Thsi week in Patrick Marshall's Q&A column on technology, there are two items that struck home for me:
Reinstalling Windows to recover lost files: The first was Mr. Marchall's advice on "reinstalling Windows may help retrieve photos." A reader asked what they should do when their "daughter's computer wouldn't boot and displayed a message stating that Windows System 32 was missing. All I wanted was to get her pictures off her hard drive."
Mr. Marshall suggests reinstalling Windows. The error message you're getting implies that important system files have been corrupted, whether by a problem with the drive or by a virus. That being the case, you'll need to boot from your Windows disk and reinstall Windows. Assuming you're able to reinstall, choose to install over the current version. Above all, do not choose the option to reformat the drive prior to installing.
I also agree with Marshall's suggestion to use a reputable hard-drive data-retrieval service if the drive is damaged and you're not able to reinstall Windows.
One more thing: back up your files regularly. If you don't have a writable CD or DVD drive (or even if you do) a handy and ever more affordable way to back up your files is to a USB 2.0 Flash Drive. I found several brands of flash drives (which I refer to as memory fobs, sometimes getting a blank stare at the office) for less than $20 for 1 GB. I use these at home for archiving our photos and important documents, and keep a small spare flash drive in our emergency kit with copies of important family documents and information.
Note on Mac OS X anti-virus: Also of interest in this week's column was this on Mac AV:
"I wrote that even users of Apple computers should employ anti-virus software, explaining that while there are fewer viruses reported for Apple computers, especially for those using the newest Mac OS X operating system, there are still viruses.
"I was inundated with responses from Mac users, many of whom claimed there are no viruses that target the Mac OS X. While it is interesting to find that so many users feel so passionately about their choice of operating system, it is dangerous to operate under the assumption that your computer does not need anti-virus software.
"Indeed, there is no operating system in the world that is not vulnerable to viruses.
"There were, in fact, so many e-mails that I cannot respond to them individually. Accordingly, I want to again urge readers with more questions to visit the Web site I mentioned in the article: www.securemac.com. You will find extensive coverage there of existing vulnerabilities and viruses affecting Mac OS X and other Apple operating systems."
I have a Mac at home (actually, more than one... it's a long story.) and I wouldn't think to have them on the Internet or our network without AV. I received a number of mails from Mac users to my blog post on "Mac or PC Security, it doesn't matter: be prepared" and why I noted that being prepared in this example costs me nothing. I have a choice to purchase additional security if I choose. And that's what I have done for both my Macs (with Norton AV, but I am considering switching to Intego) and my PCs (OneCare with Etrust).