by Jeff Smith
If you bought your computer new, you invariably recieved either a Windows installation disk, or restore disks from your manufacturer, or possibly both.
A common problem I'm seeing with inexperienced users is that they think that these disks are a fix-all. That if you've got a computer problem, you can use these disks and all of your problems will go away. Which is partly true. Your computer problems WILL go away. But unfortuneately, your personal files will go away as well.
The majority of these disks work by wiping your computer and re-installing everything from scratch, leaving your computer in the same state you bought it in. If you have family pictures, songs from iTunes, or important company info, those restore disks will erase it all away, leaving you with nothing but your (now) perfectly running empty system.
This happened to one of the cellphone retailers in town. I was contacted with a request for advice dealing with a virus related problem. My advice was "Don't do anything to it until I get there."
What I would have done would be to remove the hard drive, place it in a virus-immune linux machine and copy off all of the vital information without fear of contaminating the linux machine. After which, it would have been time to use the restore disks to wipe and re-install Windows, and then use the backups I'd have made to restore the vital info back to the customer.
What actually happened was that the potential customer decided that they could fix it themselves, of course, because they had their trusty-dusty restore disks.
Long story short, they lost all of their company records for that location, several thousand dollars worth of accounts, and had no backups to speak of. Live and learn I guess. Moral to this story is, firstly, always keep backups of your important data, and secondly, know when to call in the pros.
If you had a Porche or a Ferrari you wouldn't go banging about in the engine unless you knew what you were doing. If you've never done more than check your email or use software that you were trained to use at work, don't consider yourself a PC repair man. When your PC full of precious data is on the fritz, it is not the time to be experimental. Either you know exactly what to do, or you don't.
The time to use those disks is when you're reasonably sure there's no data on your computer that you wish to keep. Most times even when it won't boot up and does nothing but sit there and beep at you, your data is still in there and can be recovered by someone who knows what they're doing. Even if your hard drive fails and won't ever work again, there are places you can send it to that will recover the data and return it to you on CD's. Just don't panic. Don't spaz. Don't do anything rash that you'll probably regret later when you realized that those pictures of your loved ones, or worse, account information for the entire eastern seaboard are gone forever.
Until next time, just keep your cool.