To help readers follow the instructions in this article, we used two different typefaces:
Boldface type is used to identify the names of icons, agendas and URLs.
Sans serif type shows commands and instructions users should type into the computer and the names of files.
icrosoft’s Windows XP operating system contains an assortment of emergency tools that can come to your rescue if your computer doesn’t run right—or won’t run at all. Rest assured, you don’t have to be technically proficient to use them, but some are hidden deep in the operating system so you’ll need some guidance, and patience, to access them. We’ll go through the things that generally go wrong with computers and their symptoms, and then show you how to fix them.
WHEN INSTALLATIONS GO BAD
One of the most common problems that mess up computers is an application or a program upgrade that’s defective or has been installed incorrectly. It can stop the new program from running, make the computer run erratically or make it crash other applications. When such symptoms appear immediately after you’ve installed the software, chances are it’s the culprit.
The solution is to uninstall the program. Notice we’ve said uninstall , not delete . While it’s possible to remove the software with Windows Explorer , there’s a good chance you will not get rid of all of it. When you install an application, it not only creates a folder for itself on your hard drive, it also installs or adjusts several tiny programs in other folders—typically in your Registry , the central brain of the operating system—and that’s not a place you should tinker without expert guidance. So Windows Explorer ’s delete action probably will not fully remove the offending software.
Caution: Do not confuse Windows Explorer with Internet Explorer . Internet Explorer is the Microsoft Web browser that gives you access to the Internet. Windows Explorer is a utility that lets you move, erase, copy and rename files (see screenshot of both icons).
To correctly uninstall a program, go to Start , Control Panel and Add or Remove Programs ( exhibit 1 ). The Add or Remove Programs screen shows a list of all your installed programs. To remove one, highlight it and click on the adjacent Change/Remove button.
After the uninstall finishes, reboot your computer. If the original problem persists, you’ll need to take more dramatic action—launching a function that’s called System Restore . Every 24 hours, or whenever significant changes are made to your computer, XP makes a copy of all the essential controlling software—except the data files. Thus, if the addition of a program or a change in the computer’s setup is causing the problem, you can command the computer to return to an earlier, healthy condition.
System Restore is buried deep in XP; it takes five steps to access it. Click on Start , Programs , Accessories , System Tools and System Restore , opening the welcome screen ( exhibit 2 ).
Advisory: It’s a good idea to always create a manual restore point before you make any major change in your computer. Do that from the welcome screen ( exhibit 2 ) and click on the Restore my computer to an earlier time . Then click on Create a restore point and follow the menu.
To return the system to a prior state, click in the radio button for Restore my computer to an earlier time and then on Next .
That brings up the Select a Restore Point screen, which includes a calendar showing the dates (they are in bold type) that are available to revert to ( exhibit 3 ). Select a date just before the problem surfaced and click on Next .
The restoration process closes all open applications and reboots the computer. When the restoration finishes, you’ll get a confirm message. If the computer still does not work properly, you can from System Restore and select an earlier date and repeat the process.
DEVICE DRIVER PROBLEM
On occasion, when you upgrade device drivers—programs that allow your computer to communicate with components such as a disk drive or modem—you’ll find that the component suddenly won’t operate correctly. In all likelihood the update is faulty or installed incorrectly. XP has a tool, Device Driver Roll Back , that will undo the update. Exception: The tool will not undo a printer driver update.
To access Device Driver Roll Back , click on Start , Control Panel , System , the Hardware tab and Device Manager (exhibit 4 ).
Locate the component category related to the updated driver (for example, modems or floppy disk drives) and click on the adjacent plus (+) sign to open the list of devices for that category ( exhibit 5 ).
Once you find the device, double-click on it and select the Driver tab. Then click on Roll Back Driver to uninstall the new driver and return to the old one ( exhibit 6 ).
Caveat: Don’t click on the Uninstall button; it’s only for advanced users.
TOOLS OF LAST RESORT
When you push the button that turns on your computer and it stalls before the desktop screen appears, don’t despair. XP has a tool, Last Known Good Configuration , that often can trump the problem. After you push the on button, wait until the power-on self-test completes. Just before the Windows XP logo appears on the screen, quickly press the F8 key; that opens the Windows Advanced Options menu. By selecting Last Known Good Configuration , you can restore the Registry and all driver configurations that existed the last time the computer started successfully.
If that fails, Windows still has two tools of last resort. Unless you are a very experienced user, we advise you to call a technology expert to run the Recovery Console , which you can access on your setup CD-ROM; it also can be installed on your computer as one of the available systems on start-up.
If that, too, fails, the last tool is Automated System Recovery , which restores critical system settings and files associated with the operating system. It replaces the Emergency Repair Disk that was used by earlier Windows editions.
THE BACKUP OPTION
If nothing can get your computer up and running, all is not lost. Surely you backed up your data regularly and stored all the information on a remote or portable disk drive or memory stick that can be accessed via another computer. If you didn’t, now is the time to vow that you’ll never fail to back up again, right?
However, don’t give up hope. A skilled technician may be able to get the machine started. Or, if that fails, the hard drive can be removed and possibly transferred to another computer.
Although Windows XP has a backup tool that does the job, compared with many third-party backup programs available on the market, it’s difficult to use. To access the Windows Backup , click on Start , Programs , Accessories , System Tools and Backup ( exhibit 7 ).
Backup can be run in wizard mode or advanced mode. The advanced mode is similar to the wizard mode except it also can save system files; however, backing up and restoring system files in this mode is complex, and only experienced users should try it. For that reason we’ll only tell you how to use the wizard mode. So place a check next to Always start in wizard mode and click on Next to open the wizard screen ( exhibit 8 ).
The wizard screen presents four options. If you keep all your folders in My Documents , click on that. But if you keep your data in several different places, click on Let me choose what to back up , which opens a screen that resembles Windows Explorer ( exhibit 9 ), and make your selection. Then click on Next .
You then must decide where to store the backup files ( exhibit 10 ) and choose an identifying name, which should include the date. Click on Next .
That brings up the confirmation screen ( exhibit 11 ).
Clicking on the Advanced button gives you two options. For safety you should click on Verify data after back up . If you wish to schedule backups at predetermined times—a good idea—click on When to back u p. Finally, click on Finish to start the backup.
To restore backed-up files, start the Backup Wizard , select Restore files and settings and select the files you want to restore. You will see a screen ( exhibit 12 ) that confirms the restore options. If you do not want the data restored to the original locations or would like to replace existing files, click on the Advanced button. Finally, click on Finish to start restore.
If your computer runs on the Windows XP Home edition rather than on Professional, you’ll have to install the backup utility from the software’s CD-ROM by going to Valueaddmsftntbackup and clicking on Ntbackup.msi .
You can’t predict when your computer will suddenly malfunction; it may happen just before a major PowerPoint presentation or on April 14 and a technician is not available. That’s when the tools might save you from a disaster. But the only sure way to rescue your data is to do regular backups that are stored remotely.
Don’t overlook hidden viruses as the cause of some computer problems; be sure your antivirus software is running and current. Visit the vendor’s Web site regularly to update the utility or set the software to update automatically. For extra safety, you should install updates at least weekly.
SIMON PETRAVICK, CPA, PhD, and COLEEN S. TROUTMAN, CPA, PhD, are associate professors of accounting at Bradley University, Peoria, Ill. Their e-mail addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org , respectively.RESOURCES
Information Technology Community http://infotech.aicpa.org .
A good troubleshooting overview can be found at www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/ .
For further instructions about recovery tools, go to www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/ .