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Troubleshooting and  
Resource Guide
for Windows 95/98/
  Rescuing the Drowning  

Backing Up Your Hard Drive
and Critical Files

  It is probably not necessary to back up your whole hard disk to floppy diskettes; certainly it is expensive and time-consuming. However, if you've lost the installation disks, you will need to back up those programs. You can make floppy copies of your installation disks using the Copy Disk command in My Computer, if your programs came on floppies. The best advice for CD-ROM programs is not to lose them.

There are three basic types of backups. Here's the list, with an explanation of their pros and cons:

Of course, the easiest thing to do is to just do a full backup once every whenever and keep backup copies of important documents and files as you go. This may not provide full protection against system crashes, but it's a lot easier for the average home user.

For preloaded or "bundled" programs, how you back these up depends on your setup. If they came on a "master CD," use that to reload these programs if necessary. If they came on floppies, copy the floppies to be safe. If you have neither, you have a stingy provider, but hopefully there is a way to create "master diskettes." Check the computer's documentation. If this proves to be a problem, visit your dealer and ask for a utility to create master diskettes that really works. If your dealer balks, insist that they give you original diskettes as backups. Stand your ground; you need these.

 You should make backup copies of any driver diskettes that came with your printer, your CD-ROM drive, your video or sound card, your monitor, or whatever.

Here are some good general tips for disk backup:

 Owners of SCSI hard drives (you know who you are), you need to make sure that the special drivers that control your hard drives are on any emergency boot disks you make. Otherwise, you won't be able to access your hard drive in case a problem arises.

Win 9x has an unusual facility called the Registry that controls how Windows and your software programs are loaded. The Registry changes and updates itself each time you install or uninstall a program, make changes in your hardware, etc.; sometimes the Registry corrupts itself in the course of its job, and needs to be restored. Keep a recent copy of the two Registry files, SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT on your C: drive for safekeeping; use them to replace your Registry if it becomes corrupted or you get a Registry error message. Another way to restore it is to restart Windows in MS-DOS mode, press F8 when the "Starting Windows 95..." message appears, and select Safe Mode from the menu. Switch to the directory where the backup files exist (or run them from the floppy drive), run ERU.EXE from the Emergency Recovery Disk, and your Registry will be restored. I recommend that you do NOT monkey with your Registry files unless you know what you're doing. It seems that games with the Registry are all the rage in the computer magazines these days, and all sorts of information about how to edit your Registry is now available. Remember: Working on Registry is like performing open-heart surgery on your computer. The risks are high and often the steps you take are irreversible. Approach any changes to the Registry with fear and trembling, or better yet, let a pro do it. There is one exception to this caveat: RegClean. RegClean 4.1a is a Microsoft utility which cleans up your Registry and makes your system more stable by removing deadwood (i.e. entries from changed or uninstalled programs). Run RegClean twice in a row to make sure your Registry is as lean as possible. Periodic use of RegClean may also reduce the number of illegal operation faults, GIF's, etc. you may be getting.  Also, some sources recommend against using RegClean; they claim little benefit, badly written code, and point out, correctly, that earlier versions of RegClean sometimes caused damage to the Registry. I've used it successfully myself, and plenty of gurus recommend it, so do what you will.)

A Langa List reader echoes Langa's claim that one Registry cleaner isn't enough; it takes multiple runs with separate utilities to achieve a truly clean Registry. Here's the reader's Registry cleaning process:

  1. Clean System directory 4.95 by Kevin Solway - removes unneeded DLLs;
  2. RegClean4.1a (available from any number of shareware sites)
  3. EasyCleaner 1.7 by ToniArts
  4. CleanReg 3 by Armstrong Systems House
  5. Boot to DOS and run ScanREG /FIX to compact the registry if you are using Win 98/ME

Another way to restore the Registry from Windows's own backup copy in case of system error is like so: Shut down the computer and choose Restart in MS-DOS mode from the shutdown menu. From DOS, go to your Windows directory (type CD WINDOWS) and enter the following commands, pressing Enter after each one. Select Yes when prompted to overwrite SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT, then restart your computer.

