This section of this website deals with all of the available methods of repairing or recovering an installation of Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional Edition. Read through the Contents... list of them below and click on the relevant link to go to that information. The list of available pages is also provided at the bottom of each page of this article. This page provides introductory information and information on a few sundry ways in which Windows XP can be recovered, such as configuring and using Error Reporting and using Windows SteadyState, that most users won't be aware of because they are not widely publicised.
1. - Introduction to recovering and repairing Windows XP [Further down on this page]
3. - System Restore [Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7]
Note that if you had created a backup of the system or a master image of the system, you could just restore it if you were to run into a seemingly irrecoverable software problem (backups and images can't solve problems caused by failed hardware). Visit the Backup section of this website for the various methods of creating backups and system images.
Note well that you must be very careful to use a file encryption facility properly, because if you don't you can easily lose your encrypted data. Windows XP Professional (not XP Home Edition) provides an encryption feature called Encrypting File Service (EFS).
To use EFS, access to the security certificate and private encryption key created when the encryption service was set up is required, both of which are initially stored on your computer's hard drive. This is Microsoft's advice:
"To make sure that you can decrypt files in the future, you should always export your certificate and private key and keep them in a safe location …. We recommend that you back them up to a disk or to a removable media device, and then store the backup in a location where you can confirm the physical security of the backup."
For example, if you had chosen to use the Properties => Advanced Attributes => Encrypt contents to secure data feature when right-clicking on a file to encrypt one or more files and then you had to reinstall Windows due to an irrecoverable failure, the local copies of the certificate and key will have been overwritten and the files may well be irrecoverable if you didn't export them to a data storage medium (disc, flash drive, etc.).
How to add an EFS recovery agent in Windows XP Professional - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/887414/en-us
If you created a Recovery Agent when you first set up the EFS in the manner described in the article above, it can be used to unlock the encrypted files.
If you reinstalled windows without exporting the certificate and private key to an external storage medium, the data recovery options are very limited, because the very purpose of encryption is to make it almost impossible to recover encrypted data.
Advanced EFS Data Recovery (Standard Edition - £149 - Professional Edition - £299) claims to be able to recover lost keys, but it relies on the lost keys being located somewhere on the affected computer's hard drive - even in an erased file. But if the keys have been overwritten, it won't be able to recover them, so don't waste your money buying that tool unless you can be sure that it can recover the keys.
You may be able to find alternative methods of recovery by using the search term efs data recovery, but, unfortunately, if you don't have the keys or can't recover them, your encrypted files are irrecoverable.
Microsoft has made Service Pack 3 (SP3) the last service pack for these versions of Windows available. There have been many hotfixes and security updates released since then. Those versions of Windows are now in their extended period of support, which means that security updates will be provided free of charge until 2014. Other support, such as the provision of hotfixes and telephone support now has to be paid for. Microsoft provides all of the information on the life-cycle support of its products. Although, Windows XP is not being sold as a retail product, Windows XP Home Edition was being provided on most netbook computers, because its low hardware requirements suit them far better than the much higher hardware requirements of Windows Vista. However, that is not the case now because Windows 7 was made available in October 2009 and, unlike Windows Vista, which has higher hardware requirements than Win7, it runs comfortably on a netbook computer, so the company will not be creating a netbook version of Windows Vista.
Table showing support dates for the different versions of Windows XP -
Windows XP provides a feature called Error Reporting - Microsoft's first attempt at automatic crash analysis and repair. Using it could be useful if the problem is not serious enough to prevent you from booting your computer and you have web access. For more information read the following Help and Support article:
How to configure and use error reporting in Windows XP -
"You can enable, disable, or modify the way that error reporting works on a Windows XP-based computer. When an error occurs, a dialog box is displayed that prompts you to report the problem to Microsoft. If you want to report the problem, technical information about the problem is sent to Microsoft over the Internet. You must be connected to the Internet to use the feature. If a similar problem has been reported by other users and information about the problem is available, you receive a link to a Web page that contains information about the problem." -
Safe Mode is the diagnostic mode that Windows can boot into when the F8 key is repeatedly pressed just before Windows starts to load. It is one of several options provided by the boot menu that comes up. Safe Mode with networking support, another option, can be used to access the Internet to run an online malware scanner if, say, normal mode can't be accessed. The Command Prompt is also provided. Only the basic device drivers and software are used, so viruses that function in normal mode can't function in Safe Mode. Files or software that fails to be removed in normal mode can often be removed in Safe Mode or system scanners and tools can be run from it. However, sometimes the F8 method fails to work, especially when there are two or more versions of Windows (or another operating system such as Linux) installed in a dual-boot or multi-boot system because the system boot menu comes up instead to give the choice of which operating system to use.
Fortunately, Windows XP/Vista/7 can be forced to start up in Safe Mode from within Windows instead of restarting and pressing the F8 key repeatedly just before Windows starts to load. To do that in Vista/Win7 just type msconfig in the Start => Search... box (the Run box in XP), click on the msconfig.exe link that is presented. The System Configuration window comes up. Open its Boot tab and enable Safe Boot. (In XP it's the BOOT.INI tab.) When the computer is restarted, it boots into Safe Mode.
"This article describes how to start your computer by using a minimal set of drivers and startup programs so that you can determine whether a background program is interfering with your game or program. This kind of startup is known as a "clean boot." This article also provides information that you can use to o troubleshoot application or service conflicts." - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/331796. Applies to Windows Vista, but you can use this information in Windows XP and Windows 7 to start up with a clean boot if you know how to access what is required in those versions of Windows, which isn't particularly difficult to do because the method is more or less the same in all of those versions of Windows.
Windows SteadyState for Windows XP/Windows Vista (but not for Windows 7)
Many home users share an Internet connection wirelessly between two or more desktop and laptop PCs. The sharing is done over a wireless network (which could also be a mixture of a wired and a wireless network). If that is the case, you should investigate what Windows SteadyState has to offer. It is a free program from Microsoft designed to return a PC to its pristine condition in shared computer environments, such as in public libraries, where users can mess up the default configuration and infect the workstations with malware, etc.
"Windows SteadyState, successor to the Shared Computer Toolkit, is designed to make life easier for people who set up and maintain shared computers."
All of the versions of Windows from Windows XP to Windows 7 and 8 come with several very useful Administrative Tools that can be accessed under their section in Windows by that name.
Here is where that section is located:
Windows 7: Start => Control Panel => System and Security => Administrative Tools
Windows Vista: Control Panel => System and Maintenance => Administrative Tools
Windows XP: Control Panel => Performance and Maintenance => Administrative Tools
Click here! to go to an article on this website on the Administrative Tools.
"Parents can use Windows SteadyState to help control and enhance their children's computer experience. They can customize the computer to be safer and easier to use. Internet access can be carefully controlled. Different levels of restriction can be applied for different children. In cases where a single machine is used by children and parents, the parents' configurations, programs, and files can be completely isolated from access by the children."
Time limits can also be set.
Microsoft has decided not to provide a Windows 7 compatible version of SteadyState. The following article explores the consequences of this decision.
Microsoft decision puts public libraries at risk -
"The company announced it would not upgrade the free application, SteadyState, to Windows 7 compatibility, angering many of the folks who manage public-access PCs. People who manage library PCs say they don't have money to pay for third-party products that protect public PCs from malware and malicious users." -
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