My computer then rebooted. However, while Windows was loading, it stopped and gave an error message stating that a particular file (hal.dll) was missing or corrupt. On my computer I have the hard drive partitioned into two drives, C: and E:. Both have Windows on them, but the E: drive is the main drive. When I reboot my computer, it asks me from which drive I want to start Windows. If I don't choose one, it automatically selects the C: drive, which is the one I always choose anyway. When I got the error message above, I inserted my XP CD, rebooted the computer, and booted Windows from the CD so I could try to repair it. I chose the repair option instead of the clean install option because I wanted to replace what I thought was just one missing or corrupt file. The software went through the process of what looked like a clean install, but I didn't think anything of it because I've used the repair option before and I seemed to recall this being the case and everything working out okay after it was done. I'm absolutely positive that I pressed R for Repair when I booted from the Windows XP CD and not ESC to do a clean install.
However, when my system rebooted automatically after the "repair" was done, and I chose to boot Windows from the C: drive, Windows loaded up as if it was a brand new install. Everything from my normal start up configuration was gone: all of my icons were gone, none of the programs that normally run on start up were executed, only one monitor of my multimonitor set up my four monitor setup was being displayed, etc. In addition, almost all of my devices were labeled as unknown devices in Device Manager. My cable modem wasn't recognized so I had no Internet connection (I'm writing this from my laptop, which has a wireless connection to the modem). When I tried to start a couple of my programs, it started me off with trial versions and asked for my registration key in order to access the full version, which I did successfully. When I looked at my directories, they all appeared to be intact along with the files they contained. However, when I clicked on My Documents, none of my documents showed up as they did before. But when I went to the Documents and Settings directory on my E: drive, they were all there. When I compared the Windows directories of the C: drive where the "repaired" install occurred and the E: drive, with which I had done nothing, I realized that I wasn't missing just one file, but several hundred files across multiple directories in the Windows directory on the E: drive. Also When I rebooted again and tried to start Windows from the E: drive, I got the same error message while Windows was loading that I got before I "repaired" Windows on the C: drive.
I called Dell tech support, but the person I got said he couldn't help me because Windows XP wasn't installed on the computer when I bought it. He seemed to imply that he knew the solution to my problem, but wasn't willing to help me at all because it was coporate policy, even after I pleaded with him that I was desperate. Oh, he was more than willing to help me if I had a problem with DOS, since that's the OS that came with the computer. After I begged him to help me, he actually had the nerve to snicker while he repeated like a corporate bot that he was very willing to help me with any DOS problems, as if this was a laughing matter. After that, I tried calling Microsoft, but they were closed.
Is there any way I can restore my system to the way it was before all this happened? Should I try to do an XP repair on the E: drive like I did with the C: drive? Will this restore my normal configuration? Is this the reason why my normal start up settings are not being recognized and programs aren't running because it's looking at the start up from the C: drive and almost everything I do such as installing and running software is done on the E: drive? It will take me forever to figure out how to reestablish my Internet connection, reinstall all of my hardware (I didn't even get any "found new hardware" messages when Windows booted after my "repair") and software and then reinstall any upgrades to those. I am in dire straits here. Any help would be greatly appreciated.