PhotoRec for Windows Review: Intimidating but Worth It

2.29

Out of 5 Total Score

No. 5 Among all Windows solutions

Price range - free • CGSecurity • Windows

Last update on

Many articles that list the best data recovery solutions mention PhotoRec as a great alternative to commercial applications. To discover how good it really is, we put it to the test, and this PhotoRec review is here to tell you what we found out.

Karma 37% - Karma

37%

Karma
Bang for the buck 94% - Bang for the buck

94%

Bang for the buck
Recovery performance 52% - Recovery performance

52%

Recovery performance
Usability 4% - Usability

4%

Usability
Extras 0% - Extras

0%

Extras

Top Pros

  • Completely free. There is no need to buy a license to recover files. The program is completely free.

  • Open source. PhotoRec is open source, so anyone can study its source code and make modifications to it if desired.

  • Optional graphical user interface. The Windows version of PhotoRec comes with an optional graphical user interface that makes it more accessible.

  • Does not require installation. PhotoRec is a portable application, which means that you can launch it without installing it on your system.

  • Capable signature scanner. The program supports a large number of signatures, including recent ones.

  • Ability to narrow down scan results. You can enable/disable individual signatures to narrow down scan results.

  • Runs well even on low-end computers. You don’t need a powerful computer to use PhotoRec.

  • Works with raw disks. The program works with disks that do not have a file system or refuse to mount.

  • Scanning of disk images. The program knows how to scan byte-by-by-byte copies of disks.

  • Scanning unused disk space. You can tell PhotoRec to only scan unused (free) disk space, which helps speed up the recovery process.

Top Cons

  • Interface slows down during scanning. When the scanning process starts, the user interface becomes a lot less responsive.

  • Window size settings. The software doesn’t remember window size settings.

  • Rarely updated. The program rarely receives updates.

  • No auto-update. To update to the latest version, you have to manually download PhotoRec from its website and replace the version you have on your computer.

  • Scan automation. To start scanning you have to manually select the file system, scan area, and configure the types of files to be found.

  • Source selection. It takes some work to select the device you want to scan.

  • The need for an additional disk. Because PhotoRec can only recover all found files in bulk, you are almost guaranteed to need an additional disk to use as your recovery destination.

  • Disk backup creation. There is no way to create byte-to-byte copies of disks.

  • Lack of tech support. Customer support is provided only by volunteers on forums.

  • Lack of additional functionality. The program does not have any additional features beyond data recovery.

  • Only signature scanner. The program is able to find files only by signature. The file system will never be restored, so the user will never see the original names of files and folders where they were stored.

  • Doesn’t refresh storage devices. PhotoRec doesn’t automatically refresh the list of storage devices. To see a newly inserted storage device, you have to restart the application.

  • Multiple scans. If you need to scan many devices, you have to restart the program, because when the scanning process is finished there is only one option, which is to exit the program. You cannot go back to the home screen.

  • Usability issues. The software has no features that would help users analyze recovery results.

  • Terminal version. The terminal version of PhotoRec is not beginner-friendly at all.

  • Recovery path. The program does not remember the last file recovery path.

  • Warning messages. When attempting to restore files to the source drive, which is a dangerous thing to do because it can lead to overwriting, there’s no warning message displayed to alert inexperienced users.

  • Disabled signatures. By default, not all signatures are selected for scanning. To select everything, you have to manually click multiple checkboxes.

Top Competitors

popular

Score 3.84 68%

Best choice for Windows users


Compare In comparison

Score 0.83 64%

It really struggles to get your data back.


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Score 1.74 24%

Good for basic data recovery jobs


Compare In comparison
PhotoRec for Windows

Christophe GRENIER

Best choice for Windows users

Disk Drill for Windows

68%

3.84

It really struggles to get your data back.

GetDataBack Pro

64%

0.83

Good for basic data recovery jobs

Recuva

24%

1.74

PhotoRec for Windows – Overview #

PhotoRec has been around for many years, so you might have heard about it before. Regardless of if you have or haven’t, this overview chapter is here to tell you everything you need to know before we dissect the software in our in-depth PhotoRec review. 

Factsheet

RequirementsWindows XP-10, 11 (unofficial support)
Latest version 7.2 • Released 1st Sep, 2021
Download size25.1 MB
CategoryData Recovery Software
UI languagesEnglish

Sibling version

PhotoRec for macOS

2.18

If you don’t fear software that runs in Terminal on Mac, then you should give PhotoRec a try because it can recover an unlimited amount of data for free. Read full review

No. 3 Among all macOS solutions

Pricing

Distributed as
  • Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction.
Free version available
Free version details
  • PhotoRec is free – this open source multi-platform application is distributed under GNU General Public License (GPLV v2+)

No credit card to try

PhotoRec’s pricing could hardly be any simpler: the software is completely free and distributed under the GNU General Public License. As such, you are free to run, study, share, and modify the software however you please.

Developer — Christophe GRENIER

PhotoRec is developed by Christophe Grenier, a French software developer who owns and operates CGSecurity, the homepage of PhotoRec. 

2% 37.7% than avg

Online market share

Reflects the share of online traffic within the niche occupied by data recovery software, based on data taken from ahrefs.com (from Google US search engine).

