How a Windows Update deleted my files.

A man on his knees pleading next to a Windows recovery screen

I had a really interesting experience yesterday.  Saturday night, I got the usual notification not to turn off my power when I closed down my PC.  It was updating my system.  I’ve seen these messages a thousand times and thought nothing of it.

: Configuring Windows Update, 30% Complete, Do not turn off your computer


The next morning, when I turned on my computer, I got the usual message that my computer was updating my system.  After the update had finished, I knew right away that something was really wrong.  Why was the background image on my desktop screen changed from a scene of Yosemite to the Windows logo?

A frustrated man looking at his laptop flanked by 2 desktop screens, one with a Windows logo, the other a scene from Yosemite

I checked my Thunderbird email system.  My inbox was empty.  After seeing that, I really started getting freaked out.  I checked my folders.  They were empty!  What the “H” was going on!  My programs were there, but none of my files!  Now I was in full-panic mode.

Thunderbird email screen opened to an empty email inbox

I don’t know if you have ever been in this situation.  If you haven’t, I can almost predict with certainty that sometime in the future you will experience this type of event.  There are lots of ways you can lose your data.   Hard drives fail all the time.  Your computer might get stolen.  Your house could burn down.  Someone might hack into your computer, encrypt your data, and try to extort money from you to get your data back.

A dark blue computer screen with a Titled Windows with a statement saying that a fatal exception has occurred

My road back to data recovery

Whatever the cause, losing the files on your computer can be a devastating experience.  Documents like a book that you’ve been writing for years, your Ph.D. thesis, your family pictures, your website’s files could disappear in a blink of an eye.  This has happened to me in the past.   When the hard drive on my computer failed, I lost over two years of work I had been working on.  Like a dummy, I was not backing up my files.  This was before we had cloud backup services like Carbonite. As a result, this hard drive failure turned into a major nightmare and set me back on my project more than six months.

This recent event in my life emphasized the importance of backing up my computer.  It also reminded me of the importance of reminding my readers to take this important step to protect their documents, pictures and movies stored on their computer.

The word BACKUP in blue 3-dimensional letters plugged into a laptop with a blue screen


Probably the easiest way to back up your computer is with an online backup service like Carbonite.  With Carbonite, your files are backed up automatically.  For me, if I were forced to do backups manually on an external drive, they would not get done frequently enough or worse yet not get done at all.

: Carbonite logo with the tagline: The Better Backup Plan, Secure, Automatic Online Backup Starting at $59

Luckily, I have been using Carbonite for years.  When I discovered that all of my data was missing, I immediately went to their Information Center on my computer.

An image of the Carbonite Information Center for choosing Backup, Restore, Settings, Account or Help

After clicking the restore button, it opened up a second box for specifying what type of file restoration I was requesting.  After selecting the “Restore all of Your Files” button, Carbonite started retrieving my data from Carbonite’s cloud servers.

An Arrow pointing to “Restore All Your Files” in Carbonite’s File Restoration Selection Box

Carbonite then recreated all of my folders and replaced all of the missing documents, images and movies in their correct places.  It took almost half a day.  I figured it was a small price to pay when I considered it took years to create and accumulate these valuable files.

One issue I did notice after I completed my file backup, was that many of my Thunderbird email messages were still missing. 

A middle aged man scratching his head with a confused look on his face


My email outbox was empty, and it only restored the emails in my inbox to a date in the year 2014. It seems that Thunderbird only restores a certain number of emails in your inbox when you open it up.  Unfortunately, when Thunderbird restores your email inbox, they do it in the order they were received.  They also only restore a certain number of your emails (probably around fifty) every time you open the program.  I admit I am lazy about pruning my email.  As a result, I had over 20,000 emails to restore in my inbox before I could get to my most recent emails.

It took over two hours opening and closing Thunderbird to finally restore my email Inbox.  I could not find a way to restore the emails in my email outbox.  So it appeared that they were lost for good.  I learned my lesson about not editing my email list and spent about an hour removing emails from my inbox.

Here’s where things really got weird

A weird confused looking man that is wearing a round black rimmed glasses and a bow tie that is scratching his head


When I initially lost my data, my wife Rita recommended that I try re-booting my computer.  Being a typical male, I did not take her advice, even though she is an expert on technology.  In my mind, it just didn’t make sense.  How could rebooting my computer restore my missing files?  As a result, I went ahead with the restoration of my database.  After restoring my computer, I put a new background picture on my desktop.

Now this is where things got really weird.  When I turned on my computer the next morning, guess what I saw when I turned on my computer?  My original desktop picture of Yosemite.  Everything looked like it had before I went through this whole frightening episode.  When I checked Thunderbird, all my emails were restored in my inbox and my email outbox.  All the files I pruned from my inbox the night before were again on my email list.

So what were the lessons I learned from my road back to data recovery after a windows update deleted my files:

A cup of Coffee, a magnifying glass, a pen and chalk lying on a chalkboard with the words “Lessons Learned” written in chalk 

  • Listen to your wife. Many times, she will be smarter than you!
  • Whenever something goes wrong with your computer, the first solution you should try is reboot your computer!
  • Back up your data! An online backup service like Carbonite makes it simple and ensures that everything gets saved on their cloud servers.  Carbonite also does backups on an external drive if you want an extra backup.
  • Don’t trust Windows. I admit, Windows has gotten better, but it still has its glitches.  I am currently using Windows 7 for my operating system.  Overall, it has been fairly stable.  Yesterday’s experience has me wondering.  Awhile back I did take up Microsoft’s offer to upgrade to Windows 10.  What a nightmare!  I have always had my computer password protected.  After upgrading to Windows 10, I could not get access into my system.  After trying various solutions for the better part of a day, I finally got to a point where Windows gave me the option to go back to Windows 7.   I grabbed for that opportunity like a drowning man thrown a life jacket.  After I had done it, everything worked, and I vowed I would never again upgrade to Windows 10 again.
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