I didn’t want to write this column, but I had to tell you about the phone call I received on a recent Sunday night at 10:00 PM. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.

So you moved some system files?
I was trying my best to stay awake through the end of Star Trek Voyager when the phone rang. It was one of my consulting clients. The conversation started ominously enough: “Jeff, I can’t get my machine to boot.”

I’m awake now. “So what happened?”

“Well, I moved some of my system files from my C drive, and now Windows won’t start.” I had to ask the obvious question: “Why did you move some system files?”

“Well, it just looked like my C drive was cluttered, you know, on my Explorer window. So I created a folder called “Important system files,” and I moved them into that folder.” Folks, I swear I’m not making this up—and this call came from a sophisticated user who should know better. I wanted to ask, “Would you just pop open the hood of your car and start moving wires around?”

When you can’t restore, reinstall Windows
The client had a boot disk, and the machine booted to the command prompt. Based on the testimony I heard, I talked this person through the process of:

  • Determining the “short” name for the “Important system files folder.” (We issued the command DIR imp* to display it.)
  • Issuing the COPY command to get those files back into the C:\ directory. (The user swore that’s where the files were before they were moved.)

We tried rebooting from the hard drive, and nothing happened. Was my client absolutely certain the files had been moved from the root directory? He was about as certain as a panicky end user can be at 10 on a Sunday night.

I said, “Do you have your Windows CD handy?” Thankfully, the answer was yes. Then we rebooted with the emergency disk, inserted the Windows CD, issued the command D:setup, and the Windows reinstallation procedure took over.

The next morning, I got the call: “Everything came out just fine!” Thank goodness. In closing, I said, “I hope you won’t be moving any system files during the rest of your natural life!” I think the point was made.
End users are only human, and they’re bound to make mistakes. All we can do in tech support is remind our customers to exercise common sense and not move files or make any other haphazard changes to their systems. I realize it’s easier said than done. To share your thoughts on this topic, please post a comment below or send me a note .