OT: Help! Windows 10 Update ate my files

Submitted by Jomafalo on February 13th, 2018 at 12:15 PM

Last year after upgrading to Windows 10, an update caused my OS to crash resulting in my Dell Vostro laptop being unable to start Windows. After much research, I was able to use a recovery program burned onto CD, which succesfully stored my existing files up to that point into a Windows.old file folder and replaced the corrupted OS with a new uncorrupted version of Windows 10, which has worked fine since then. 

Fast forward to last Friday. I had been avoiding the most recent Windows 10 update, which noted it will take a long time due to many enhancements and new features, by clicking on "remind me later" button. I was just too busy and had not backed up my files since last year's debacle. While away from my computer on Friday, Windows forced the update, which took a few hours. When my computer finally restarted for the final time, my Windows.old file folder and the hundreds of files and documents therein were no longer to be found. When I clicked on the recently opened documents in MS Word, I got a message that the file directory does not exist. 

I have researched the issue and tried contacting tech support at Microsoft, but after hours of getting nowhere, I tried to undo the update by reverting back to the previous build of Windows 10, thinking that would undo whatever was done to hide or delete my files. The previous build works fine, but did not produce the missing files. 

Yesterday I had an hour long session with a MS tech who speaks very broken English (after an hour on hold and getting disconnected). The tech tried to tell me that Windows.old files are temporary files only and automatically disappear after a few weeks. I kindly informed the tech that I have been accessing the hundreds of documents in that file folder since around June of last year, so he was mistaken or uninformed. When he tried to argue with me, I asked him to escalate my call to the next level. He eventually put me on hold and came back after talking with a manager and tried to search for hidden files in my computer with remote access but was unsuccessful and claimed there was nothing that could be done. He also insisted that Windows updates do not delete files but could not explain what happened to them. 

I asked again for him to escalate my call to the next level because someone from MS should be able to explain what happened to my files and why. He agreed to have someone call me today, but so far I have not heard from anyone. I previously searched the MS community forums, but the missing file topics discussed there seem to center around a temporary user account being created, which is not relevant to my situation.

So, I am turning to my brilliiant MGoBlog community to see if anyone has experienced anything like this and has any suggestions for how I can recover my missing files. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated! 


UPDATE:  A big thank you to all of you who responded and especially those of you with constructive suggestions. I downloaded the EaseUS recovery program as suggested by a few of you, which located the missing files after a few hours of scanning my system. I have yet to actually preview or save them due to having other work to do first (on a deadline). So, I will have to wait until tomorrow to see the fruits of my labor and your recommendations. 

I knew reaching out to this amazing community for your input was the way to go... thanks again and Go Blue! 



February 13th, 2018 at 12:39 PM ^

the short-sighted view that upfront cost is the only difference.  Mac computers tend to last longer and have fewer issues.  Also I would happily spend triple to have a computer where when my hard drive has a physical failure (which happened recently) I didn't lose a single family picture from my library thanks to time machine.  




February 13th, 2018 at 12:49 PM ^

...again, Time Machine is just a backup system. Any other backup system could do the same thing. A hard drive failure can still just as easily happen on a Mac and result in loss of data, and outside of their embedded SSDs, use the same parts as non-Apple computers (look up the Geforce "Bumpgate"... It affected all systems).

I know a thing or two about the various brands of computers as I was certified to do warranty work on Apple, Dell, and HP systems. HP's were garbage, Dells were surprisingly well put together even with inferior materials, and Apples were, as you notice, very high quality and they demanded best in class service from its subcontractors.

Having said that, they are all prone to the same failures. Macs in particular seem to operate very hot due to poor ventilation, which can cause increased wear on parts.

If you are happy with your Apple, good, but it is disingenous to suggest they are not prone to basic failures or contain some sort of "magic" in Time Machine. I have seen botched updates on Macbooks. I have seen software just stop working in Mac OS. No hardware or software is perfect.


