My desktop PC, an HP Pavilion p6000, crashed this morning and won't boot successfully, displaying an ominous "Boot Device Not Found" error instead. This used to be the kind of situation that would send me into a fetal position mumbling "why didn't I make a backup?" over and over to myself.
But a few years ago, I burned to CD a free copy of Knoppix, a stripped-down version of Linux, that can be used in an emergency like this. I booted the computer off this CD and found all of my files are still accessible. Even if you don't know anything about Linux, it's easy to figure out how to copy all the files off a drive onto another media such as an external USB drive.
So that's what I'm doing, copying 1.7 terabytes of files while I use an Apple iPad to research why my Windows 7 PC has forsaken me. Apparently the master boot record has become corrupted, a problem that's easily fixable with a Windows System Recovery Disk.
Why didn't I make a System Recovery Disk?
Update: I was able to choose and start Windows 7 manually by hitting Esc and F10 during boot up to run the BIOS setup program. A corrupted master boot record (MBR) was the problem. When I used BIOS setup to change a setting and save it, the MBR was fixed and the PC now boots normally.