“Operating system not found”

Possibly the second worst four words in the English language.*

I was travelling with G to Boulder, Colorado, where she is attending a Business School event. I came along because I’d always wanted to visit this town in the Rockies known for its running and other outdoor sports.

The pilot had announced that we were free to use "electronic devices".  I reached for my laptop – which is my office, calendar, library, address book, photo album, music collection, and main form of communication. And that was when I got a black screen, apart from the chilling words: 

Operating system not found

You do not want to see this on your computer.  It generally indicates a comprehensive failure of the hard disk.

Friends of mine have lost laptops over the last year and have lost everything – their emails, their documents, their diaries, their photographs.  Computer repair shops report heart-wrenching tales of young couples arriving in tears, clutching computers with broken hard disks containing the remnants of their wedding photos, or the only record of the first days of their children, begging for them to be rescued.  G was recently telephoned by a successful and wealthy retired businessman, in tears because his laptop hard disk had failed and he had lost everything.

My stomach churned as I wondered what I had irreplaceably lost.  I knew it would not be too much, as I have a complete backup of all my data at home on two large external hard disks, and I regularly copy across everything from my laptop.  But even if I was not going to lose too much data, how could I work without a computer?

Arriving at the hotel, I used a tiny screwdriver to get inside my laptop, and found that the problem was a faulty connection in the ribbon cable linking the computer motherboard and the hard disk.  I was able to fix the connection, and the computer booted find.

So all’s well that ends well.  But it was a close shave, and a reminder always to make regular backups, especially of laptops.  Mine has taken years of abuse – including being humped around on the back of my bike, being thrown around in airports, and the occasional coffee spill. The hard disk WILL fail one day. 

So if you rely on your laptop, please – take a backup.  Either image your disk, burn your data onto a CD-ROM or DVD, or copy it across to another computer.  Please, do it today.

* The worst four words in the English Language are of course  "Welcome to Heathrow Airport"

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