When all is right with the world, you turn on your PC and in a couple of minutes you're ready to go to work. You probably don't notice any of the magical things that have to happen with the operating system. You just wait for the desktop to appear and you can start computing.
One of the things that happens without your awareness is that the system checks what's called the boot sector on your hard disk. This is a physical location where it finds the necessary magnetically encoded information to get Windows loaded so you can use it.
But sometimes something goes wrong and the boot sector gets compromised. It might be caused by a virus infection. Or it might just be physical degradation of an aging hard disk. That's what happened to me about a year ago, without any warning.
The result is that when you turn on your machine, nothing happens. All you see is a blank gray or black screen called the Black Screen of Death (BSOD).
But all is not lost. If you know what to do, you can recover from this seeming tragedy.
First, turn OFF the computer. Wait a minute or so before turning it on again. Look in your owner's manual to see what key gets you into SETUP mode. Better yet, look it up now and write it down so you have it if you need it.
HINT: most computers use either the F2 key or the delete key. When your computer starts normally, it usually flashes a message at the top telling you to press this key if you want to enter setup. look for it the next time you boot up.
Now, turn the computer back on and at the same time, press the key to enter setup mode. It might be hard to get the timing just right, since you probably won't see anything on the screen. If you hit it at precisely the right time, you'll see a screen filled with setup options.
If you still have the BSOD, turn off the machine and try again.
Exactly what you'll see where depends on your particular computer. Look carefully until you find the section of the setup instructions that tells where to boot from.
It will be set to hard disk (because that's where you normally boot from). Change this option to boot from CD. Click on save, then exit. Insert a Windows bootable CD into the CD drive and turn off the machine.
Turn the computer back on and you should be able to get to your desktop and get back to work.
WARNING: What I mean by a Windows bootable CD is NOT something that came with your computer. That's probably a reinstallation CD which reinstalls Windows and gets your machine back to its original factory condition.
There are many disaster recovery services and backup software products on the market that can help you create the bootable CD. Two of the most highly rated are True Image from a company called Acronis and Shadowprotect from a company named StorageCraft.
I hope you never see the BSOD. And I hope you prepare for it ahead of time anyway.
Sheryl Schuff is a Certified Public Accountant, author, and consultant who has been in private practice for over 30 years. She teaches entrepreneurs how to organize their businesses, keep good accounting records, and maximize their business tax deductions
She writes about free software and services and offers productivity tips on her blog at http://www.SherylSchuff.com/blog