When good computers go bad

When good computers go bad

By Richard Heller

When good computers go bad

It’s midnight and the phone rings. Thinking that it might be an emergency, you answer it. It is an emergency, but not a medical one. The person on the other end tells you that they have just turned on their computer, and it won’t go into Windows.

After asking a couple of questions, I determined that there was a software problem and not a hard drive failure. The first thing that I had her do was to reboot the computer and try to go into Windows in safe mode, which is the diagnostic mode. The computer booted up, so we started to look for the source of the problem. We checked the device manager to see if we had any hardware that was causing a driver to be loaded incorrectly. We found a few minor problems and corrected them and rebooted the computer.

The next thing that we tried was to run msconfig and to disable any programs that ran at startup that were not vital to the computer’s operation. We also checked the win.ini file and the system.ini file for anything that was not necessary. We again rebooted the computer with the same results.

The next step was to reinstall Windows. At this point, the troubles really began. The operating system was Windows Millennium Edition, ME for short. Most computers that have been sold in the past five years or so have the Windows master files saved on the hard drive so that you do not have to insert the Windows CD if you make any changes such as installing a different printer.

We tried to run the ME setup program, and we received an error message—not enough memory. The computer had 128MB, but the setup program could not use this because we are running in safe mode. We make some changes to the startup files and try again. We got the same error message.

We decide to boot to a DOS prompt and install from there. Good idea—except ME does not have a way to boot to DOS. We try to go to DOS by using the emergency floppy disk. Success, we can get to DOS this way. We try to run the setup program—we can’t. Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, has disabled the ability to install from DOS.

It’s now after 2 a.m. We have one last option. The computer came with a recovery CD. We place it in the drive and restart the computer. We are greeted with one option—restore all the files on the computer to the condition it came from the factory. This meant that everything on the computer would be erased; unfortunately, this appeared to be our only choice. If I would have been able to work with the computer, it may have been possible to either get around the problem or to save the data.

The point behind this article that it is important to back up your data and to realize that there may be limitations in the newer operating systems that may prevent you from easily re-installing Windows.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail technorh@mindspring.com.

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