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7/30/2008
06:03 PM
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Rebooting Windows: How To Recover From Vista Crashes

We've pulled together a passel of little-known software backup and repair techniques so you won't have to reinstall Vista from scratch, if it gets trashed or hits a fatal startup error.

This story originally appeared June 27, 2007.


Reviving Vista


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I've finally got a compliment of technical substance to pay to Windows Vista, beyond the kudos it has justifiably received for the glitzy, Mac-like look and feel it has brought to the PC platform.

The good news is that Vista, for all its annoyances--including slow search and intrusive security warnings--is much more robust and harder to break than any previous Microsoft operating system.

Interestingly, even the infamous "blue screen of death" has largely been thrown onto the software slag heap. (Lock-ups during the installation process are now heralded with a blank black screen!)

Unfortunately, crashes haven't been totally banished. More ominously, because Vista is packed with many more features and takes much longer to install than earlier OSes, when it does fail, you've got a time-consuming crisis on your hands.

Opening up Windows Explorer windows ad infinitum will crash Vista.

Opening up Windows Explorer windows ad infinitum will crash Vista.

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That's why it's more important than ever to implement an intelligent back-up strategy and to learn a little-known trick for righting a computer that's seemingly gone wrong. I'm going to take you through two scenarios: what to do so you're prepared in the event a worst-case disaster strikes, and how to repair the more garden-variety calamities.

Specifically, here's what we're going to discuss in this article:

  • The Mother Of All Backups
  • Vista comes with a backup tool called Complete PC Backup. This allows you to save an image, or a complete, bit-for-bit copy of everything on your hard drive. In the event your set-up becomes terminally screwed up, this is a way to restore some semblance of where you should be (i.e., it will restore your PC to the way it was at the time you copied the image. Unfortunately, that resumé or killer sales presentation you were working on at the moment your computer bombed out will still be lost and gone forever.

  • Boot Repair For Vista
  • There's a little-known restoration process, which you can use to get your system back up to snuff without going through a complete reinstall. It's controlled via a command-line tool called Bootrec, and it's more powerful than ever in terms of repairing nettlesome startup issues.

  • Vista's Reliability Monitor
  • The third leg of our story discusses a neat tool that's hiding just beneath the surface of Vista. It's called the Reliability Monitor and it keeps a tally of all your Windows crashes, application failures, and hardware problems.

    How To Break Vista

    I got interested in the subject of crash-recovery after I recently re-read Fred Langa's popular piece, XP's Little-Known Rebuild Command. For the purposes of our crash-recovery discussion, there have been some big changes since the XP days. Mostly, they involve the way Vista handles booting up. The OS no longer uses a boot.ini file. That's been replaced with a sophisticated file-like structure called Boot Configuration Data. (More about that later.)

    The upshot is that standard Vista installations are less likely to fail to boot than were standalone Windows 95/95/XP setups. Paradoxically, dual-boot configurations seem more prone to problems, but that'll be the subject of a second article.

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