Undelete v4

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, February 2005, send e-mail
Published by: Executive Software, go to the web site
Requires: Windows XP Home or Professional, Windows 2000, Windows NT4
MSRP: US$29.95 (Home edition), $39.95 (workstation) $299.95 (server)

A recent study by Executive Software shows that 86% of administrators in most corporate sites regularly deal with data loss and another 71% feel they would benefit from speedier data restoration methods. I know that feeling. I have spent many hours searching through backup drives, tapes, CDs and DVDs patiently searching for lost files, hoping upon hope that some version still exists somewhere. As hope wanes and blood pressure rises in many situations, I've also kicked myself for not having a good quality undelete utility handy. At home and in SOHOs and small offices, lost files, accidental deletions and absent backups are common enough to cause the loss of a lot of time and money every year. The actual numbers are high enough to give you bad dreams. Undelete v4 is a high quality utility designed to recover deleted files even if they were lost prior to installing the software. There are a lot of undelete utilities on the market, but Executive Software has always held a prominent position in this product segment. I wanted to see if Undelete v4 could live up to its marketing hype.

I installed Undelete v4 on half a dozen computers all running various flavors of Windows XP. In keeping with the Kickstartnews philosophy of real reviews by real users, I wanted the best shot at actually finding an undelete emergency as opposed to deliberately deleting files and then undeleting them. In addition to that, I wanted to find out how quickly individual users actually noticed that a file was errantly deleted in order to determine how effective Undelete could be when file overwriting was a real possibility. Keep in mind that a deleted file stored in a section of the hard drive that is completely or even only partially overwritten is usually completely lost to conventional undelete techniques (or at least to any software outside professional data recovery labs and the FBI, NSA, Great Britain's MI5/MI6, Canada's CSIS, France's DGSE, Japan's PSIA and so on).

I actually waited for a full month before a staff member called me with a file problem. He had deleted a document. He had also just run SystemSuites disk clean up utility and gotten rid of all his *.BAK and *.WBK files. Because the computer being used is highly secure, the Windows Recycle Bin was turned off meaning that files were deleted immediately. Unfortunately, the staffer had been using his computer for at least two days prior to noticing the file loss. After launching Undelete, we managed to find a little luck because none of the files he had worked on in the interim had been written to the location of the file he lost and the Undelete Recovery Bin had not been dumped either. Undelete recovered the file instantly from the Recovery Bin. A week later, another staffer who insists on using the command line to do routine file maintenance tasks, accidentally deleted a folder full of documents while working from the DOS prompt. This time, the staffer realized his error right away and immediately called the IS manager. He and I again used the Undelete Recovery Bin to restore the entire folder and its contents. No problem. No harm done.

There were five more file 'accidents' immediately afterwards, and we started panicking just a bit until we realized that staffers had gotten together and were deliberately deleting files just to watch us coming running. It was all only slightly funny because the prospect of losing critical data is never anything less than a serious concern. I managed to regain enough of a sense of humor to laugh with everyone else, especially when it turned out that my administrative assistant was in on the joke and had accidentally deleted her Outlook PST file containing a rather uncomfortably large number of unarchived items. The problem was aggravated by the fact that although Undelete was installed on her computer, the PST file had bypassed the Recovery Bin. However, the software's Undelete From Disk function found the file and restored it. The Admin managed to crack a smile of distinct relief. Another practical joker—who did not have Undelete installed on his computer—thought it would be hysterically funny to delete a small directory of data and then holler for help. We ran Emergency Undelete from the installation CD and managed to recover abut half the files. The reason for the partial recovery was that Funny Boy had unthinkingly shut down at least one other program which had save a file to the same directory before he hollered for help.

Undelete v4 got its heaviest workout from the server installation however. With nine staffers accessing several busy servers hourly every day, accidents are bound to happen. One interesting side-effect of the Undelete test period was that a number of files which were formerly thought to have been deleted were found to have actually been moved accidently to the wrong folders. A little inattention when dragging & dropping can cause a lot of problems like that and the first time we found such a file alerted us to the need to do a server or system file search before running Undelete. We also spent a couple of hours reviewing the folder naming conventions used on our network to change similar looking names on adjacent folders.

Undelete lets you flip the coin too. Something called Secure Delete is integrated into the program. The feature lets you permanently delete data according to U.S. Department of Defense C-2 level standards (which makes the file essentially impossible to recover by any known practical method). Depending on the sort of data you use and create, the need to permanently delete files can be useful. If you ever decide to sell, donate or otherwise dispose of your computer(s) or hard drive(s), using Secure Delete to wipe the hard drives will ensure that nobody every gets their hands on your data.

Cons: Undelete v4 is fully compatible with hard disk partitions formatted in NTFS, but you've got to read the manual and online help carefully to ensure that file access permission settings allow certain files (such as Outlook PST or other mail files) to appear in Undelete's Recovery Bin. If you're going to buy Undelete v4, make sure you install it right away because there's no guarantee that installation after a file loss will recover the item. Installation and recovery attempts post facto worked about 50% of the time. One of the installations turned off the Windows Recycle Bin, so we got into the habit of checking that setting in the Recycle Bin properties dialog after each Undelete installation.

Pros: Undelete v4 lives up to its marketing hype. The user interface is easy to navigate, with a simple Windows Explorer-like design in which you can click on and select from deleted items tracked by the program. Unlike Windows Recycle Bin you can access Recovery Bin from almost any other program which is used to locate and load files including word processors, image editors and almost everything else you use on the computer. Does not interfere with the Windows Recycle Bin and maintains its own discreet database. The SecureDelete feature will permanently erase data on any disk, which helps prepare machines for sale, donation or disposal. Undelete is the kind of utility that you really don't miss from day to day until you accidentally get rid of something, at which point panic sets in and you wish with all your heart that Undelete was installed and percolating in the background. Cheap, cheerful and indispensable. Highly recommended.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com





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