What you've done is replaced the damaged Registry files (SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT) with their backups, SYSTEM.DA0 and USER.DA0. (The DA0 files automatically recreate themselves when you shut down the computer. Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, wrote the program to automatically overwrite the .DA0 files with the .DAT files each operating session, so if the .DAT files get corrupted, they may overwrite the .DA0 files before you get a chance to back them up. Be smart, back them up before trouble happens.)

Copy your nice, clean Registry onto a floppy disk before you screw it up by installing, uninstalling, and reconfiguring your software. Go to Start, hit Run, type REGEDIT in the Open box, select Registry, select Export Registry File, and save it to a blank formatted floppy. Nothing like overkill on your backups. Sometimes you run into a problem saving the SYSTEM.DAT file onto a floppy 'cuz the thing's too big. Assuming you've cleaned out the deadwood with RegClean and the file's still too big, you can zip (compress) the file using WinZip or another zipping utility and store the zipped file on a floppy. You should also make a backup of your Registry on your hard drive itself. Here's what to do: Open Windows Explorer, select View/Options, and on the View tab select Show All Files, then click OK. Create a folder named REGBACK on your C: (or D:) drive. Bop over to the Windows folder, find the files SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT, right-click each of them, and drag them to the Regback folder, selecting the Copy File Here option from the menu that appears. Now, you may actually have to use your Regback files to restore a screwy Registry. Here's how: Restart your computer in MS-DOS mode. At the C: prompt, type the following, pressing Enter at the end of each line:


Enter Y at the two prompts that appear after entering the COPY command. Then restart the computer in Windows mode. If you've saved Regback on your D: drive, change the commands to read D:\REGBACK\ in all the commands.

 If you do intend to brave the dangers of operating in the Registry, here's a few things to know about it before sharpening your scalpel. By running the RegEdit program through your Start/Run option, you access the Registry in a Windows Explorer-type format. A "key" is the string of capitalized text that always appears in the left window of the Registry Editor. The Registry has six major keys. A "value," which defines each key, is a program setting that you can view and change. Values appear in the right window of RegEdit. Each Registry key has a default value, which is a string containing any number of standard characters. To edit strings, double-click on the [Default] value. You should edit binary values with extreme caution. You can make changes in the "hex number" on the left, or use equivalent characters on the right, but never change the length of each value. If this confuses you, keep your paws out of the Registry altogether. If you're really, really brave, use the TweakUI utility from Microsoft to manipulate the Registry with unprecedented ease and really give yourself a chance to make changes and wreak havoc. You used to be able to get TweakUI from
, but Microsoft may have pulled it from its site; check any of the big shareware sites. This is an unsupported utility, so you're on your own with it. (Microsoft supplied it with the first edition of Win 98, then pulled it from Win 98 SE to emphasize its unsupported status.) Some of the things you can do with TweakUI are: adjust mouse speed; adjust roller, click, and drag sensitivity; adjust window sliding animation, scrolling, and sound; make MSIE your default browser; alter shortcut appearances and change default names; move or rename desktop icons; log on automatically at system startup; repair system files and default icons; automatically play music and data CDs; use the Paranoia settings to clear browser history and cache files. Install it by downloading it to your C:\WINDOWS\TEMP directory, double-clicking it to expand it, right-clicking on TWEAKUI.INF and choosing Install from the popup menu. Close the Help window setup, and launch TweakUI from the Control Panel. But hey -- it's a Microsoft product, so it has its annoying little quirks. Make it less obnoxious by double-clicking on its icon in Control Panel, selecting the TweakUI Explorer tab, and checking Light Arrow in the Shortcut Overlay area. Deselect the "Click here to begin (if room)" and "Tip of the Day" items in Startup. And get rid of the prefix Shortcut to on New Shortcuts items in Settings.

