The heart-stopping moment when you think the PC has been totally wiped…

Published on 9 November 2009 in , , , , , ,

Every now and then when you have a PC you inevitably end up with some near heart attack inducing moment.

One came to me today after formatting a USB stick.

USB Flash Drive

Photo by Ambuj Saxena. Creative Commons licensed.

I’ve just got a new netbook (a little Dell Mini) and knowing I’d never use Windows on it, opted for one with Ubuntu pre-installed. However like many who have taken delivery of such Dell netbooks/Linux addicts, I took one look at the (relative) elderly version of Ubuntu and decided to upgrade. Plus it’s rather crippled and I kept getting crash errors… Not the best welcome to Linux you could have.

Anyway being a netbook, I needed to install via a USB memory stick so dutifully dragged one out of my bag, downloaded the ISO and tried to get the installation software onto the stick. Just one problem – the stick was formatted weirdly and I couldn’t get it working. After some digging, it turns out the stick didn’t have a partition table and all my attempts to sort it out in Linux seemed to fail. In desperation I headed over to the no longer used Vista set up on my old laptop and finally managed to persuade the disk to format properly – although only by doing a “Quick Format”. Proper format refused to work in Windows too.

For some reason, Windows decided I needed to reboot after reformatting my USB drive (what the… I thought…) so reboot I go. Only to end up in disaster town. Nothing would boot, and the laptop just kept taking me to an inbuilt recovery screen which wouldn’t recover anything.

In a heart stopping moment I feared the worse. Reboot after reboot had failed. Instead of wiping my USB stick, it had wiped my hard drive hadn’t it? The one with all of Catherine’s files on… The one she’s notorious for not backing up properly…

Cue expletives. Many expletives. Cue the “OH SHIT” moment.

Despite much panic, I kept my head enough to rush upstairs and find a Linux CD to ensure that my theory was correct. Thankfully it wasn’t. Loading up a Live version of Ubuntu, I sighed a huge sigh of relief and found the hard drives still there plain as Larry. The files were safe.

Instead Vista had done something frankly bizaire and rather worrying. As well as wiping my USB stick, it wiped my PC’s copy of GRUB – the Linux programme that allows you to boot up your PC properly. Without it, the laptop couldn’t launch anything – Windows or Linux.

Some moments later, I had everything restored just as it was. My sanity was restored. Life could go on. Catherine wouldn’t have to have a nervous breakdown at the loss of all her files.

Phew and indeed phew.

The USB stick was, incidentally, also formatted. I’m now about to try Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the new netbook. As there’s next to no files on a new PC, I’m not anticipating any more disasters.

But quite why Vista should have thought wiping my bootloader and wiping a USB stick should go hand in hand is another question…