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Originally published Friday, January 17, 2014 at 4:00 PM

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User profile glitch may explain vanishing vacation photos

A damaged Outlook Express profile is probably to blame for the disappearance of hundreds of vacation photos and thousands of emails, Patrick Marshall advises a reader. The data files are almost certainly still intact.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: I just finished downloading about 900 pictures from a recent vacation and then storing them in Amazon Cloud Drive. When I was done (it took me two days), my Outlook Express program came up with a startup screen that wanted me to enter all my info from scratch. There is no trace of my old Outlook Express history or of the 5,000 emails on it.

Any idea of where that data went? I was recently hacked and wonder if it is possible for a hacker to hijack the entire program off the computer. Or has Windows compressed it to expand storage for the pictures? Should I go to a forensic service?

— Jim Miller

A: If a hacker gets access to your computer — as opposed to a piece of malware, which is designed to perform a specific task — that hacker can do pretty much whatever you can do, including deleting programs or emails. That’s why we are advised to employ user accounts that do not have administrative privileges on the computer.

And, no, the operating system will not archive your emails to make room for other data. A more likely explanation is that you have an anti-virus program set to scan mail. I’d disable the mail-scanning feature, since it really doesn’t provide additional protection and it can gum up the works.

What has likely happened is that your Outlook Express user profile was damaged. So when you boot the program, it thinks you’re starting from scratch. The data files are almost certainly still on your drive.

Once you’ve created a new user profile, you can try to get those emails back. First, if you’re willing to do it manually, you’ll find instructions for importing the data file at support.microsoft.com/kb/262118.

If you’d like a program that will lead you through recovery, you may want to try DBXpress, available at www.oehelp.com/dbxpress/. It costs $26.95, which is a good deal less expensive than a recovery service.

Q: I have a refresh issue when making changes to folder contents. If I go into a folder and, say, delete a file or add a folder to the desktop, I have to hit F5, refresh, to see the change.

Refreshes to see changes are not automatic, as they once were. I’ve looked at the folder options several times but see nothing that will help me correct this issue. Any ideas?

I have an HP desktop running Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit.

— Ken Noll

A: I’ve been trying to find an answer to this without much success. It seems to afflict a relatively small number of users, and it might be associated with the presence of third-party software or malware. (No, I know it’s not fun to be in that small group.)

But I haven’t been able to replicate the problem, nor have I seen a definitive solution from Microsoft.

If I had the problem, I’d back up my data and then do a fresh installation of Windows, reformatting the drive in the process. Then I’d reinstall only the applications I currently want to use. (This will also get rid of no-longer-used drivers that may be causing problems.)

I’d add applications back in one at a time, seeing if one of them causes the problem to recur. Chances are, you won’t encounter the problem.

If all else fails, there’s always the option to upgrade to Windows 8.1. I haven’t heard of any such problems with that version.

Note: I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 as an early Christmas present for myself.

Yes, it’s pricey for a tablet. But it’s also an incredibly portable notebook that can be transformed into a tablet when you just want to read or take notes on a plane or in a meeting. I’ve been very happy with it. And with a maximum of 8 gigabytes of memory and 512 gigabytes of flash storage, it can handle the heavy-duty work of a desktop computer.

Unfortunately, after a firmware update in December, I started having all kinds of battery problems. The device’s battery would drain while the unit was in sleep mode, or even when it was shut off.

Also, the battery icon in the system tray frequently misreported the available charge. A little searching on the Internet showed that many other users are having the same problems.

Microsoft has acknowledged the problem. And frankly, I have come to expect problems with new devices.

What I don’t expect is stonewalling about the nature of the problem. Despite many queries on the Microsoft support site, and repeated inquiries over the past three weeks from me, the company has given no information about the cause or extent of the problem. The only comment Microsoft has provided is, “Our customers’ experiences are very important to us and we are working hard to release an update package as soon as possible.”

I’ll keep you posted.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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