Prelude — Windows Commits Seppuku
I had occasion to service a client’s computer, a Dell Inspiron One 230 (all-in-one touchscreen), that had its Windows 10 operating system get corrupted. The OS had been an update to a factory-installed Windows 7 OS that made use of the free upgrade option offered in 2016.
When booted, the system would display “Preparing Automatic Repair”.
I did an exhaustive search on that message, and though I found lots of instances where the next thing to appear was a diagnostics screen, this one was going immediately to “Select Keyboard Layout”.
I couldn’t select anything, however, because the boot process had not gotten far enough to either load the USB drivers or the touchscreen drivers; there was no facility for input of any sort.
I could find nothing online regarding that sequence of events.
My next option was to boot into UBCD (Linux), and using one of the Linux tools, copy the client’s data to an external device for eventual reinstall.
Though I would have preferred to do so from a bootable CD, the optical drive latch no longer worked and the drawer wouldn’t stay closed, and the system wouldn’t read the disk if the drawer was held closed manually (the client had finally taped it shut, it being entirely useless).
So, instead, I had to use a bootable thumb drive with UBCD.
I also connected a USB docking station containing a 500GB laptop drive to contain the data.
The laptop drive was briefly used for another client’s system, merely to make a backup copy of the entire internal drive on his Windows 7 laptop, as a fallback position, prior to installing the Windows 10 upgrade, so it still contained a copy of his entire drive (a duplicate, so it was a bootable drive).
After I hit the F12, on boot up, to change the boot drive order, I inadvertently selected the docking station as the boot device, rather than the UBCD thumb drive, and it presented me with a screen that gave me the option to repair.
Windows from the Ashes
I should have retrieved all the client’s data first, but I irresponsibly took a chance and clicked on “repair”, and it proceeded to repair the Dell’s internal drive to the point where, when booting, I was presented with a choice of whether to boot into Windows 7 or Windows 10.
Upon choosing the latter, it began to operate just fine, though, over subsequent use, have noted several lockups.
The major annoyance, however, was that, because of the corruption, that restoration of the OS resulted in it being no longer considered activated, and this was announced in no uncertain terms by frequent pop-up message about activation.
Upon calling Microsoft to obtain the “digital key” that they say is required for activation, the informed me that they couldn’t give out that information to third parties — only to the owner of the system and OS.
They did give me a case number, however, so that when I called back in, there would be some continuity making it unnecessary to go through the entire explanation again.
I explained to my client that she would need to be here when I called them back. When my client arrived, I called Microsoft and it was only then that they told me that the problem was the hardware, itself, and that it was not supported by the newer updates to Windows 10 (I believe it was version 1603 and later), and that there was nothing that could be done because Windows 10 was going to keep trying to install those updates and trashing the system, even if rolled back to an earlier version.
The advice from Microsoft was to restore to the original operating system, Windows 7, which, of course, would obliterate all applications, for some of which, my client not longer had the installation disks (Outlook 2010, in particular).
Since the system now seemed to be operating more or less normally, aside from the frequent activation requests, my client took the system home.
Spreak Engrish, Windows 10!
My client called again, a couple days later, to say that she’d just bought a laptop and wanted to transfer her data from the old system to the new one.
So, once more to Google to find the easiest way to transfer her data.
Microsoft used to provide a tool for doing easy transfer of data, but they discontinued that with Windows 10, and, instead, “partnered” with Laplink on a tool for that.
However, they discontinued the free availability of that tool when they discontinued the free Windows 10 upgrade, so now one must pay $15 to transfer data.
I knew which were the relevant files and their locations, so I copied those onto an external drive (same one as before), include the PST file for Outlook (2010).
The hangup came when trying to import the data into Outlook 2016 (as part of the Office 365 package).
It would get partway through the import (client had a PST file of over 5GB!) and then stop, terminating the process, issuing the error message:
‘The items in the “Inbox” folder cannot be imported or exported. Your chosen folder name is invalid. This is most likely because you included your IMAP server’s hierarchy delimiter in the name of the folder.’
So, I did some more research into the specific instructions for transferring Outlook data, which said to actually export the data from Outlook to a PST file, and then import from that.
So I began exporting data from Outlook which, at one point appeared to hang for 15 minutes, saying 5 seconds remaining (on just the email in the Inbox, not all the subfolders). I waited some more, and then moved the mouse — didn’t click, just moved it — and the export jumped into action again.
I found that, in order to prevent the export from hanging, I had to baby the process, moving the mouse periodically to let the computer know that it was still supposed to be doing something.
I am not sure to what to ascribe that behavior — perhaps that the computer had only 4GB of RAM or that the Outlook data was over 5GB, or both, but I could not just walk away and let it process on its own.
& the Epiphany
After about a half hour, the process complete, and I moved it over to the laptop and tried to import it.
After 15 minutes or so, I got that same error message, again: ‘The items in the “Inbox” folder cannot be imported or exported…’
I noted, however, that on the laptop, some of the data had, indeed, been imported, but far from all of it, and missing folders seemingly out of order.
Figuring that I did something wrong, I repeated the export process from the desktop unit, again, diligently scrubbing the mouse around the table the whole time.
Then, I notice something curious — a couple things, curious, actually.
One curious thing was that I would see, not necessarily sequentially, identical folders names being exported, which piqued my interest because, one would think it unnecessary to export data from a folder more than once.
The second curious thing was that I saw folder names that I recognized, but that had been altered somehow, notably omitting the ampersand character that had been used in the folder name, once such being “H&R Block” where my client apparently stored emails from them.
The way it appeared in the export was “H R Block”, with only a space where the ampersand should have been.
At that point, I purposely interrupted the export.
I then opened all parent folders to discover that my client frequently, I suppose inadvertently, either created or dragged and dropped folders inside other folders, such that there were a lot of duplicate folder names.
I also examine and change all folder names that contained the ampersand character, replacing with the actual word “and”, but because there is no facility for doing this in an automated fashion, it was one at a time through some 200 folders.
I exported to PST again, scrubbing the mouse the whole time, and upon importing to the laptop — LO, there were all the folders.
Apparently the database stores all the foldernames in the order in which they were created, not alpha-sorted as they appear when in the sidepanel in Outlook.
And when the import process encounters an error, such as the illegal character, though it may have successfully imported SOME files, it simply quits such that any folders created later than the one(s) with ampersands are not imported at all.