Sometimes It Helps to Come Undone

Sometimes it's not what you do that's important. It's what you undo.

It's easy to get in trouble with your PC. A program you installed not only doesn't work correctly but also causes the machine to become unstable. You make a change to a document only to find out that you were better off before you messed with it. Even installing hardware can cause unintended consequences.

I recently had a PC act as if it were completely brain-dead because--as I found out after about four hours of trial and error--it didn't like the mouse I had plugged into its Universal Serial Bus port.

The symptoms can vary. Sometimes, the machine runs a little slower than usual. You might have programs run improperly. If you're really unlucky, the PC might not even start.

If something does suddenly go wrong, your first line of attack should be to think about what you did just before you noticed the problem. If you installed a new piece of software or hardware, there's a reasonable chance that it's the culprit.

When this happens, my strategy is to try to undo whatever it is I just did. If I just installed software, I try to uninstall it. If I just plugged in a new board or a USB device, I unplug it and restart the computer. If all is well, then I contact the manufacturer or publisher of the offending product to see if they have an explanation.

Windows Me comes with System Restore, which can restore the software configuration to a previously happy state. For other operating systems--or if you want even more robust "undo" protection--you can purchase GoBack from Roxio at This $49.95 software package restores system files, software and data that have been corrupted or deleted. But you can't install GoBack after the fact. To get you out of hot water, it has to be running before you have a problem.

If Windows fails to start, you can try to start in Safe Mode by holding down the Ctrl key or F8 as you start the machine. In that mode, Windows uses the minimum amount of drivers and software just to get going. Once in Safe Mode, you can try to fix any problems, remove software or--if you're using Windows Me--restore the system to a previous state.

If you accidentally delete a file, you can bring it back to life by double-clicking the Windows Recycle Bin, single-clicking the file you want to restore and selecting Restore. That puts it right back where it was. Once you "empty the trash," though, you can't restore it unless you are running a utility program such as Norton Utilities that includes an "unerase" feature. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but it's more robust than the restore feature built into Windows.

Most software programs have at least some tools to get you out of trouble. Almost all Windows programs have an "undo" feature on the edit menu (you also usually can invoke it with Ctrl Z) that undoes the last action.

Microsoft Office applications have several layers of undo that are controlled by the Undo icon on the standard toolbar and edit menu that looks like an arrow pointing down and to the left. If you click the arrow, you'll undo your last action. Click again and you'll also undo the one just before that. Keep clicking, and you keep on undoing.

Just to the right of the undo arrow is a smaller arrow that points straight down. Click on that, and you'll get a listing of recent actions you've taken allowing you to undo some or all of whatever you did. There is also a "redo" command (the arrow points to the right) that lets you restore anything you've undone.

Microsoft Word has a "versions" command on the File menu that lets you automatically or manually create versions of a document. You can set it to save a version every time you close a document, or you can save a new version at any time.

Another option, with any program, is to use the Save As command to save the file under a different name so you can choose between a previous version and the one just edited.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.


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