Last week I did something impulsive: I installed Windows XP Service Pack 3. None of the problems I’d heard mentioned seemed to apply to anything I was running.
Microsoft does warn you to back up before installing SP3, but I didn’t feel like taking the extra hours required for a complete drive image, and I knew all my data was already backed up. This was, of course, not the best time to start getting lazy, but it was well into the evening, which meant that not only would it have been very late by the time the drive image completed, but my brain had obviously shut down for the night already.
The first thing I noticed after rebooting was that StyleXP, a program I’ve used for years to manage the “theme” that determines what Windows looks like, no longer worked. I checked, and while there was an upgrade for StyleXP, it still wasn’t compatible with SP3. Well, okay—I could live with using the Windows XP theme if I had to. It doesn’t look too bad in silver. (But we will pass over the trouble I got myself into by trying to apply a theme that would no longer function, until I managed to fumble my way through uninstalling StyleXP.)
The kicker came the next morning when I went to update the podcasts on my MP3 player. I have a fairly old Sansa m230 that still works fine with the audio podcasts I listen to. I bought it in 2005, and since I haven’t managed to destroy it yet, haven’t seen a need to replace it.
After I installed SP3, Windows refused to admit that the Sansa existed. (Normally it shows up as drive S.)
That was enough for me. Time to ditch SP3.
This time, I made a drive image first. It took almost 3 hours, which the magic of blogging can compress into a single short sentence.
Then I started up System Restore. This handy program, which saves snapshots of your system state, lives in Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools (or does if you haven’t rearranged your Start Menu). When you start it up, it gives you two choices: “Restore my computer to an earlier time” and “Create a restore point.” Windows automatically creates restore points once a day and when you install and remove software. I selected the restore point for the SP3 installation and away we went.
Presto! StyleXP was back, along with my preferred theme, and I could connect my MP3 player. All was well.
I realized, however, that I should probably clear out my old restore points; these get to taking up a lot of space, and can also harbor viruses if your computer has ever been infected.
In the course of doing this (go into My Computer | Properties | System Restore and turn off System Restore) I discovered that System Restore was in fact monitoring four drives: the C drive where my system lives, plus drive D (my second internal drive), Drive F (the FreeAgent Go) drive, and Drive M (the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini).
There is no earthly reason to have System Restore monitor a drive that has no operating system installed on it. (Or if there is, I never heard of it.) So I have now turned off monitoring for those drives, and freed up space there, too.
System Restore is a handy thing to have. You just can’t rely on it to save your data. It’s only interested in your system state, and doesn’t do anything at all to protect your data.
Drive imaging software like Ghost, TrueImage, or Safety Drill (and now Time Machine for the Mac, which my stepmother has started using along with the Time Capsule I’m using to connect to the Internet while visiting Cleveland) preserves both system state information and data. If you want to be able to restore everything just the way it was, quickly, this kind of software is a good thing to have. Creating a drive image (at least in Windows) can be a lot more time-consuming than creating a system restore point.
But trying to re-create your data can be a lot more time-consuming than re-installing your software, too.
Wherever you go—back up. Even on vacation.