5700 38.1% than avg

Brand name popularity

Based on the number of brand-related search queries on Google US according to ahrefs.com.

Christophe Grenier released the first version of PhotoRec in 2008, and he has been improving it ever since with the help of volunteers from around the world, who contribute to the project in a number of different ways.

Developer website cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec
Support email grenier@cgsecurity.org
Founded

2008 • 14 years on the market

HQ location

GlobalSP, 78 rue la Condamine, 75017 PARIS, France

Social media

Unlike most commercial data recovery software applications, PhotoRec doesn’t have a marketing budget, and it doesn’t maintain an active social media presence, with support provided exclusively on the official forums. 

Data Recovery with PhotoRec for Windows

Tested on: Windows 11 (version 21H2)

Let’s see if an open-source data recovery application can rival commercial software products. To give you the most comprehensive results possible, we tested both the command-line version of PhotoRec and the optional graphical user interface, called QPhotoRec.

How We Test

To ensure that our data recovery test results are comparable, we follow a specific test process that consists of the following stages.

#StepDescription
1InstallationOur testing always starts with the installation of the tested software on our testing computer.
2Source selectionWe test the capabilities of data recovery software by scanning custom-built virtual hard drives with an assortment of different file types.
3Scanning processSince data recovery applications often support multiple scanning modes, we repeat the scanning process as many times as necessary to comprehensively evaluate the tested software.
4Managing found dataHere, we're interested in how easy the tested software makes it to preview, select, and otherwise manage found data.
5Recovery and post-processingAfter completing the recovery process, we analyze the recovery results to determine how many files have been successfully recovered.

By following these exact steps when reviewing data recovery software, including PhotoRec, we are able to produce reviews that are objective and verifiable. 

Step 1

Installation

PhotoRec is a portable software application, which means that it doesn't have to be installed before it can be launched.

All you have to do is download the application from its website, unpack the archive it comes in, and launch the main executable.

The archive includes both the command-line version of PhotoRec and QPhotoRec, the graphical version of the software.

Step 2

Source selection

When you launch the graphical version of PhotoRec, you are presented with a source selection window. You need to make sure that the storage device you want to scan is connected before you launch the software because the list of available sources doesn't automatically refresh when you connect a new device to your computer.

Unlike other similar data recovery software applications, PhotoRec doesn't automatically detect which file system is used, so you have to specify it manually. 

The command-line version of PhotoRec works much like the GUI version, featuring a step-by-step data recovery wizard that's designed to take you from source selection to scanning in a guided fashion. 

Step 3

Scanning process

Both PhotoRec and QPhotoRec provide only a basic overview of the scanning process, telling how many sectors have been scanned and how many are yet to be scanned. 

Unfortunately, it's impossible to preview scan results in real-time, and you also can't manage the scan process in any way. If you suddenly need to use your computer for other things, then your only option is to close the application and start again from scratch later.  

Step 4

Managing found files

When PhotoRec and QPhotoRec finish scanning, they display a short overview of data recovery results and provide the option to quit the application. 

Commercial data recovery software solutions typically provide scan result filters to help narrow down the results, and leading applications can even preview files before their actual recovery takes place.

Step 5

Recovery and post-processing

To see the recovered files, you have to open File Explorer or some similar file browser, navigate to the recovery directory, and manually review its content.

Tutorials

PhotoRec for Windows – Tutorials and Other Videos

To see PhotoRec in action without downloading it to your computer, watch the tutorial below. 

How to Easily Recover Lost Files by Using Photorec in 2021 (Windows and MacOS)

A while back I made a file recovery video and in that one I've used a program named TestDisk. Although many of you guys find it helpful, I kinda skipped over some basics. And, it raised some questions. To address them and further explain the data recovery process, I decide to create this video. So I hope you find it helpful.

How to recover encrypted files using PhotoRec?

In this video, we'll show you how to restore lost or encrypted files (photos, videos, docs, and others) using the free PhotoRec tool.

PhotoRec for Windows – Full Review

In the main part of our PhotoRec review, we perform an in-depth analysis of the data recovery software to reveal its strengths and weaknesses, helping you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

Karma 37% by 12 rating criteria

37%

Karma

12 rating criteria

In terms of maturity and trustworthiness, PhotoRec leaves very little to be desired. Unfortunately, the application loses a lot of points due to how stagnant its development has been in recent years. There are also no official customer support channels to speak of, which is understandable considering that PhotoRec is completely free and open source, but it’s still a downside.

#FeatureResult
1Update frequency
More than 6 months
2Updated recently
Yes
3Changelog available
4Latest Windows release supported
Nope, Windows 10 and older
5Genuine or clone?
Genuine
6Brand name popularity
Unpopular
7Online market share
Poor
8Maturity
Mature
9Extensive knowledge base
Available
10Helpdesk support
Not available
11Live chat
Not available
12Phone support
No
Bang for the buck 94% by 8 rating criteria

94%

Bang for the buck

8 rating criteria

Unsurprisingly, value is where PhotoRec shines the most considering the application is completely free and not limited in any way whatsoever. If it wasn’t for the immense value provided by this software, the overall rating given to it in this PhotoRec review would be quite different.

