by David Glick

HERE is a (probably) familiar scene: your computer goes on the blink – you either got a virus or Windows or a very important program is just malfunctioning in a big way and there is no solution available. You call your favorite computer guy (or gal) to come and fix it, and they give you the bad news: the hard drive needs to be reformatted because the current installation is too far gone. Now what???? Will you lose all your data (pictures, music, documents, videos, favorites,financial data, etc) and your programs or can they be saved? Typically the answer is yes – it (they) can be saved.

BUT, there are caveats – such as, what if the hard drive is failing or has failed? That can be a huge cause for concern, especially if you do not back up your data! What about after the reformat – will the original data still be on the drive as it was? The answer is – no it will not – the data that the computer repair person finds (per your instructions) will be copied off the drive to a temporary location, the drive (or operating system partition of the drive) will be reformatted, which means the entire file system will be overwritten with new data, the operating system will be put back on along with drivers and hopefully updates, programs will be reinstalled, and your data that was found will be restored. But – what if your data is not all there after the reformat, or not all the programs got reinstalled?

THAT question begs another question to be asked – who is responsible for the loss of data or programs??? That is the million dollar question – who IS responsible for your data? Is it the computer repair person, or is it you as the computer user? Here is the answer – in the end, it is you, the computer user – truly and honestly. Now you may be asking WHY is this so? Why should YOU have to take responsibility for your data and programs? Here is that answer – straight and narrow – because you work with your data – you know where it is (probably), you know what it is, and you know how you use your computer. Your computer repair person does not know those things (unless they are on contract, and even then may not know everything you do). Sure – he or she can piece things together pretty well and they probably have a better idea of how to navigate through the potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of files on your computer, which is why they are good at what they do. But it takes time to do this, and the end result may NOT be as accurate of a solution as you would like.

“Who IS responsible for your data?”

ANOTHER issue to consider is this: your computer when it was new came stock out of the factory (in most cases). You were able to (or someone helped you) install programs after you got the computer. Those will need to be reinstalled if you want to have them running again. Do you have the disk that they came on? Were they downloads? Did you save those downloads (ALWAYS click Save, not Run, and then run the installation – especially for programs you purchased)? Do you have the licenses? Check your email for purchased programs online (you should always save those emails – preferably organized in a separate  folder), and original boxes and stickers that are in or on CD sleeves if purchased in-store. So you can see – the computer repair person really does not know specifically how you use your computer on a day to day basis OR where you got certain programs and data because they do not watch you every day.

“Here is the answer – in the end, it is you, the computer user”

YOU do though! Therefore it is in the end your responsibility to ensure that your computer repair person has a list of everything that you do with your computer, and I mean everything (data types and locations, and programs that you use), so that your computer can come back restored as closely as possible to what it was before it got ‘sick.’ When should you make that list??? NOW. When you are thinking about it. When you use your computer, write down anything and everything that you do with your computer in list form (numbered lists are great!). Write it down on paper (do not use a computerized list – if your hard drive goes bad, so does your list unless it is backed up – you do back up your files, right??) and tape the paper to the side of your computer.

VERIFY that you have the downloads AND emails for licensed programs purchased online that were installed on the computer and they are backed up somewhere. Make a note of those programs in your list, along with whether it needed a license (key) or not and where the license is. Ensure that you have the disks and licenses on paper for programs you purchased in the store and include that information on your list! This way when you DO have an issue and the computer needs to be reformatted or you need a new computer, the computer repair person will know the right questions to ask – because you provided adequate and reliable information to help them help you. Some of you may have a really long list and some of you may have a very short list. But the important thing is that you have a list which will help ensure your computer (or new computer) gets up and running the way you want it to, the first time.

“Verify that you have the downloads AND emails for licensed programs purchased online that were installed on the computer……ensure that you have the disks and licenses on paper for programs you purchased in the store” 

This way – when your computer has failed and it is time to reformat, your computer person will have the tools he or she needs to restore your computer to its previous glory – intact and as complete as possible, with little to no headaches on your end. Make sense? I hope it does for you because it totally does for me – as a user AND a technician!

Here is a partial list of things to look for to help jog your memory:

  • Music (and what program(s) do you use such as iTunes, etc)
  • Pictures and Cameras (and again, what program(s) do you use? Picasa, Photoshop, specialized photo or camera software etc)
  • Videos (do you use editing software? Which?)
  • Documents (what software? Microsoft Office? Do you have the disk and license or online download and registration information?)
  • Email (what program(s) do you use, what do you store such as calendars, contacts, task lists, etc)
  • Other Specialized Office Software (Microsoft Visio, Project, Access, Publisher, etc)
  • Taxes (TurboTax, etc?)
  • Financial Software (Quicken, Quickbooks, Peachtree? Where is the data stored? What data files do you use?)
  • Genealogy Software (what program(s), where is the data file(s)?)
  • Your Career/Job – what software do you use, if any?
  • Other programs – Skype, PDF Creation software, Web Creation Software, FTP Software, etc
  • Games – Windows games, games that were installed on the computer: Steam, Blizzard Games, etc
  • Other Browsers – Google Chrome, Firefox? Do you use the favorites or bookmarks?
  • Printers and Scanners – keep a current list and do not throw away the original disk until you pitch the printer! Sometimes they are really important!
  • Utility Programs – CCleaner, antivirus and antimalware software, any other software not listed above?

PLEASE share this article if you found it to be helpful. Thank you for reading!!

PS: If your computer is on the fritz, ALWAYS back up your data either to an external hard drive or online before you do anything else at all.  If you feel lost or overwhelmed please call a professional FIRST – it is worth the piece of mind – really. One wrong button press at the wrong time when stressed or upset/angry and under pressure and your data could really become vaporized. We have heard this more times than we want to count and we really care that it doesn’t happen to you.