It was a vacation day, I think maybe Christmas and as is my habit, I had decided to install Linux on my Laptop, as a dual boot for my Windows installation.
Some clicks later, it started installing, but I hadn't told it where; I hadn't told it how to recognize Windows. I was impressed that it was so easy to set up a dual boot, practically effortless.
"Practically" nothing! There was an option box I failed to notice, which gave the option to specify custom partitioning, which was necessary if you wanted to do a dual-boot. (You can trust that I certainly didn't miss noticing that check box the second time!)
To back up a moment and describe this for the layman
in more familiar terms. Linux and Windows are two very different
programs that can make a computer run. Each has strengths and
weaknesses, so many people take half of their storage space on their
computer and dedicate half to one system and half to the other. I had
decided to do this, but neglected to notice the part that split it in
half rather than just taking over. You won't manage this sort of thing with Ubuntu or Mint these days without a warning box, but when you get a warning during the installation, it is important to read it.
When it finished the installation I confirmed that my fears were realized. Windows was indeed gone. Since my Windows installation was on NTFS and my Linux installation was in several ext3 partitions, it looked pretty cooked. What really happened here was not merely erasing the pointers that tell the computer where on the physical disk the original files are located, as is common in deleting errors, nor just rewriting the partition table, as is common in formatting errors, but I had actually removed all pointers, removed all formatting information and over written the data.
If you're wondering what to do then, the answer
depends on what the lost data is worth. I did contact some data recovery
people (see http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/20/1410202 and particularly http://www.drivesavers.com
among others) and I discovered it was worth about $3,000.00 to recover
from what I had done. For some people and for the work they have to do, it may be worth it, but it
certainly wasn't worth it for me.
There are three very important lessons to be learned here: