Take the slowly failing hard disk on my laptop and add the dawning realisation that I should have backed up my precious dam of email more often.

Now when hard disks start to crash (“de-actuate”, to coin a phrase), they don’t necessarily just stop working but go through a phase where they torment the user with odd happenings. In my case, this took the form of being able to boot Windows XP and run most applications quite happily, but being unable to do anything that called on the filesystem. So, no opening files, no saving, no accessing the file tree, and almost no ability to copy from one location to another unless using the “send to” command from the desktop.

Yes, this disk was crashing, by the way. In between the odd, profoundly serious disk errors, you could hear its grinding unhappiness and witness its geriatric uncertainty during pauses lasting minutes.

But I still needed that email. I could create the backup archive and/or .csv file in Microsoft Outlook (this is a mandated program before you ask), but couldn’t actually change the location it was saving to, access that directory, or copy the file from that directory. How to find it and get it off the hard disk then?

The great if mediocre secret of Windows is that it still has the old genes of MS-DOS lurking within its manifold. DOS isn’t any longer the foundation on which Windows is built, but it is an operating system-within-an-operating-system, able to fire up its alternative reality if ever you can think of a reason to use it. Most people can’t, even those who have an earthly what it is.

A quick refresher from my 1990 DOS 5.0 handbook, and I’d worked out how to find and copy the said backup file using one simple command.

DIR C:\ /s /b | FIND “*.csv”

That takes the directory command, throws in a few command line switches, and pipes the output to the FIND command. If I’d been clever I could even have told it to copy to my backup drive too, in a single incantation saved my day. I did it in two steps.

Now we know where Windows went wrong, and why people of Unix heritage look down on anyone who would even turn on a Windows PC unless ordered to at the pointed end of a pay-slip.

The White Room for some, the White Album for others, but for me the soul of computing will always be in the black screen and the white cursor.