Sometimes a Registry problem gives you a Windows Protection Fault error in DOS when booting Windows. Probably your Registry is corrupt; use the DOS version of RegEdit to export and then recreate your Registry by booting your system to DOS (when the "Starting Windows 95..." message appears during startup, press Shift+F5, or use your emergency boot disk if necessary), then from the C: prompt, type REGEDIT /E REG.REG and press Enter. Go into your Windows folder and use these commands to make your Registry files visible: ATTRIB -H -S -R SYSTEM.DAT and ATTRIB -H -S -R USER.DAT. Rename the SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT files to SYSTEM.BUP and USER.BUP (delete them later when you're sure your problem is fixed). Get back to your C: prompt and type REGEDIT /C REG.REG to finish fixing the corrupted Registry. Reboot and see if it worked. Don't forget to cross your fingers.

 Troubleshooting the Registry can be done by rank amateurs like ourselves, if we're careful. If Windows starts displaying any of the symptoms below, check the Registry keys listed (or make grunts of approval while someone else checks them).

Here's a good way to partially or completely back up your Registry. Open the Registry Editor and click OK. If you want to back up the entire Registry, select Registry, Export Registry File, and then navigate to wherever you'd like to store the backup file (for example, the desktop for easy access). Type a name for the file. Select All under Export Range, then click Save. The result is a *.REG file in the location you specified. If you'd prefer to back up only part of the Registry--for example, the key you'll be editing--you can do that, too. It takes a little less time than a full backup, and the result is a much smaller *.reg file. Assuming you've already navigated to and selected the key you'll be working on, select Registry, Export Registry File, navigate your way to a destination folder, name the file and click Save. (You'll notice that Selected Branch will be selected for you, under Export Range.) If you ever need to use your Registry backup (i.e. fixing a mistake or undoing a change), just double-click the *.reg file, click Yes to confirm that you want to restore this information, then click OK when the operation is complete. Or, if you're already inside the Registry Editor, select Registry, Import Registry File under Registry, select the *.reg file, and click Open.

 After installing a new application, check the accompanying .INF file for information regarding revisions the new app might make to your Registry. If the .INF file exists, open it up in Notepad and hunt for lines beginning with ADDREG= and DELREG=. These lines indicate sections of the .INF file that contain those instructions. Look those sections over for an idea of what is about to be done to your Registry.

 Change the default path for Windows setup by cracking the Registry with Regedit, navigating to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\
CurrentVersion\Setup and locate, or create, the SourcePath entry. Modify it to show the new path Windows should use to find your new installation, and don't forget the backslash after the pathname you enter. Why do this? Most of us won't, but if you feel the need to install Windows to somewhere besides its default directory, this is how.

If your machine has absolutely trashed your Registry, you haven't made backups, and you don't know what the hell else to do, there is one more solution available, but you won't like it. When Windows was installed on your PC, the program created a file called SYSTEM.1ST, a backup to SYSTEM.DAT. If absolutely necessary, you can restore your Registry to the original settings by following the following steps from the DOS prompt (press Enter after each line):

Now restart Windows. Since the Registry settings have reverted to their original state, you'll have to reinstall software and redo changes made since Day One; have fun.

 The Win 98/ME Registry is configured a bit differently than the Win 95 version. To manually restore these Registries, you'll need to follow the procedure as laid out by Microsoft in an article found at Q221/5/12. Basically, you need to go into MS-DOS and use the SCANREG command. (Both 98 and ME store older versions of the Registry for easy backup.) Definitely read the article before playing around in these Registry versions.

 Want to pare down your Registry to a smaller, more efficient size without actually going into it? There's an undocumented DOS switch that handles this little chore. Reboot your PC in command prompt/MS-DOS mode, or use the boot floppy you've made to get your PC up and running without loading Windows. When you see the boot menu, press Shift+F5 to give yourself a command prompt. At the prompt, type SCANREG /OPT (make sure you include the space in front of the slash). Press Enter. The undocumented /OPT switch reduces the Registry's space by removing unused space. Even better, the command SCANREG /FIX removes unused space and repairs damaged portions. Reboot to Windows by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del and you're good to go.

