I too share the horror of having to recover from disk partitions and system file structures mandated by Microsoft.
However, since I never build PCs for myself
(I have always used laptops), since about 1990 I started to set up my data and third party programs so as to be able to be separate/discrete from and yet coexist within
whatever strictures MS imposed on me with their latest prevailing OSes. It was initially DOS, which became DRDOS/4DOS, then successive incarnations of Windows.
The way I worked around the strictures was by working within
the partitions mandated by MS.
Then, one day in 1998, whilst working on an urgent report for a client assignment in Thailand, my laptop's ( Win95 OS) keyboard controller failed and I was unable to continue working. In desperation, I shot over to Panthip Plaza (a massive IT emporium in Bangkok), took my laptop to a PC supply/repair shop and asked them to fix it, and said that I needed to be working again that same day. They said it would take at least 1½ days elapsed time to diagnose, find a replacement part supply, and fix. So I bought a new (Toshiba) laptop with Win98 OS and asked them how I could get my data off the failed laptop hard drive. They suggested something relatively new - a portable hard drive case to house the failed laptop's 2½" drive.
Sold. I was back at work on my report about 2 hours later after restoring the necessary proggies (MS Office and some 3rd party stuff) to the new laptop from some MS Office disks and the PHD.
Since then, my objective has been to be always in the position where I am able - if necessary - to set up a basic minimum working environment peculiar to my needs, on a new laptop, at the drop of a hat. Data accessibility is fundamental to such a strategy.
To better enable that, I then became rigorous about setting up specific main directories on the C: drive - directories with names that I have consistently continued to use, and have added to, over the years since. Certain types of data go into each directory, whose names are never changed, though their contents do change. Backup to and restore from portable hard drives is thus a breeze.
I have a single directory called "UTIL" for all
third-party applications installed on the laptop. With the advent of Win7-64, I have tended to relax that rule, as some third-party applications are designed to install in different program directories (e.g., x86 and 64-bit) and make use of "Application Data" directories drives. Where there are some benefits to allowing that rule to be broken, and they override the obvious disadvantages, I let them through, though I too prefer the "portable" versions wherever feasible.
My recent experience with successfully cloning a failing hard drive to a new drive - refer AOMEI Backupper FREE + AOMEI Partition Assistant FREE - Mini-Review
- has given me pause for thought though. I have no interest in creating backup images and then getting stuck into maintaining/recreating them in up-to-date state, so the path I took seems to have been the simplest and most effective in my situation. Thank goodness for Hard Drive Sentinel
giving me so much early warning!