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How to Survive the Worst PC Disasters

'Vanished Data--Found' by PC World.com reader Bob Drake

Bob Drake, math professor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Click here to view full-size image.
Back in the days of DOS, I was always rather confident about the security of my hard drive data. I had not one, nor even just two, but three hard drives installed on my machine! One I used for files, the second stored my programs, and the third I used for backing up data. I was religious about it. Several times a day I'd enter a few simple commands and back up everything--programs and data alike--on the third, very large (by standards of the day) hard drive.

When Win95 was introduced, I refused to install it for a year. It was important to be certain that the bugs were fixed, and that my system would be safe. After the reports began to settle down and it seemed secure, I decided to make the move.

Immediately after installing the OS, my computer began running in "spurts." It would start, then stop. Start, then stop. Start then... nada. Nothing. Zilch. Irritated, I decided to boot from a DOS disk, reformat the C: drive, and return to DOS. I rebooted, only to discover that there were no remnants of data on the C: drive! "How annoying," I thought. Still, I wasn't too concerned since I had backed up all the data prior to loading Win95. With complete confidence, I formatted C:, then went to my D: drive. Nothing.

A slight tingle ran down my spine, and it wasn't from the power source. I checked the E: drive. Nothing. Nothing! How could that be?! I had 15 years worth of work, dating back to the days of CPM, that were stored on that drive. Where did it go?! In a panic, I phoned Microsoft Tech Support. The phone calls continued daily for over two weeks, always with the same result. "We've never heard of this happening before. Sorry. There's nothing I can suggest."

Long distance call after long distance call (none of them toll free, and all during prime rate periods) yielded the same result. Finally, one sympathetic soul gave me the name and number of a fellow who worked for Microsoft in Texas. With only the slimmest of hopes, I dialed his number. We chatted for almost 45 minutes while I explained the situation and answered his questions.

"I bet I know what's happened," he said in an all-too-casual way.

"Is that good?" I asked. "Can we recover anything?"

Without replying directly, he instructed me to format a floppy (I was still able to work from the A: drive), and then told me to create a small .bat file, the contents of which he dictated. I did. I looked at C:, but nothing was there. I checked D:, and had the same result. Feeling completely defeated, I looked at E: I looked at E: again. I looked at E:, and screamed with joy into the telephone--it's there!!

Without realizing it, I had "compressed" the other two drives. It was a common technique for getting as much space as possible from a hard disk back in those days (when a 40-megabyte hard drive seemed limitless). What he correctly guessed was that when formatting C:, I had unknowingly deleted the file instructing the system how to read those drives as compressed when I reformatted my C: drive! By recreating the file, I was able to read the info from E:. Why it didn't work on the other two drives, I still don't know. The important thing was, I had all those irreplaceable files that I thought I'd never see again!

I took his name, address, and his supervisor's information to write a glowing, heartfelt thank-you note, praising his work. If he didn't receiving a whopping salary bonus as a result, it's not because he didn't deserve it!

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