February 13th, 2018 at 12:52 PM ^

As a side note, an unfortunate event I witnessed as a repair tech was a brand new (think less than a month) 17" Macbook Pro with a multi-hundred dollar extended warranty being turned down for service because the girl spilled a Coke on it and the warranty didn't cover accidental damage. Her dad b*tched at Apple until they agreed to fix it haha

It was shocking to take off the bottom and see Coke syrup sticking to literally everything in this $2k laptop.


February 13th, 2018 at 12:58 PM ^

but the "magic" of the time machine is the fact that is more native and easier to use than the windows alternatives.  sure it's a backup, but it is one that is fully embedded in.  Most people who I know who have a PC have a different way of backing up from each other.  Everyone that has a back-up with mac has time machine so you don't have these random issues of "oh shoot how do I recover my x file from y location because I have a very bespoke problem"

I know that macs are prone to the same hardware problems, but if I have a total failure and have to buy a full new computer, I know that I won't be able to tell the difference down to my cookies and saved passwords once I back-up with time machine.  


February 13th, 2018 at 12:52 PM ^

There are a bunch of cloud-based backup options available at very low cost, to say nothing of a flash drive or hard drive  that can be used for backup should disaster strike.  While I like Apple/Mac equipment, I also live in a Windows world.  In the world of computing, if you value your data, you always back it up.  Everything eventually fails.



February 13th, 2018 at 1:01 PM ^

This is just dumb. All hardware will eventually fail. Hard drives rarely last more than a few years of hard use. It does not matter if you have Mac, Windows, or Linux.

Always back up files, preferably online, and in 2 different places.

Monocle Smile

February 13th, 2018 at 1:07 PM ^

Linux machines have even fewer failures and issues over time, provided the kernel doesn't crush your soul first. So why not go that direction?

I find it rather amusing how a lack of a need of computer knowledge is often cast as a strength of Mac. That works with a larger consumer base, but in a computer face-off, it's a bit of a silly argument.


February 13th, 2018 at 12:34 PM ^

Hindsight being 20-20 and all... I did not choose to store the files there, that was something the recovery program did. Moving the hundreds of documents and files back to their orginal folders is not something I would know how to do or thought necessary.  I had no problems accessing them for months, so seemed pointless to waste time moving them around. All of my original folders were still the same but just located within the Windows.old file folder within the C: drive. 


February 13th, 2018 at 12:57 PM ^

Each to their own.  I have migrated or installed Win 10 on many PC's and have had no problems.  We always, always have on-site and off-site backups of our data. We also wait at least a year after a new OS comes out before we consider upgrading.  I thought the transition to Win 10 from 7 was as easy as I have ever seen from Microsoft.

The Mad Hatter

February 13th, 2018 at 1:15 PM ^

Speaking to PC World, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore explained that Windows 10 is constantly tracking how it operates and how you are using it and sending that information back to Microsoft by default. More importantly he also confirmed that, despite offering some options to turn elements of tracking off, core data collection simply cannot be stopped.


Down with Big Brother!



February 13th, 2018 at 1:59 PM ^

As the monthly second Tuesday update churns away in the background right now with what seems like its biggest update in a long time, yes, it's a constant battle that Microsoft seems determined to win. There's probably trillions of dollars in generating databases of personal information that actually have useful information for advertisers. And even more in being able to deliver those ads, as ad-blocking has gotten more sophisticated.

I've figured out a couple of tricks, value being mostly in that the privacy-busters use a lot of CPU and violate scheduling rules, but we're headed down a dark path and whatever replaces Windows 10 will probably be far more intrusive.

As far as data backup goes, we all have to learn that lesson. A tradeoff between risk and time and money. No sense beating up OP over that. Once you've searched and understand where files are hidden and it's obvious they're gone, it gets very time-consuming and expensive to reconstruct them off of the disc - if that's even possible. There are decent tools out there to take a first pass at that - maybe you'll get lucky. Unfortunately, the security promised by whatever tool defaulted to putting things in windows.old was unrealistic. That's just a poor choice, but it's sometimes hard - even for veteran users - to recognize when a poor choice is made by what's seemingly there to help you with data security.


