on the same partition. All other system files are on other partitions. If I need to re-install the operating system (as I did in this case), I can re-format the partitions for the system files without re-partitioning my own files into oblivion.
I think it's a mistake that so many systems now (both Linux and Windows; how are Macs partitioned?) come with everything (more or less) on a single partition. It's convenient because you never have to worry about moving space between partitions, but it leaves you with few options when something goes wrong and you need to reformat the partition with the system files in order to get your system working again (and that partition contains all of your files as well). I have a Sony VAIO laptop that came with Windows XP with two equal-sized partitions, but Sony's approach seems to be an exception. Most Windows systems come with one C: partition and nothing else. I just don't think that's worth the risk, especially when there are free utilities like gparted (live CD here) that can split partitions and adjust partition sizes when you need it, without losing the contents of the partitions (but do a backup first, just in case).
Sometimes, when you try to make things simpler, you actually makes things harder.