When disasters such as viruses or hard drive failures cause data loss, often the lost data has not yet been backed up, or the files were already corrupt before the backup ran, so corrupted data was backed up. However, File Rescue Plus from Software Shelf can help you recover more data than you might think is possible.

This handy tool is specifically designed to help you to recover deleted files under difficult circumstances. For example, you might run File Rescue Plus after the Recycle Bin has accidentally been emptied, after a virus attack, or after someone accidentally erased the pictures stored on a flash card in your digital camera.

Requirements, pricing, and licensing
File Rescue Plus can recover files from several sources including hard drives, 3.5-in. floppy drives, Zip drives, Jaz drives, and flash storage media. It also supports FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS. File Rescue Plus runs on Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP and requires at least a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 2 MB of free hard drive space.

A variety of pricing and licensing options is available. Home users can download a single copy of File Rescue Plus Home Edition for $29.95 or have a CD and printed manual mailed to them for $34.95. Enterprise users can download a single corporate license for $68 or receive a CD and printed manual for $75. Enterprises can also purchase roaming licenses that allow a support tech to run File Rescue Plus from a CD on a specific number of computers. Roaming licenses start at $350 for a maximum of 50 machines. Academic users receive a discount on both single-machine and roaming licenses. Check out File Rescue Plus’ pricing page or Software Shelf’s reseller page for more pricing and availability information. A trial version is also available from Software Shelf’s Web site if you would like to try before you buy.

Installing File Rescue Plus
If you choose to download the File Rescue Plus software, it arrives in a self-extracting ZIP file that is just under 6 MB in size. The installation process is very quick and simple. The only special consideration during the process is the installation location. Like almost every other Windows application, the Setup program will attempt to place the software into the Program Files folder on the default Windows drive. I recommend, however, giving a little more thought to where you are installing the software.

If you have lost data, you don’t want to install the software onto the partition from which the data was lost. Otherwise, you could possibly overwrite some of the sectors containing the deleted data. I recommend installing File Rescue Plus on a functional partition from which no data has been lost.

Running File Rescue Plus
When you launch the File Rescue Plus application, you are presented with a screen offering you three different data recovery modes, shown in Figure A. As you can see in the figure, these include Deleted File Scan, Cluster Scan, and Picture Rescue.

Figure A
File Rescue Plus has three methods of recovering lost files.

Deleted File Scan
The Deleted File Scan option simply searches your hard disk for files that have been deleted through normal methods, such as accidental deletions. When you select this option and click OK, File Rescue Plus will present you with a screen that allows you to configure the recovery parameters. By default, the software will report on all deleted files on all hard drives. Because Windows uses many temporary files, the default settings could produce a huge results list that obscures the files you really want to recover.

To make the process easier and to reduce scanning time, you can select the drive that you want to scan, and you can also set a pattern for the deleted files that you want to recover. For example, if you wanted to recover Microsoft Word documents, you could set the pattern to scan for files with the .doc extension. There is also an option that tells the software to ignore any files found in temporary directories.

Depending on the scanning options you choose, the scan can take several minutes and produce thousands of results. I highly recommend being as specific as possible when choosing your scanning options. When the scan completes, you will see a list of the detected files, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
File Rescue Plus reports the location, size, and condition of each deleted file.

To recover a file, simply select it and click the icon that looks like a life preserver. The Condition column tells you what your chances are of being able to successfully recover the file. Basically, the more recently a file was deleted, the better the odds of recovery.

You might have noticed in Figure B that many of the deleted files have a question mark as the first character of the filename. This is because when a file is deleted on some file systems, the first character of the filename is simply replaced by a question mark. My test system ran Windows 98 once upon a time, and the files that you see with the question marks are left over from the Windows 98 operating system. Windows XP does not use this deletion method unless you have a FAT or a FAT32 file system installed on the partition in question.

To recover such a file, you must simply replace the question mark with the filename’s original first character. File Rescue Plus will automatically substitute the ? with a ~, but it’s up to you to do the final renaming.

Cluster Scan
The Cluster Scan detection method is appropriate for situations in which the hard disk was formatted or in which a virus has harmed the partition. When you choose this technique, you are presented with the same filtering options that you have available in a Deleted File Scan. After setting the filters, the software will ask you whether the drive has been reformatted. If the drive was accidentally formatted, you must tell File Rescue Plus which file system the drive was formatted with previously.

When you run the scan, the software will list all of the files that it was able to locate. To recover a file, simply select it and click the icon that looks like a life preserver.

Picture Rescue
Over the years, I have worked with countless hard disk recovery utilities. However, this is the first application that I have seen that’s designed to recover data from a digital camera. To test the software, I erased a bunch of pictures from my Sony digital camera and then attached the camera to the PC via the USB port. In doing so, the PC recognized the camera as a removable storage device. I then selected the Picture Rescue mode.

The Picture Rescue mode uses the same filters as the other two modes. But the biggest difference is that you’ll want to be sure to choose the drive letter representing your digital camera instead of using the option to scan all hard drives. Next, you’ll be asked whether the drive has been reformatted.

After answering these questions, the software will ask you whether you want to see thumbnails of recoverable pictures or if you would rather see details. Make your selection and click OK to begin the scanning process. The scanning process is essentially a cluster-level scan of the camera’s storage media. As I mentioned, File Rescue Plus can scan a variety of flash cards including secure digital (SD) cards, CompactFlash (CF) cards, SmartMedia cards, Sony’s propriety Memory Stick, and the MultiMediaCard (MMC). Figure C shows the results of the scan on my Sony camera.

Figure C
The File Rescue Plus software can recover photos that have been deleted from your digital camera.

A good tool at a good price
Overall I really like File Rescue Plus. IT was easy to use and worked well. While it doesn’t offer the same range of features as Winternals’ Administrator’s Pak or Recovery Manager, it doesn’t have as hefty a price tag either. One improvement I would like to see, however, is the addition of a common system files database—used to recover deleted files automatically without prompting you to replace the filename’s first character. For example, if you tried to recover a file named ?in.ini it would be nice if the program recognized this as Win.ini.