PC won't boot? Forgot your Windows password? Or just sent your boss a nasty email? PC Advisor leads you through the recovery process for some of the more common computing catastrophes.

With computers, sooner or later something always goes wrong – it's merely a matter of when and how seriously. PC Advisor has plenty of tales of woe to share – you wouldn't believe how badly Vista screwed up one of our PCs recently. But rather than harp on about that we've focused on serious but all-too-common computing traumas that have afflicted many of us over the years.

If your computer won't boot or your data's gone astray, panic is sure to follow. In your haste to solve the problem you might find yourself making things worse. We want you to be prepared for such a scenario, so this standby guide ought to be filed somewhere close by. The next time a piece of hardware or software takes an unexpected holiday, consult these pages for how to deal with some of computing's most devastating debacles.

Of course, this advice won't solve every technology-related problem you may come across, but it includes some neat tricks you may not have thought of – such as freezing a bad hard drive to get it to boot one last time so you can retrieve your data, baking your wet mobile device in an oven set on low to bring it back to life, and putting a delay on your outbound email so you have a chance to reconsider the flammable diatribe you've just penned.

Invisible PCs?

If you can't see your PCs on a network, Windows is probably at fault. But the source of the problem could also be hardware. If you can access the internet the chances are that the problem is not your PC's hardware or drivers.

In this case, start by going through the various Windows settings to see which has gone awry.

If you've never been able to see other PCs on the network, check they're all part of the same workgroup. And note that Vista changes the default workgroup name. Select Start, Run, type sysdm.cpl, and press Enter. Click Computer Name, Change and look at the Workgroup field.

Next, look for duplicate IP address assignments, another common problem. Windows will usually give a warning about one PC being assigned an IP address that's already in use. A router and/or PC reboot will often solve this. Check that manually assigned, static IP addresses haven't been set on some systems in the same area the router uses to assign automatic IP addresses – check each PC individually via Start, Run, ‘cmd /k ipconfig', Enter.

Running Windows Update on all systems could solve this problem, too – particularly on XP PCs. As always, check cabling and Wi-Fi settings. And, it sounds silly, but is the computer you want to reach actually switched on?

Finally, ensure the printers or folders you're trying to access are shared and have the appropriate permissions for clients to read. You'll need to log in as an administrator. For folders, go to Windows Explorer, right-click the folder you want to share and select Share. For printers, go to Start, Printers and Faxes (Printers in Vista), right-click the printer you want and choose Sharing.

Sharing in Vista is quite different from XP. Make sure network discovery and file and/or printer sharing are turned on in the Network and Sharing Center.

Once these issues are remedied, the problem should not crop up again. If it does resurface, a reboot is in order.

Accidentally insulted your boss by email?

You may be tempted to use the 'recall' command if your email client has such a feature. Don't use it unless you are positive it works and the boss hasn't already read your email. Nothing adds insult to injury more than a reminder of an ill-judged message you sent. Recall functions often fail, anyway.

A straight face-to-face apology is the best option. Resist the urge to say sorry via email - you'll seem insincere. The phone is marginally better than email - a handwritten apology and a small gift may help!

How to avoid email blunders

Self-control is your friend. Double-check message recipients before you click Send to avoid accidentally forwarding your private rants to the person you're complaining about.

Set email to delay sending and receiving messages so mail isn't immediately delivered. In Outlook, click Tools, Options, Mail Setup. Deselect 'Send immediately when connected' and click Send/Receive. Change the 'Schedule an automatic send/receive' option to 10 minutes.

Quick links

Invisible PCs?

Accidentally insulted your boss over email?

Computer won't boot?

No internet?

Identity stolen?

Pop-ups everywhere?

Lost files

Spills and accidents

Dead drive

Locked out of Windows?