Delete Files Safely, Recover Files Easily

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - While uninstalling an application recently, I was given the option to remove several shared files. The uninstall program stated, 'The system indicates that the following shared file is no longer used by any programs'. But if programs are indeed using the file, there may be problems.

Should I or should I not delete these (formerly) shared files?

Alan Michka, Driggs, Idaho

There's no simple answer to this question, but fortunately the likelihood of a disaster resulting is small.

Windows keeps a counter in the Registry for each file that may be shared by multiple programs. When you install a program that uses that file, the counter goes up by one. When you uninstall a program, the counter goes down by one.

When an uninstall brings a file's counter to zero, you get the message that you describe because Windows thinks you're removing the last program that uses the file. But Windows isn't always correct in its assumptions. Installs and uninstalls do not always progress smoothly, and it's possible for the counter to be wrong.

So what should you do? If you're worried about hard drive space, click Yes To All and delete that shared file and any others the uninstall routine finds. The chances of a problem are slight, and if one does come up, reinstalling the first program that complains about the missing file should put the file back where it rightly belongs.

If you're not too concerned about hard drive space, click No to All and leave the files where they are. Beyond taking up some hard drive sectors, they won't do any harm.

Restoring Deleted Files

There are times when I regret having removed a file. How can I recover files that I have deleted?

Ann Ferguson, via the Internet

If you've recently deleted a file via Windows Explorer by highlighting the file and pressing the key, or by selecting Delete from the right-click menu, restoring the file will likely be a breeze.

That's because Windows did not really delete the file--it simply moved it to the Recycle Bin. To get the file back, you need only double-click the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop, find the file, right-click it, and select Restore.

Things get trickier if you deleted the file from within an app or at the DOS prompt. If you have emptied the Recycle Bin between deleting the file and realizing it was a mistake, the deleted file's space on your drive has been made available to other files. But until another file uses that space, the data is still there and perhaps can be recovered. For that reason, avoid creating or changing files until you recover the lost one.

You'll need a special program to undelete the file. Be sure to install it before you need it, because installing a program involves putting files on your drive, and those files might overwrite the very deleted ones you need to recover.

DOS 6 came with such a program, simply called Undelete. Unfortunately, the program isn't in Windows 9x. You can download it from FileWorld or from (Note: Microsoft hasn't kept Undelete up to date, and it doesn't work with FAT32 files.)Utility suites such as Symantec Corp.'s Norton Utilities ( include undelete programs. (In Norton, launch the UnErase Wizard.) If you don't have one of these packages, I recommend Briggs Softworks' Directory Snoop, a US$29 shareware program. You can download Directory Snoop from FileWorld or from

Of course, your best solution is to do all your deleting through the Recycle Bin, and think twice before you empty it. Keep your important files backed up, too.

Keeping Operations Legal

All too often I get an error message saying, 'This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down', after which the program I'm using closes. How can I prevent this?

Luis Lazo, Miami

There is no way to completely free yourself of "illegal operation" messages, but if you're getting a lot of them, you need to figure out what's causing the problem and what you can do to fix it.

If it's always the same program that goes down, it's probably a bug in that program--especially if it always goes down under similar circumstances. Next time it happens, click the error message's Details button. You'll get something like 'EXCEL caused an invalid page fault in module FM20.DLL at 0137:60007585'--not very useful information for most of us.

But if the vendor knows about the bug, those unfriendly numbers will help you figure it out. Visit the vendor's Web site and search for the words "illegal operation" or the numbers from the Details box. With some luck, you'll be able to locate a patch or a workaround.

If you're getting "illegal operation" messages from a number of programs, or if you can't fix the problem through the vendor's Web site, a driver may be at fault. Printer and video drivers often cause illegal operations in other programs. In the case of printer drivers, you need not even be printing for the problem to occur.

Updating the driver may do the trick. Or you can try going the opposite route and use a more generic driver. For instance, most laser printers will work with an HP LaserJet Series II or LaserJet III driver. These have been around for a long time, and all the kinks are pretty much ironed out. Video drivers are more iffy. You could use VGA, but you're limited to 640 by 480 resolution. Even SuperVGA may dock you with that limitation. Sometimes there's a driver for a specific chip, like the S3, but in that case, you have to know what chip drives your video card.

Password-Protect Folders

Can I put a password on a folder so that others can't access my sensitive files?

Frederick Szczepanski, Irving, Texas

If you have a file-compression program such as WinZip, you can password-protect the files in your folder as you put them into a .zip file. Since most compression programs let you launch, edit, and save files within the archive, you can use the .zip file much as you would a folder.

Creating a password-protected archive in WinZip 8 is pretty easy: In Windows Explorer, right-click the folder and select Add to Zip. In the Add dialog box, click the Password button in the lower-right corner, and then just follow the prompts.

Once you're sure your files are safe in their .zip file, delete the original folder and its contents securely. Telling your compression program to "move" the files will leave them recoverable on your hard drive. See May's Answer Line for details (

If you want more than a zip program can offer, consider Encrypted Magic Folders by PC-Magic Software. Downloadable from FileWorld or, it encrypts and hides the folder to make it completely inaccessible. You have to use a hot key and your password to bring up the app, and only then can you access the folder. Just one problem: the $59 registration fee. You better really want to keep those files protected but accessible.

Hide Future Tasks In Outlook

Can I hide tasks in Outlook until their Start date? Tasks now show up immediately after I enter them. If I enter a task to start on October 10, I don't want to be reminded of it until October 10.

Tg Glazer, Chicago

No, but workarounds can help. One option: Use the Due Date rather than the Start Date. To hide a task with a Due Date more than a week away, select View*Current View*Next Seven Days. But don't enter separate Start and Due dates, or you may be reminded to do something too late.

Another option, and the only one that actually understands the concept of a start date, is View*Current View*Task Timeline. This will give you an entirely different view of your tasks--one where each task marks or blocks out the space between its Start Date and its Due Date.

If you use Outlook 98 or 2000, you may want to alter your Outlook Today view as well. Go to Outlook Today. Then in Outlook 98, click Options; or in Outlook 2000, click Customize Outlook Today . In the Tasks section, for 'In my task list, show me', select Today's tasks. Click Save Changes. (But remember, Microsoft assumes 'Today's tasks' are those due today, not ones starting today.

Oh, well.)

Find files from this article at Send your questions to We pay $50 for published items. Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes the syndicated humor column Gigglebytes.

Encrypted Magic Folders

$59; PC-Magic Software;

Outlook Express Boilerplate

Boilerplate text is anything you find yourself typing all the time--such as your mailing address. By telling Outlook Express 5 that an address or other boilerplate copy is a signature, you can make the program type it for you. To set this up, select Tools* Options, click the Signature tab, and then the New button. Enter the boilerplate text into the Text box, then click Rename and name your entry. Click OK. To insert the text into a message, select Insert*Signature and then the appropriate name.