Important Lessons!

Tonight I experienced the fear that many of my friends and family have felt when they thought they lost everything on their PC. I recently purchased a copy of Windows 7 and was eager to install it. My existing set up was a Tri-boot (Windows 7 RC, Vista, & XP Pro). The XP pro for some reason wouldn't allow me to boot into it after about a month of successfully running all 3 operating systems on the same drive. My machine also has an internal drive partition that I used strictly for data storage amongst all the configurations and a separate partition used for a common "My Documents" folder and some other miscellaneous items. With Windows 7 in hand, I diligently went through the each OS and moved all of the data stored in the OS partitions into my data storage partition for safe keeping. Once I was sure I had everything copied over, I decided I would wipe the existing 3 operating systems and start fresh with a single copy of Windows 7 Ultimate edition.

I popped the install disc in and booted back to the cd. Upon starting the install, I chose to delete my "XP" partion, my "Vista" partition, and my "Win7RC" partition. I completed the install process on the new unallocated space and booted back into windows. During bootup, something strange caught my eye though. The OS selection briefly appeared asking if I wanted to boot into Windows 7 or Windows 7 indicating that there were 2 operating systems still installed. "Impossible!", I thought. I logged into the fresh install of Windows 7 and immediately went to "My Computer" to access my data storage drive. Much to my surprise, it wasn't there! In its place, however, was my previous Win7RC partition staring right back at me. After the initial panic and wave of nausea passed from thinking I just deleted over 400 GB worth of personal data (of which only 1/2 was properly backed up to an external drive), I started to think it through.

When a file gets deleted in windows, the data itself is not typically deleted/removed. Instead, windows gets notified that the space that data had occupied is now available for allocation. I began thinking that the deleting a partition would likely follow the same rules since I didn't reformat the disk. The only question was how to access the deleted partition...

Using my wife's laptop (since I was afraid doing anything on my machine would increase the chance my precious files would be over written), I began to google for free utilities that would retrieve the deleted files. As I was doing that, I figured it would be worth a shot to pull the plug for force a shutdown without saving anything and reboot back into my pre-existing Windows 7 RC install.

The chance to boot back into the old OS proved to be the perfect solution. After logging in, I opened "My Computer". Though the XP and Vista partitions were no longer showing, the data storage drive appeared to be fully intact!!! I can't even begin to explain the relief I felt knowing that all my photos, music, movies, financial records, and source code were still there. As I write this, all my data is being copied to an external hard drive which will be disconnected to ensure I don't make any more foolish mistakes. Tomorrow, I will finish setting up and customizing the new OS as I want it, then I will decide on a more appropriate and consistent back up strategy to prevent this type of scenario from occurring again.

So, what I have learned out of all this? First and foremost is that I have been a hypocrite in telling friends and family to implement some sort of data back up plan on a regular basis. Second, that I need to decide on what the best backup strategy is for me and my family....and third, that I need to actually USE the backup strategy that I thought through. Backing up once every 6 - 12 months just doesn't cut it. Tonight I consider myself very fortunate that all was not lost. I hope this may be a learned lesson to all of you as well. Though I got lucky this time, I don't think I would be the next time. I do know this though, I will do everything I can to ensure that I am never in the position again. It's terrifying to think about losing approximately 9 years worth of digital data!


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