I've got a friend who managed to corrupt his main install of Windows 7 and needs his computer working in just a few hours.
That’s a tall order and I’m guessing it did not work out. Anyway, for future reference…
My plan is to go in with a Linux disk, copy his C:\ do a backup drive I've got and then reinstall.
That’s doable and can be done fairly quickly, but getting to work correctly…
Restoring many of his files will be pretty simple (such as documents and such)
You are correct. Copying simple files is quick and easy. If they are plain documents that he created, then there should be very little difficulty (99% of the there will be no issues). Just be sure that directory structures are maintained since most programs like to look for user data in specific locations (usually their own subdirectory in the user-profile).
however, things such as applications won't transfer as easily. I don't think just moving them over will work just because of the fact that I'm sure much of that is stored in the registry (validation stuff and such).
Again, you are correct. Unfortunately, many larger programs dig their roots deep into the system (files all over the drive, registry entries everywhere, registered classes and filetypes, services, drivers, and on and on). This is particularly prevalent with Microsoft programs like Office, Visual Studio, etc.
Any portable programs that he has shouldn’t have any issues since that is the whole point to a portable program: it can be run from anywhere without installation; just copy it to the drive and run.
Is there any easy way to transfer applications such as MS Office (which he needs in the morning) or other commercial software packages without having to go through the hassle of locating the keys and reinstalling them completely?
Not really. As I said above, a program can dig into a program in any number of dozens of different ways, and each one will have a different combination. There are programs that can sandbox an installation to weed out changes that an program’s installer makes to the system (though even that is not always successful), but of course that is of no use here. There might exist a program that has a pre-made database of program-specific items that would have to be backed/restored, but I have not heard of any.
You did not mention just how badly things are messed up. If it’s bad enough that you are willing to reinstall, then do a backup and try as Daredev suggested and do a simple “repair-install”. If that doesn’t work, then resort to a reinstall/transfer.
(A long time ago (1997) I would periodically wipe my drive and reinstall Windows (i.e., when I had nothing else to do or when Windows got sluggish). Back then, I did not really have any documents I kept on the OS drive and program settings were still simple enough that I just re-set them when I reinstalled my programs. Later, I started using drive-imaging to backup and restore because it was easier to just backup the whole OS than trying to weed out all of the thousands of little settings that I had changed for the OS and programs (even a single change can result in a dozen file/registry entry modifications). Eventually, I got tired of all of this and started writing my own backup/restore program that would be perfect and make it nice and easy to select whatever I wanted, but after several years, it’s still not even in alpha yet—mostly due to lack of time.)
Unfortunately, there is pretty much nothing you can do after the disaster. If you had a backup of some sort, you can use that (though even then, you could be in for hours/days of work depending on circumstances), otherwise, as you can see, there As user970638 said, you’ll just have to roll up your sleeves, grab a giant coffee/soda, put on some music or TV show, and expect to be doing disaster-recovery for the foreseeable future.
- Back up everything that you can including files and registry hives (or just clone the whole disk with a program that lets you mount and browse it)
- Format the drive and install Windows from scratch
- Reinstall the necessary programs (infinitely easier than trying to “portablize” them) and register anything that you can (have the keys, etc. for)
- Copy the user-profile folder (
C:\Users\…) from the backup
- Now you can resort to the back-up to copy any necessary files or registry entries (keys, settings, etc.)