Last night my sister-in-law called me, just about in tears. Something had happened to her laptop and everything seemed to be gone: all her desktop and Start menu icons, and, even scarier, all her data. It was like aliens had abducted her desktop. Not aliens: hackers. Her system had been infected by a virus, and it took me a few sweeps with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware to get rid of it. (Here's a great malware-removal tutorial from PCWorld's Eric Geier.)
Just one problem: Removing the virus hadn't restored all my sister-in-law's icons and data. The hard drive still showed nearly full, meaning nothing had actually been erased, but for all intents and purposes, the stuff was still MIA.
Fortunately, I found a utility that worked a seemingly major miracle: It brought everything back.
It's called UnHide. This free, self-contained utility is available via BleepingComputer courtesy of a user named Grinler. Just download and run the program, then be prepared to wait. On my system, it took 10-15 minutes to restore everything.
But restore everything it did: desktop icons, the Start Menu, and all the seemingly vanished data.
This was a first for me; I'd never encountered a virus that made almost the entire desktop disappear. Scary stuff!
If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't panic. I think it's the rare virus that actually does wipe out data. That said, this is probably a good time to remind you to make regular backups--not just to an external drive, but also to the cloud. Better safe than sorry!
Is it Okay to Uninstall 'Extra' Versions of Microsoft Visual C++?
Reader Don posed this excellent question: "I use Revo Uninstaller. Under Programs Present I see many different versions of [Microsoft Visual] C++. Can I delete some of them without messing up my PC?"
I'm a Revo user, too, Don, and I've seen firsthand what you're talking about. Of course, even running Windows' own program uninstaller can reveal multiple instances of Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable, often with diffferent years and version numbers.
On my system, in fact, I count 13 of them.
It's logical to think that Windows probably needs only one of these versions--the most recent. And it's also logical to think that by clearing out the older ones, you'll reclaim some hard drive space and maybe lighten the Registry's load a bit.
My advice: leave those C++ installations alone. The reality is that they're small, usually no more than a couple megabytes, and different versions may be linked to different programs you've installed. It's darn near impossible to know which one is associated with which, and deleting one might render a program inoperable--a hassle you definitely don't need.
I totally get the appeal of sifting through your uninstaller in search of programs you can send packing. However, when in doubt, don't throw it out.
Instead, if you're looking to optimize your system, free up some drive space, etc., try a utility like Advanced SystemCare 5 Free. It works pretty well, and it's less likely to delete something you'll need.
If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.