February 14th, 2018 at 12:02 AM ^

Whatever replaces Windows (or future updates to Windows 10) will probably be far less intrusive, given that all US technology firms are currently shitting themselves trying to comply with GDPR before the EU starts confiscating 4% of their annual revenue per violation.



February 13th, 2018 at 12:33 PM ^

This is why they have dual drives, or in some cases more than one bay in laptops. Get an SSD to run the OS and programs on and leave your files on a secondary drive. And then if you have other computers at the house, share those drives and have them back up automatically. I realize this doesn't help you now, but going forward you won't lose everything. 

The Maizer

February 13th, 2018 at 12:35 PM ^

Was the "recovery program" actually just a clean install of Windows 10? Because that would make your old files to go to a windows.old folder. Where was the folder located? What did you upgrade from?


February 13th, 2018 at 12:40 PM ^

I originally upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 early last year. The upgrade worked fine until an update a few weeks later, which caused the OS to crash. I'm not certain but believe it was a clean install from recovery disc that created the windows.old folder in my OS(C:) drive. 


February 13th, 2018 at 12:36 PM ^

Windows.old IS a temp folder (basically same as Deleted folder) and you should NEVER leave your files there. If you hadn't reinstalled, you might have had a chance with file recovery programs, but I doubt you have much chance now.

Get a file recovery program like Recuva and see if the files are still there. Otherwise you are SOL.

Beat Rutgerland

February 13th, 2018 at 12:38 PM ^

Sorry OP,  but you're probably screwed. Windows.Old sounds like where windows would keep the last version of Windows, but when you updated, the current version became the last version and so the stuff in windows.old would be seen as 2 versions ago and deleted by the machine. This is all speculation though.

If you have a system restore point you could try that, but I don't believe that's enabled by default in windows 10, so it's unlikely you had it set up beforehand.

It's not very likely to be successful but you could try enabling hidden files/folders and doing a Cortana search for the files or the folder.

Anyway, I think you're screwed here, but I hope somebody proves me wrong.


February 13th, 2018 at 12:40 PM ^

What recovery program did you use that created the windows.old folder? I'm assuming it was a live boot CD with some utilities. More info there might help figure out where it went. 


Silly question. Have you tried searching for a file that was in windows.old to see if it just got moved somewhere else during one of your install/restore cycles? 


February 13th, 2018 at 12:46 PM ^

The program was something MS tech support provided to reinstall a clean version of Windows 10. I don't recall what it was called but had to burn it onto a disc. As for searching for the files, yes I have tried searching for one of the documents by name, but I get a message that the directory does not exist. 


February 13th, 2018 at 12:48 PM ^

A similar thing happened to me last week.  My Dell laptop updated itself and then would not restart.  It kept cycling through the start-up procedures but never got to the start-up screen due to some missing Boot file. 

I was on the phone with Dell and Microsoft for hours but all they wanted to do was send me a new hard drive.  I knew it wasn't a hard drive failure, so that would have been a waste of time and effort.  In the end, I had to do a hard restart of the laptop by pushing the on/off button for a couple of seconds.  I then restarted it by pushing the same button for a couple of seconds and immediately hitting the F12 key a few times to get me to the recovery menu.  I tried all the different recovery options but nothing really worked until I chose to reset the machine to its original factory settings. 

You will probably end up still not being able to find your ".old" folder, but I was able to find most of my documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.  You will also have to reinstall most of the software that you may have installed since you bought the machine (including MS Office, Word, etc.), but it really didn't take me that long since my laptop is less than a year old. 

Best of luck! 

Stephen Y

February 13th, 2018 at 12:50 PM ^

Going forward, get iDrive.  2TB of automatic backup storage for $70/year (unlimited devices).  I think the first year only cost me $15 after a promo.  Money well spent.