Windows 95 support chap skipped a step and sent user into Micro-hell

Every byte, and executable, counted when trying to fix Redmond's finest

Who, Me? Greetings, gentle reader, and welcome once again to Who, Me? in which Reg readers like yourself try to make each Monday a little less manic by sharing tales of foible and fallibility.

Take, for instance, this week's hero, who we will Regomize as "Bill". Many, many years ago Bill toiled in a call center where he offered tech support for the relatively new Windows 95 operating system.

Bill frequently found the best solution for callers’ woes was just to reinstall the OS.

Of course, the hard drives on PCs of the time were not so capacious as they are nowadays, so the idea of installing a copy of Windows on the disk without removing the previous install was generally out of the question. Just no room. But if a customer was unable to copy their files off the disk, a reinstall of the OS would mean losing their data.

Thankfully, Microsoft had provided a utility for just this circumstance, called deltree. What it did was remove the Windows files from the disk, but leave the everything else intact – ready for a fresh installation.

Of course, before you take such a drastic measure, you first run chkdsk – to ensure that the tree you're about to del doesn't have any unwanted branches reaching into places they ought not.

Everyone knows that, right?

Bill certainly knew that.

But late one afternoon, near the end of a shift, feeling tired and eager to leave, Bill got a call from a user whose Win95 install wouldn't load the GUI. It would get as far as the command line and stall.

Fine, thought Bill, this is a job for deltree. So he told the user to run it and waited for the process to finish.

And waited.

And waited some more.

When the process had taken well longer than it ought to have taken and still not finished, Bill had the caller abort the process and tell him what was there.

Nothing. Nothing was there. Pretty much all of the user's data was gone. Bill surmised that the reason that Windows wouldn't boot to the GUI was that there had been a lot of crosslinked files, so the disk was getting itself into a loop when it tried to load. Thus deltree had wiped everything.

It was exactly the sort of thing that would have been discovered by a chkdsk, which was a regular part of the support process.

But had Bill asked the user to run chkdsk this particular late, tired day? We both know the answer to that, don't we?

Thankfully, Bill had encountered that rare user who kept proper backups, so not much was permanently lost. Bill told Who, Me? the user wasn't even all that upset – given the state of their computer they had anticipated data loss.

A reformat and reinstall later, the customer was back up and running – and Bill was just that little bit wiser.

What's the most important lesson you've ever learned the hard way on the job? Tell us all about it in an email to Who, Me? and we'll share your wisdom for the benefit of other readers.

Note: The old Who, Me? mailbag is very light at the moment, so if you happen to have an anecdote about getting away with your worst moments on the job, we'd love for you to share it. Remember, all names are changed – no-one will ever know it was you. ®

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