A Missing Manual Saves my Day

by Jonathan Gennick

Two days ago, while reading email, I clicked the play button on Windows Media
Player to listen to my
favorite CD
, and my Windows XP system locked up. And I mean it really locked
up; even ctrl-alt-del failed to elicit a response. Somewhat annoyed, wondering
why playing a CD should have such a disastrous affect, I opened up the cabinet
in my desk and hit the hardware-reset button on my PC. I waited, and I waited,
and I waited. The PC went through the usual boot-up sequence until it got to
the point of reading from the hard-drive, and then there was trouble. It sounded
like the drive was trying and retrying and getting nowhere. This went on for
several minutes. I began to wonder whether I shouldn't have implemented more
of that backup strategy
I talked about back in July
. With a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach,
I pressed the reset button once more and went upstairs to make a cup of coffee.
That would give the hard-drive plenty of time to grind away.

I was worried, but not panicked. I did have a recent-enough backup of all my
book files. It's my email that I'd loose—I don't backup my email files—and
also the time it would take to format another drive and reinstall everything.
I had a huge backlog of email to work through, and I wasn't too keen on loosing
all those messages.

Arriving back with my coffee, I saw that some progress had been made. The screen
had shifted to Microsoft-blue, and a little box in the center informed me that
I was running Windows XP. A minute or two later, a dialog opened and told me
that my profile (whatever that was) was damaged, and that XP was therefore going
to put me into a default profile. Finally, Windows finished booting and I was
at the desktop. Unsure about this "default profile" business, I fired
up my email program only to have it act like I was running it for the very first
time. Not good. I rebooted again, this time into safe mode. No difference with
the email program, and bootup was still taking 5-10 minutes, or longer. Something
was clearly wrong, I thought, with the hard-drive. Thinking I might still need
to reinstall Windows and all my applications, I got my notebook computer, which
I keep handy for such emergencies, down from the shelf and plugged it in. Maybe
I'd at least be able to copy my email files, and current versions of all my
other important files, to the notebook where they would be safe while I did
the reformat/reinstall thing on my desktop PC.

Windows XP Home: The Missing Manual, the book that saved my baconSitting
down at my PC again, my eye chanced a glance at the shelf in the hutch behind
my monitor. On that shelf was a copy of Windows
XP Home Edition: The Missing Manual
. Perhaps I should have a look in
the book, I thought. Opening David Pogue's
book, I quickly found the chapter on troubleshooting, and that chapter began
by talking about something I'd never heard of before called System Restore.
It turns out that System Restore lets you roll back the state of your operating
system to a point in the past, making it easy to recover from a damaged configuration.
That sounded great, except that I didn't have a snapshot to roll back to, or
so I thought. Turning the page, I discovered that Windows XP makes snapshots
automatically on at least a daily basis. Sure enough! I had a snapshot from
the previous morning. Within 15 minutes or so I had restored the snapshot, restoring
my damaged profile at the same time, rebooted the PC as normal, and was busy
burning my email files onto a CD. Life was good again.

As I write this, I'm looking at the cover price of the book that bailed me
out of a bad situation. The cost? Only $24.95 (in US dollars). What a bargain!
Two days ago, when I thought I'd have to reformat and reinstall, I'd have happily
paid four times $24.95, and probably more, for a quick solution. Clearly David's
book was a good investment for me. The thing with books though, is that you
have to buy them ahead of time so you have them when you need them. And then
you have to actually read them. I shudder to think that I might have spent the
rest of that day, and probably part of the next, reformatting my hard-drive
and reinstalling software when a much simpler solution was a mere two and one-half
feet away. I'm glad I looked at the Missing Manual, and David, thanks for such
a great book!

What about you? Have you ever had a book bail you out of a bad mess?


2002-09-25 18:00:19
2002-10-07 20:16:08
Dave Pogue is a great writer...
... and that story makes me even happier I use a Mac! (No flame intended)

His Missing Manual for OS X has indeed helped me through a problem or given me an answer or a tip that has made my computing experience easier.

The whole Missing Manual series is great. I just started the Missing Manual for Mac Office X and I have learned about a dozen things that I didn't know.

A Mac User...

Jonathan Gennick
2002-10-15 06:02:05
Dave Pogue is a great writer...
... and that story makes me even happier I use a Mac! (No flame intended)

And none taken. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about board the Mac train myself.

Jonathan Gennick
2002-10-15 06:03:11
Dave Pogue is a great writer...
I left out some words. I meant to say: "...about getting on board the Mac train...". I'm going to go have some wake-up juice now.