Friday was "Beta Day" for me and my co-workers, as we were to ship out the Beta release of our current project. Things actually went pretty well as we wrote up documentation and ran through some final tests. No lions had lept from the undergrowth to block our way, and we were actually cracking jokes and having a good time as we approached the finish line.
The final act is always to burn a few DVD's containing a VPC sandbox for the users to play in and ship them out. Zipping and Ripping the DVD's always takes some time, and as usual we were fast approaching the 4:30 drop-off deadline for our local courier. In an effort to speed things up 3 of us decided to each burn 1 copy of the DVD (rather than have 1 guy burn 3 copies, which is how it usually goes down). This seemed great and we all grabbed the files from the network share and loaded our nicely labeled Beta disks into our drives.
This is when the Mogwai officially became Gremlins, at least for me. I don't do a lot of CD or DVD burning, and so I discovered that I had not bothered to install any DVD burning software the last time I "refreshed" Windows XP. Still, I thought, XP has some basic burning capabilities; I should be good. Wrong. For some reason, XP didn't think I had a burner (likely missing drivers or whatnot).
Anyways, I was not to be dissuaded. I quickly hit download.com and searched. I came across "DVD Power Burner", which the editors had given 5 stars. I quickly began the download, although I noticed that the user rating was 1.5 stars. I decided to check the comments, and on the first page of comments all I saw were the same "1 star" responses with what looked like the same comment: "DVD Power Burner". I was in a rush, so I wrote it off as some disgruntled spammer and carried on.
But wait! Look at this page and check it out for yourself. Obviously, I'm an idiot. I have no idea how I missed the giant blue text of each review, but I did. And boy (or girl), did I pay for it.
Sure enough, as each of the posters warned (especially topper2), this is not a 5-star product. Upon installing, I was told I needed to reboot. I did so, and then went to run the program. It was at this point that a dialog came up saying something to the effect of (paraphrasing) "A program has modified user32.dll, Windows has moved it for your safety". The app then crashed.
This struck me as not being good, but I figured "hey, Windows figured this out, its moved stuff for my safety, I'm probably ok. Let's just uninstall this thing and get something else". Well, after uninstalling I was asked to reboot again, and that was the last time I ever saw my desktop alive.
Yep, my system was borked. And how! I could not boot Windows; no safe mode, no "last known good configuration", nothing. Clearly I was not going to be much help in burning the Beta DVD's at this point, so I sought some opinions on how to at least recover my files and went home.
Recovery option 1: Use BartPE
Umm, I'm not even sure what this thing is (the guys at work gave it to me), but apparently it is some kind of utility for recovering systems that seems to be built in some way on the XP kernel. I loaded it, and it looked like something a Warez team had released. Anyways, I went through every single menu and option, and nothing presented me with any sort of view into my data. Goodbye Bart.
Recovery option 2: Do a "system repair" from an XP boot disk
This did not work. After waiting for 10 minutes while Windows loaded 8 trillion files, I was presented with the repair option. I selected it, only to be told that, as Windows understood it, my computer had no hard drive. I yelled "yes I do!" but it wouldn't listen. On to option 3.
Recovery option 3: Reinstall windows
Again, no dice. I was told that I could reinstall the OS without wiping my data files (although I'd lose all my installed programs, etc). This sounded ok, at this point all I wanted to do was recover the stuff off my "Data" partition and start fresh anyways. However, again after 10 minutes of waiting, Windows told me I had no hard drive. More yelling by me, and again Windows held firm. Uppity little OS. Anyways, on to option 4.
Recovery option 4: Run a Linux Live CD, mount the data partition, use Samba to share it out, and then copy the data from my home computer (another XP machine).
Thankfully I have an Ubuntu Live CD kicking around, since I have Ubuntu installed on one of my home machines (much to my wife's chagrin). I think I'll save the gory details of this for another post, but after a couple hours I finally had my data copying onto my home XP computer. Thank you Linux!!
Thus the great System Recovery Saga of 2007 was over. Sort of. I had my files, but I was still in need of a working OS on my laptop. The XP install still didn't think I had a hard drive, so it was not an option. Apple still won't let heathens like me install Tiger or Liger or whatever its called on a non-Mac system, so it was out. And as thankful as I am to Linux for recovering my files, I'm a long way away from being savvy enough with it to use it as my main work OS. This left me with one place to go: Vista.
As I began the Vista install and progressed far enough to be sure that, yes, it knew I had a hard drive, a small part of me died inside. I've spent the last 6 months hating on Vista, and I think for good reason. It is bloated and buggy, and in my estimation it is basically the new "Windows ME". But it has won (by default) a second chance on my system, and a small part of me hopes that things work out better between us this time around.
Just don't tell Jeremy I said that.