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What do you do when Windows won’t even boot?

Shattered tempered glass still in the frame Several jobs ago I did some phone tech support, and I have been the official “computer guy” for friends and family for as long as I can remember.  This means I have spent far more hours of my life trying to resuscitate dying PCs than I’d like to admit.

My brother’s computer has gone belly up and he’d like to get photos and other important files off his old hard drive.  I thought I’d share my thoughts with the rest of the world as well.

So, something is preventing Windows from even booting.  I’m not there to make an in-depth diagnosis, but it could be due to some corruption on your hard drive or some other strange hiccup with the files that are important to Windows.  You really have three options:

1.  Try to figure out what’s wrong and fix Windows.  This is time consuming, frustrating, and might not be possible in the end.
Pros:  Maybe it will be easy to fix and you’ll be back to work, right where you left off.
Cons:  Most likely it will be a huge pain and there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get it working.

2.  Buy a new hard drive, install it in your old computer, then install a new copy of Windows and important apps.  Now plug in your old hard drive as a second drive so you can copy files off of it.  Make sure you pull photos and other important files first, since it’s possible your old hard drive is failing and will eventually just die.
Pros:  A new hard drive isn’t too expensive, this is a good option if your computer is relatively new and fast and you don’t want to toss it.
Cons:  You have to waste a bunch of time installing Windows and whatever other software you need.

3.  Buy a hard drive enclosure, put your old hard drive in it, and then plug it in to a new computer and/or laptop so you can copy files off of it.  Again, make sure you pull photos and other important files first.  This is a good option if you already have a new computer lying around or if your old computer was getting slow and obsolete and you want to get a new one anyway.
Pros:  Hard drive enclosures are pretty cheap.  You can plug your old hard drive in just about anywhere to get your files.
Cons:  If you don’t happen to have another computer sitting around (or weren’t planning on buying one) this is the most expensive option.

Of course, if this is your work PC, you have a fourth option – give it to your company’s desktop support and let them deal with it.

And no matter which option you pick, remember that it’s only a matter of time before your computer has some sort of problem, so figure out a way to backup everything you really need.

48 Hours with an iPhone

Okay, so I’ve had my iPhone for a while now, but back when I got it I took a few notes about my first impressions.  I thought I’d clean them up a bit and post my thoughts for anyone who still on the fence about buying one.

I, like a lot of you, have been following the iPhone since it was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.  Hundreds of bloggers and journalists have written about the device.  Now that I’ve had one for two days, does it meet the hype?

Before I write down a few thoughts, I have to say that my wife got me the iPhone as an anniversary present.  My Treo 650 has become increasingly frustrating, freezing up silently and making it impossible to get in touch with me.  I’ve also been informed that this counts as Christmas 2007 as well, which is fine by me.

My first experience with the iPhone was a bit frustrating.  My main desktop is still on Windows 2000.  Unfortunately, even though I had the latest version of iTunes, I needed Windows XP, Vista, or OSX to sync with the iPhone.  I had to activate the phone using my wife’s iBook.  Activation was very quick and painless – as a current AT&T customer who already has a data plan and iTunes account I would imagine I’m the ideal case.

The iPhone does a lot of things very well.  Safari is a great web browser, with one caveat I’ll talk more about below.  The large, high resolution screen makes web surfing a much better experience than my Treo.  The screen is amazingly bright – I have it set at the default, halfway setting and could still read everything easily in the bright sun.  I love the way it picks up nearby wifi networks and then remembers once you’ve okayed a particular one – at home, web surfing is very fast.  Surfing on the AT&T network is noticeably slower but usable.  At least once or twice it seemed to stall completely.

I put a few mp3s and photos on it and the process is pretty painless.  So far iTunes seems a lot easier to use than the Palm Desktop software for my Treo which always seemed a little odd to me.

How does it work as a phone?  Very well.  The speakerphone is loud and clear and everyone on the other end has told me I sound great.  I even took a work call on a Sunday night, and it seemed everyone else on the bridge had background noise problems but me.

The biggest frustration for me so far (other than the incompatibility issues) has been that Safari is so much like a real browser that it tricked me into thinking it was a real browser.  I’ll explain.  I have some photos up on Flickr and my wife was using her iBook so I thought I would just grab photos online instead of syncing them.  No dice.  There’s no way to actually save pictures, or anything for that matter, from the web.  Now I know Safari can save things, that’s how web browsers work, they download and cache files to display them to you.  So why is it impossible to save a photo to my photos?  I wonder if this is Apple trying to make it simpler for novice users or AT&T trying to keep people from skipping services somehow.

Either way it’s disappointing.  It shows you why so many people are rushing to hack the iPhone – there’s a lot of untapped potential there.

I mentioned that iTunes was easy to use, but the syncing process does have one fatal flaw: I can’t seem to figure out how to do a real backup, other than syncing again to a recent version of Outlook.  I really just want a file system I can copy to a CD (or better yet, let Mozy automatically back up).

Anyone else have an iPhone?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Automated online backup with Mozy – the key word is automated

Mozy LogoMozy is a backup-service that will automatically back up your files on their server on a day-to-day basis when your computer is idle. I just signed up for it about a week ago.

This post is not really a product review. I haven’t used Mozy enough to fully recommend it yet and there are other similar services like Carbonite that I have no experience with. The important concept here is the automation, specifically the automation of tasks that I don’t really enjoy and normally take up big chunks of time.

Over the past year or so I have been trying to keep in mind the concept of opportunity cost–specifically, the cost of my time when I choose to spend it doing one thing and not another. So, in the past I would manually make backups every few months on DVDs. This takes time, requires me to remember all the drives and folders where I put things that are worth backing up, etc.

So now I think to myself, “what is the cost of using those hours to do backups instead of doing something else?” I could probably do some consulting work, and let’s say I would gain $50 an hour on average, taking into account time it takes to find people who need some work done, etc. Or I could work on refinishing my kitchen, work I don’t get paid for but that does prevent me from having to pay someone else. Or I could spend time with my wife, which I put a large value on.

So by installing Mozy, I have the piece of mind and mitigation of risk I had before (actually more, since these are finer-grained, off-site backups), and the $5.00 per month cost is more than made up by not wasting hundred of dollars in time over the course of the year.

Thanks to ITPro in the UK for reminding me the name of the service.