Home Office: Instant Relief for a Day Full of "Ooops!"

Illustration by Greg Clarke
Illustration: Greg Clarke
So how was my day? The printer stopped working, I permanently deleted a critical file, and my hard drive started whining, asking for early retirement (something I was ready for, too). And I hadn't even made it to my morning coffee break.

What, me worry? Not a chance. I have a cellarful of tricks, utilities, and strategies that save my bacon regularly.

My last stomach-churning adrenaline rush occurred when my hard drive wouldn't boot. (This time I was dumb lucky: I had simply left a floppy disk in the drive.) I've developed a strategy for when it's the real deal, though.

I keep the Ultimate Boot CD nearby. Not only can I boot my system with this freebie, but the disc contains 46 utilities that help me figure out what's wrong, including hard-drive troubleshooters and partitioning tools. Click here to download this program, and then just burn it to a CD.

Another tool in my snafu kit is Acronis's $50 True Image drive-imaging program, which I use to create an exact image of my hard drive on a CD, a DVD, or an external storage device. It took only about an hour to image my 60GB drive for the first time, and incremental backups (which I do about every two days on average) take about 15 minutes to complete. Using Windows Explorer to retrieve files from the image is a no-brainer, and True Image also creates an emergency boot CD for you to use if you have to restore the entire drive. With True Image, there's no excuse for not backing up. Point your browser here to download the trial version.

Making immediate, automatic copies of crucial files is another way to avoid grief. Whenever I work on a file, I tell Second Copy to place it on my backup hard drive every 3 minutes. Paranoid? Sure, but I like knowing that the last 30 files and folders I opened are safe. And for ultra-important files like my QuickBooks data file, I have Second Copy archive subsequent copies via the 'how' tab in the program's Profile Wizard. Click here to download the free trial version.

Bring Back That File

It takes only a nanosecond to delete a file. Usually, the file lands in the Windows Recycle Bin, where you can recover it almost as fast. But stuff happens: My buddy Gabe once deleted a valuable 500MB video file that was too big for the Recycle Bin (the default storage limit is 10 percent of your hard-drive capacity). If you hold the Shift key while deleting, the erasure is permanent. And when you empty the Recycle Bin, the files are history.

Of course, "deleted" files don't vanish--the file name's first character is removed, but the file remains on your hard drive until it's overwritten by another file.

That's why you need a file-recovery utility like PC Inspector Smart Recovery, which restores image and video files in over 25 formats on memory cards, or PC Inspector File Recovery, which retrieves 26 file types from FAT32- and NTFS-formatted hard drives. Click here to download Smart Recovery, and here for File Recovery.

Recovering a deleted file is easier if you keep your drive defragged and act fast. Before you run a recovery tool, close all other apps. Save the restored file to a different partition or hard drive, or to external media. Visit last December's Answer Line column on recovering files that aren't in the Recycle Bin.

If your printer goes on the blink when you have important files to print, find a friendly local hotel and send the documents to its printer using www.printeron.net. Or upload them to Kinko's Web site; the site will ship the printouts to you via FedEx, or you can arrange to pick them up at a local branch. Or try a service that lets you e-mail a document to your fax machine (check out this list of free fax services). I once used FinePrint's $50 PdfFactory to save a user-group newsletter as a PDF and then sent the PDF file to a buddy's printer.

If a product has ever saved your bacon, tell me about it. You may see it in one of my upcoming newsletters. Click here to sign up.

Contributing Editor Steve Bass is the author of PC Annoyances, published by O'Reilly. Click here to download the PDF version of the e-mail chapter. Contact him at homeoffice@pcworld.com.
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