by Lee Hudspeth

The Naked PC

Scorched Earth

by Lee Hudspeth

When all else fails in troubleshooting Microsoft Windows, Outlook, or Office problems, we advocate a "scorched earth" policy. This means essentially uninstall everything, take a warm shower, cold boot, then reinstall everything. Keep mass quantities of the beverage of your choice handy throughout. In this article I offer suggestions to solve Windows catastrophes, and to ease the pain of having to get any version of Windows going again from scratch when that’s your only recourse.

With Windows, a catastrophic problem is one that either immediately crashes an application or the operating system (OS), or if left unattended will soon cascade into a crash. You can apply this checklist to other types of system problems, too.

1. Store all your data on a separate drive or partition from your OS and applications. Usually this is a D: drive or partition. This way you can more quickly reinstall your OS and applications, with your data safely tucked away in its own little – or not so little – cubbyhole.

2. Use Windows’ built-in troubleshooting tools to research the problem. (Available only with Windows 98 forward.) Click Start, choose Help, and search on the term "troubleshoot" without the quotes.

3. Study related topics in the Windows Resource Kit. The kit comes on your Windows 98 CD, but of course if your system is belly-up you’ll want a hard copy handy. (To buy a printed copy online go to and search on "windows resource kit" without the quotes and pick the version that matches your OS.) To install the Win98 software version on your PC, follow these steps: insert your Windows 98 CD; go to the CD’s \tools\reskit folder, click Setup.exe, and follow the instructions; when setup is finished, start the Resource Kit by selecting Start, Programs, Windows 98 Resource Kit, and lastly Resource Kit Online Book. For Windows 2000 users, the kit is available for free online at

4. Research the problem using Microsoft’s Online Support infrastructure. From any Microsoft product, the Help menu has some sort of direct link there. For example, in Internet Explorer 5 select Help then choose Online Support, and in Word 2000 select Help, Office on the Web.

5. Seek counsel on the public newsgroup or discussion group of your choice. Try Microsoft’s public newsgroups (the server name is; see for example microsoft.public.win98.gen_discussion, microsoft.public.win2000.general, or any of the hundreds of other groups), our Annoyance Board at, and so on.

6. Call Microsoft Technical Support. For more information about how to do this see Here you can view a list of Microsoft products, support phone numbers, and warranty period information, with links on what to do if the problematic product isn’t listed. In some cases you can get free support, in other cases you have the option of paying a per-incident fee to get support and open a case number (if the engineer can’t solve your problem on the spot, they’ll call back with a solution, at least that’s the theory). As of the time of this writing, per-incident fees range from $35/incident for an expired warranty scenario to $245/incident for questions posed by developers, IT professionals, system builders, and the like. You can also ask a question using the Web, sometimes at no charge and sometimes on a per-incident basis (

7. Call your friends and associates who might have a knowledgeable answer.

8. Do steps 5-7 in parallel to the extent possible. This way, while you’re waiting for a reply from one of the sources, the answer may arrive from another.

9. Back up your data and proceed to uninstall and reinstall your operating system. (This procedure warrants a separate article.)

For more in-depth information on this topic, browse to The author can be reached at

Reprinted by permission of The Naked PC The Naked PC is a trademark of PRIME Consulting Group, Inc. (Hermosa Beach, CA).