A shareware program, Safety Net Pro, copies your Registry, your .INI files, and other important settings to floppy disk. If your system crashes, you can restore your settings even if your backup utility doesn't work.

If you want to see how the changes you've made in the Registry are working without rebooting, do this: Press Ctrl+Alt+Del and choose "Explorer" in the task list. Click the "End Task" button. When the Shutdown prompt appears, choose "No." You'll get a "Program Not Responding" dialog box; click "End Task" again. This restarts Explorer, reloading Windows from the new Registry.

Yet another program, ConfigSafe Desktop Edition, takes a "snapshot" of your Windows configuration files. When your system goes on strike, telling you you're missing a .DLL file you know damn well you have, or whatever, you can restore the files from the snapshot and go on. It works from a DOS prompt as well. A 30-day evaluation copy is available online. Other programs of this type are GoBack 2.1, 9Lives 1.0, PictureTaker Personal Edition 2.0, and Second Chance 2.0.

If you use a Zip drive, Norton's Zip Rescue works very well in making useful backup disks. It stores all the Windows files on a Zip disk, then makes a startup disk on a normal floppy. Booting your PC from a Zip Rescue disk installs the Zip Disk driver and boot Windows from the Zip drive. Zip Rescue is part of Norton Utilities 3.0, but has bugs in it that either fry the Zip data or render the Rescue disk unusable. 

You can add a right-click command that performs a quick file backup on any selected folder by using RegEdit. Drill down to the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\ key. Create a key under Shell called Backup. Create a subkey under Backup called Command. To back up the folder to a hard disk directory or floppy drive, modify the default value for the Command key to read COMMAND.COM /C XCOPY /S %1 C:\BACKUPS for hard drives or COMMAND.COM /C XCOPY /S %1 A: for floppy drives. You can append XCOPY parameters to customize a backup by date, reset file attributes, whatever tickles your fancy.

If you've got 30MB or so of hard drive space lying around collecting virtual dust, consider backing up your .CAB files. With these, you can add new Windows components or drivers without the CD. Create a folder, name it WINCAB or whatever suits you, then slip your Windows installation CD into your CD drive. Click "Browse This CD" to have its contents displayed, and spy out all the .CAB files. Select them all by holding down the Ctrl key as you left-click them one by one. Right-click one of the selected files and choose Copy. Open the WINCAB folder, right-click a blank area, and select Paste. All of your .CAB files will be copied into the WINCAB folder. The next time you need to install an additional component, open Control Panel, double-click Add/Remove Programs, and click the Windows Setup tab. Select the components you want to install, click OK, and when Windows asks for the installation CD, click OK. In the Copying Files dialog box, click Browse and navigate your way to the WINCAB (or whatever) folder. Click OK three times, and Windows completes the installation. No CD required.

MS Backup is an old, reliable, but limited backup program that's been around since Win 95 was released. Win ME users, you have it, but it's been hidden on the CD. You can install it by accessing the ADD-ONS\MSBACKUP folder on the Win ME CD, and running the MSBEXP.EXE file. You'll be asked to restart your computer; after that, you can find the shortcut in the System Tools menu. A lot of gurus recommend that you use a third-party backup system instead of the MS-supplied one, due to its limitations.

Okay, you want to use MS Backup anyway. It's perfectly fine for everyday use. Here's what you do:

Aha, now how do we restore our data? Simple.

ScanReg is a "secret" utility provided within Windows that does a better job than MSBackup in backing up files into .CAB format backups, ScanReg is easy to automate for periodic autobackups. It's not the most simple process to get this up and running, but it works quite well.

Win ME users, get to know your System Restore facility. It isn't a substitute for a full backup, but it can save your bacon in time of crisis -- particularly since the Microsoft boys decided to hide MS Backup from Millennium users (see above). Power users of any Windows program might also consider using an imaging utility to keep an "image" of their hard drive on another disk.

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