Advice needed please re retrieving vanished data

  Stymied 22:04 07 Jan 2009

I need advice and encouragement not to panic/lose all hope/curl up and sob.

I have a Dell Inspiron and something strange has happened. I have tried the Dell Community Forum but even that's not accessible. I know I used the correct user name and password, but I had to register all over again, and even then, I couldn't access the Dell Community Forum: the error message was that perhaps the site was offline.

When I logged off this morning, turned off the laptop and went to work this afternoon, my personal laptop had been functioning normally. The only unusual thing I had done was to accept the suggestion that the unused desktop shortcuts should be removed to the Unused Shortcuts folder.

When I logged on this evening, the opening screen, withh the various user profiles I have set up, were there as usual. I clicked on my user name, and got a message I have never seen before, that there was a problem with loading the profile. So I thought perhaps I'd clicked on the wrong user and so I started over.

Windows XP accepted my password, and then I realised, with growing horror, that it was behaving as though it was a brand new laptop e.g. up came the WIndows Installer. Every program I opened (Outlook, iTunes) also had to be set up/installed. When it had done what it does, as I feared, my saved data had gone. When I opened Firefox, my Bookmarks were gone. When I checked for My Documents, they weren't.

Exactly what sort of IT disaster has hit me here?

All the programs I have installed are there, but what I've saved on them isn't. I have some of my work backed up on a mobile drive, but not all, and I've not done it recently and I've also lost pictures, some irreplaceable, all my iTunes music.

Are there ways of retrieving my data and getting back to what I had? I know it's possible to go back to a previous date, such as this time yesterday, or does that only work for the system or for programs?

If this would help, then could someone please remind me how to do that?

I had a one year Collect and Return warranty, which has now expired. I have had the laptop for about 18 months.

I would be very grateful for advice as I'm feeling pretty miserable about all this.

Thank you!

  Technotiger 22:18 07 Jan 2009

Try starting in Safe mode - I am not sure what key you press on a laptop, but it might be F2. I use XP on a desktop, and in my case it is F8 for Safe mode.

If you can start in Safe mode, you should then be able to run a System Restore to an earlier date when all was working ok.

  Stymied 08:21 08 Jan 2009

I did a search for a file in My Documents which was not successful.

Then I widened the search and then while the Search was occurring, in the area that shows you the names of folders etc I could see the folders I used to have in My Documents.

However it didn't find that folder, which was one that was not actually in its own folder. (My mind's gone a bit blank with remembering the file names so I could try key words for files I don't have too many of.)

But it looked to me as though it was scrolling through the C drive and of course that has that warning when you try to see what's inside. Also, it was going through Username's Documents, rather than My Documents.

Can I get at them there?

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