I upgraded to Windows 10 and now all my files are missing! What can I do to get them back?
This question was answered on January 6, 2016. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
According to Microsoft, Windows 10 is the fastest growing operating system in their history, with over 200 million devices that are currently running it (including smartphones and tablets). A typical upgrade should not result in lost data, but for anyone reading this that's contemplating the update, don’t assume that your data will be safe.
The reality is, you should have a solid backup process in place regardless of whether your about to upgrade to Windows 10 or not. I recommend the 3-2-1 rule: 3 copies of your data on 2 devices with 1 copy stored off-site (such as an online backup).
As for your current situation, the most likely cause of the missing data is that the Windows 10 update did not properly finish. Windows 10 changes data folder names and locations and during the update, it holds the data in a temporary folder before moving it to the new destination. A common mistake when updating is assuming that the first time you see the Windows 10 screen, you’re done. Several other updates are generally required to finish the installation, so if it isn’t allowed to finish, your data could end up in a temporary folder.
If you search the Internet, you’ll see countless others with the same scenario with many advising to look for data in the C:\Windows.old folder and manually move it. If you find your missing data in this folder, DO NOT MANUALLY MOVE THE DATA to a new folder. This is generally an indication that your update did not properly complete the process, so before you do anything else, copy your data off this machine onto a flash drive or external hard drive.
The reason you don’t want to move the data manually is that when Windows 10 does finally complete it’s update, it will look for the data in this temporary location. If you manually move it, the moved data can get wiped and replaced with nothing during the final steps because you interrupted the process.
The next thing to try is a manual check for any missing updates by going to Start > Settings > Update & security. If there are updates still available, allow them to be installed.
There are a number of other scenarios that can cause this issue and in some cases your data could be lost forever (we’ve seen this more than a couple times in our data recovery labs). You’ll also see suggestions online for do-it-yourself data recovery software to attempt a recovery, but if you decide to take that path, there’s a common mistake you need to avoid. Don’t install data recovery software on the drive you are trying to recover! When you install software on a drive that has lost data, you take the chance of overwriting the very data you wish to recover by doing so.
The best approach is to remove the drive and connect it to a different machine that has the data recovery software installed on it or consult a professional!
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 6, 2016