Ill Decide What to Keep on My PC

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-02-24 Print this article Print

The key difference between a 'power user' and others may be the ability to undo.

It takes time to do good work but only moments to destroy it—whether by accident or by intent. The key difference between a "power user" and others, therefore, may be not the ability to do but to undo. I made a classic error, for example, when downloading photos earlier this month from three memory cards. I removed one of those units from the reader in my laptop and inserted another, without giving an "eject" command. As power users have known since the days of DOS, the systems response was to overwrite the directory of the second card with the directory data of the first. And as users of Symantecs Norton Utilities have known for just as long, its not hard to recover the stranded files if you know what not to do.

A few days after my Memory Stick mistake, I heard about a product called CD/DVD Inspector from Arrowkey. "CD/DVD Inspector provides law enforcement professionals with the tools needed to analyze and extract data, display it in detail, and perform enhanced searches of the disc," enthused the second sentence of the companys announcement. Welcome to the shadowy world of the USA Patriot Act, where data destruction is more of a cause for suspicion than an occasion for friendly sympathy.

Thinking about the implications, I Googled "forensic data recovery" and got 60,000 hits—including one for a company with precisely that name. "Computer evidence is fragile and subject to being overwritten or compromised without special handling," warns that companys home page. Wasnt this once called "technical support"?

I resent the need to know and use data recovery methods that date from the dawn of the PC platform. By now, we should have reached a level of hardware transparency and software resilience that makes it difficult to lose our work by accident. It was bad enough when lost work on a PC meant that something had to be retyped or a calculation rethought; the data that we capture today may be impossible to re-create. Systems must therefore be more robust.

Even so, the occasional need to recover things the hard way is better than the need to wonder if Ive been thorough enough in destroying things that Id rather see forgotten. What did you delete today?

Tell me how youre sure its gone at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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