Q: My Windows computer is having problems. Should I do a “System Restore”?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by many

A: “System Restore” is a feature of Microsoft Windows XP and Vista which allows users to revert a core set of specified system and application files to a previous state. In some cases, a System Restore can allow a malfunctioning Windows computer to return to proper operation. However, it seems like many people think System Restore is a nearly-magical method of fixing any Windows problem. The reality is that System Restore is only capable of fixing certain types of problems. In fact, System Restore could cause problems if improperly used. Think of System Restore as a “shotgun” approach to system troubleshooting. It is possible to throw the baby out with the bath water using System Restore.

For example, a System Restore can partially uninstall recently installed software programs, rendering them inoperable but difficult to completely uninstall or reinstall. It is also possible to “restore” viruses or spyware that had been previously removed. Also, Some people think System Restore will restore data files that may have become corrupted. System restore is not designed to backup user data files, so if the problem is with a user’s data, System Restore won’t help. And in certain cases, System Restore can actually cause users to lose files from their desktops.

Having the knowledge I have, I much prefer a “surgical” approach to computer problem resolution. This way I am more comfortable in the solution I provide, knowing exactly what I did and minimizing the chance of “collateral damage” – i.e. causing other problems in the course of fixing one. However, I realize that most people don’t have the technical knowledge I have and in certain cases a System Restore could be a useful tool in an urgent situation. Obviously, I recommend that users seek qualified technical help whenever feasible. But if for some reason using a technical professional is not possible, then the question becomes when could a System Restore be used?

First, I recommend that a user has a solid backup system in place, unless the problematic computer stores no important data. With this being said, if the problems just recently started and the user can establish a fairly certain sequence of events that appeared to trigger the problem, then a System Restore has a higher probability of success with a minimized chance of collateral damage. The user should try the most recent restore point prior to the beginning of the problems. If the restore operation does not work, the user can undo the restore operation by running the System Restore utility and choosing “Undo My Last Restoration”. The user can then try another System Restore point a little further back in time, if desired.

But let me reiterate, System Restore is not a “precision” troubleshooting tool. If you really want to ensure that your computer is in proper operation, I do recommend the services of a qualified technical professional. Certainly feel free to contact me if your computer is having trouble and I’ll do my best to help you out.