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About us

Our 'business' is what used to be, and still is, a hobby, a passion even.
Our 'business' is what used to be, and still is, a hobby, a passion even. A passion to understand what happens on hard disks, solve things that go wrong on a disk and help other people. This is a little story about how things got started, I myself like reading stories like these so that's why I wrote it. If you don't, then no hard feelings, just skip it.

Quite a while ago, close to 20 years or so, I (Joep, the founder of DIYDataRecovery.nl) was working for PowerQuest (aquired by Symantec a while ago, like so many others), a company the created hard disk utilities, PartitionMagic being the best known one. PartitionMagic could do crazy stuff with a hard disk Magic when it worked, Voodoo when it messed up: whole disks would appear empty within the blink of an eye!

I was working on the phone as what we called a 'techie', so it was not uncommon to be talking to very upset people after PartitionMagic made all their data disappear. Our official policy was to tell people to restore their backup in such an event, which ... 9 out of 10 times they didn't have. So people were still upset. Now, maybe because of my background (I worked as a psychiatric nurse before), upset people were always transfered to me.

And this is what sparked my interest in what actually happened on a hard disk and how data is stored. And with the help of my mentor at PowerQuest I started looking and poking around on hard disks at a lower level using a disk editor. A disk editor is a piece of software that allows you to look (and edit) a disk at the sector level. And then you look around often enough, you may start to recognize structures. It's magical! It's almost like seeing the Matrix! The layer below fancy icons and graphics and neatly sorted files and folders.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I arrived at a level of understanding hard disk structures where I was often able to help people calling the PowerQuest tech support to get their data back. I'd have them fire up a disk editor and they would have to tell me exactly what they saw at sector n at byte offset m, etc.. It scared the heck out of people ... "OMG, the screen just filled with hex". Officially I was not allowed to do all this as it took way to much time.

This lead to the creation of a set of free-ware small command line utilities that allowed people to create report files they could then sent me, and others that could be run using a batch file and do stuff on a hard disk at the sector level. So people would sent me reports, and if I determined I could fix it, I sent a batch-file in return that would automatically edit their disk, without the need for talking hex language while on the phone.

I did that all from home in my spare time. I had this simple 'one-page' website that listed the tools and some explanations on how to use them, and it had an email address that they could use to contact me. At the same time I further developed the utilities to make them more generic so they would be able to help people to recover data that was lost not due to PartitionMagic FUBAR situations.

The first thing that had something like a user interface, that scanned the disk for file system structures was called RepoMan. It was simple enough for a lot of people to be used and all it did was scan a disk and produce a text file. A buddy of mine (Tom) wrote mbrtool and based on that I wrote mbr-rescue. Mbr-rescue brings us back to the command line again, and it accepted a bunch of command line arguments.

Result was, that when I came home from work, it was not uncommon for me spending hours on replying to emails, going through RepoMan reports and creating batch files for people to fix hard disks using mbr-rescue. It was simply too much. I then started charging a small fee for support, I think it was $7.50 back then. the tools themselves were free, but if someone wanted me to analyze their reports etc., they had to pay this small fee. Meanwhile an improved version of mbr-rescue was released. It incorporated the RepoMan scan feature and it would also allow people to interactively to undelete partitions. It was also capable of handling disks that were larger than 8 gigabytes!

Some of the principles that still exist in DiskPatch today originate from that tool. For example, prior to making repairs to the disk, it allowed users to back up the current disk structures. More and more features were added and it became too complex to tell the program what to do by supplying command line arguments and the 'solution' was a kind of DOS like environment. It had DOS like command like 'help' to display a help, or 'cls' to clear the screen. It allowed deleted partitions to be 'mounted' after which a DOS like 'dir' command would display a directory listing. If I recall correctly, we charged $17.50 for that tool. 

For the first time we had a real domain, diydatarecovery.nl. I picked that one because it described so well what I (back then, just me) was doing; enabling people to recover their own data, to do it themselves.

Rescue Console (the 'blue screen of hope' rather than Windows' blue screen of death) was pretty 'hard-core', so it generated a lot of support emails. back then, there wasn't much else. There was a program called Tiramisu (like the Italian desert) which was acquired by Ontrack and outrageously expensive. There was DataBack, that was later acquired by PowerQuest and continued as Lost & Found. And there were a few other that I can't recall. Oh! How can I forget, there was Norton's Utilities! Not the bloat they sell today under that name, but a really nice set of DOS utilities!

Eventually Rescue Console became DiskPatch. Hacking your disk at the sector level is called 'patching' and diskpatch was also the tool you programmed in an assembly language programming book by Peter Norton (yes, the Norton Utilities guy); you were shown how to do a really basic disk editor in assembly.

How different things are today. Do a internet search for data recovery software and there are hundreds of results rather than a few. No skills required, or that's what they want you to believe. Many of the data recovery software offered is by companies that haven't got the slightest notion of data recovery. I can do another article on that ...

I also maintain a personal projects page here: http://www.disktuna.com

- Joep van Steen (Founder of DIY DataRecovery.nl)

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