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I can’t activate Windows and I can’t access my data. What do I do?


I have a laptop that is about six years old. It had Windows Vista installed on
it. My daughter downloaded a virus about three years ago, which wiped
everything on there. I worked in the school at the time and the computer
technician there sorted it out and put the school’s version of Windows XP on
it. Now, when I switch it on, it’s asking me to verify my version of Windows,
which obviously, I can’t do. I can’t access anything on there as I’m prompted
to verify my version of Windows. I’m not bothered about anything on there other
than my pictures and videos. Is there any way I can get them off the laptop?
People have told me that if I purchase a new version of Windows, it will be
formatted and I will lose everything. Please help. I had a baby last year and
all of my pictures are on there.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #53
, I look at a situation where Windows won’t boot and files
need to be recovered.

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Files in only one place

So, I’m going to start by chastising you because if that’s the only place you
have your pictures, then you haven’t been backing up. And in fact, you’ve run
the risk of losing all of those pictures for a very long time.

A single hard disk failure could have wiped everything out without warning
and without hope of recovery. So I’m hoping that after we get this all sorted
out, the big huge lesson you’ll take away from this is that, “If it’s in only
one place, it’s not backed up.” And it apparently… it was only on your laptop
and it wasn’t backed up.

Start backing up.

Recover your files

So, with that little bit of finger wagging out of the way, there are a
couple of approaches that I would take to this particular problem.

It is very possible that installing a new version of Windows as an upgrade
will in fact, upgrade the system without removing everything on the system.
It’s not an approach I typically recommend because you don’t end up with a very
clean installation, but this is a scenario where it might be one of the

However, before you do that, I’m actually going to recommend that
you backup.

Use a rescue CD

One of the things that many people don’t realize is that the rescue media
that comes with many popular backup programs (such as Macrium Reflect) can be
used, not only to rescue or restore data, but can actually perform an image

So, one of the things you can do is go out and:

  • Get yourself a copy of Macrium Reflect.

  • Make the rescue CD;

  • Boot from the rescue CD;

  • Get yourself a new external hard drive and now make an image of the hard
    drive in your laptop to the external hard drive.

You are backing it up. That is what you should have been doing all along, but
by doing so, you now have a backup of absolutely everything that was on
that laptop. Now, you’re free to go ahead and reformat and reinstall an
operating system from scratch.

Then, you can recover your data from the backup that you had just taken.

Use a Linux Live CD

Another approach would be to grab a copy of something like a Linux Live CD,
boot from that CD and see if you can examine the contents of your hard drive
and doing so, copy the files that you care about to some other media. Maybe
it’s that external hard drive; maybe it’s a thumb drive, but start making copies
of everything that you want to preserve.

A live CD will be free; you can burn
it to a CD; you can boot from it; it will come up in something like Ubuntu
Linux. That’s the one I typically recommend, but then you’ll have everything you
need there to be able to copy files off to something else to preserve them.

Finally, another approach is to actually get yourself a replacement hard
disc for that laptop. Replace the hard disc, save the old one, install Windows
from scratch, the new one that you’re about to purchase on to that new hard
drive as it’s installed in your laptop.

Now, take the old hard drive, place it in a USB enclosure so that it can be
attached via a USB connection to any computer. That way, you can then copy the
data off of that old hard drive and preserve it. After you’ve copied off all
the data, maybe that becomes your external hard drive for future backups; that
I don’t know. But at a minimum, it’s one additional way of potentially
recovering the data that’s on your laptop.

So, several different way to go about this. They should all result in your
backing up regularly from now on.

Next from Answercast 53 – Why
are you using Chrome instead of Firefox?

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1 thought on “I can’t activate Windows and I can’t access my data. What do I do?”

  1. If a non-activated copy of windows XP was installed on a computer then it will most likely require activation or reinstall after 30 days. If the computer had Windows Vista originally then the best course of action is to get a matching copy of Windows Vista from a friend or online if necessary and only after you have backed up your data, re-install Windows Vista and activate it with your legitimate Windows Vista Key probably found on the bottom of your laptop. Then you will not have to worry about activating you Windows copy every month.


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