#FeatureResult
1Competitive pricing
Yes
2Price-quality ratio
Excellent
3Free trial
No limitations
4Is it free?
Completely
5Pricing policy
Freeware
6Unlimited recovery in full version
Yes
7Free upgrades
Yes
8Commercial rights in the cheapest license
No licenses to purchase
Usability 4% by 18 rating criteria

4%

Usability

18 rating criteria

In contrast with the excellent value offered by PhotoRec, there’s not much positive we can say about its usability. Even the optional graphical user interface is far from modern, and quality-of-life features like auto-resuming, previewing, and others are absent.  

#FeatureResult
1Modern user-friendly interface
No
2Dark mode
No
3Easy-to-locate features
No
4Automatic implementation of multiple appropriate scanning methods without user interaction
Yes
5Auto-resuming scans of failing drives
No
6Auto-resuming backups of failing drives
No
7Convenient source selection on start
No
8Convenient file-by-file preview of recoverable items
No
9Convenient thumbnail preview of recoverable items
No
10Mount recoverable items as disk
No
11Built-in updater
No
12Multiple view modes in scan results
No
13Hex view for recoverable items
No
14Filter recoverable items by type
No
15Search recoverable items by file names
No
16Sort results
No
17Multilingual UI
No
18Simple deployment
No
Recovery performance 52% by 120 rating criteria

52%

Recovery performance

120 rating criteria

PhotoRec has decent signature scanning capabilities, but the application doesn’t support any other scanning modes, which greatly limits its ability to solve a broad range of data loss scenarios. 

#FeatureResultDescription
1Clever in-depth scan
Bad
Not supported
2Quick scan
Bad
Not supported
3Other types of scan
Fine
Limited to signature scanning
4Device support
Good
Works with most storage devices
5Real-life recovery challenge
Good
Delivers good real-life results
6Other notable recovery features
Bad
No extra features

Clever scan

The ability to restore original folder structure and file names. Most consumer-oriented data recovery software applications can attempt to not only restore deleted files but also recover their original file names and folder structure. We call this type of functionality Clever scan

0%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1HFS+ partitions
2APFS partitions
3FAT32 partitions
4exFAT partitions
5NTFS partitions
6EXT4 partitions

PhotoRec doesn’t restore the original folder structure and file names because it always assumes that the file system has been damaged. 

Quick scan

Recovery of recently deleted files Every lost minute can significantly worsen the outcome of a data recovery attempt, and Quick scan certainly doesn’t waste your time because it’s designed to find as many recently deleted files as quickly as possible

0%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1HFS+ partitions
2APFS partitions
3FAT32 partitions
4exFAT partitions
5NTFS partitions
6EXT4 partitions

You can’t quickly recover recently deleted files using PhotoRec because the software can only perform a deep signature scan.

Other scan types

Advanced scan types for solving complicated data loss situations Basic data recovery algorithms aimed at recovering recently deleted data cover only a small subset of the data loss issues users experience every day. That’s why developers also implement all kinds of advanced scan types

39%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1The number of formats supported by deep scan
2BitLocker support
3Windows shadow copies scanning
4Scan for lost partitions
5Recovered files' labeling
6Partial file recovery
7Disk images: scan and recovery

PhotoRec’s data recovery performance stems from its fairly impressive signature scanning capabilities, which allow it to recognize and recover more than 480 file extensions (about 300 file families). The software can also scan disk images, giving you one extra option for addressing data loss.

Device Support

Supported internal and external storage devices Ideally, data recovery software applications should be able to recover from internal and external hard drives, external USB flash drives, memory cards, smartphones, and other commonly used storage devices

69%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1Internal and external HDD
2Internal and external SSD
3USB thumb drives / Classic iPods (non-iOS) / FireWire devices
4Memory cards
5iOS devices
6Android devices
7Recovery from RAID1, 0, JBOD
8Unmountable partitions

PhotoRec is a multi-platform data recovery application that supports several commonly used Windows, macOS, and Linux file systems, including FAT, NTFS, exFAT, ext2/ext3/ext4, and HFS+. All storage devices that use these file systems should be recoverable. What isn’t recoverable are mobile devices and RAID storage.

Real-life recovery challenges

Results of real-life data recovery tests performed under controlled conditions It’s one thing to advertise support for hundreds of file formats, and it’s something else entirely to recover them in practice. Our tests reveal whether the data recovery software lives up to its promises

67%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1Raw photo recovery
2Video formats recovery
3Document formats recovery
Raw photo recovery

The ability to recover raw photo file formats used by digital cameras and mobile devices Most modern digital cameras and increasingly many mobile devices let their users capture raw image data in a variety of raw file formats, so having the ability to recover them can be extremely helpful

69%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
13fr (Hasselblad 3F raw image)
2arw (Sony alpha raw)
3bmp (bitmap image file)
4cr2 (Canon raw version 2)
5cr3 (Canon raw version 3)
6crw (Canon raw CIFF image file)
7dcr (Kodak digital camera raw)
8dng (digital negative lossless raw image)
9CinemaDNG (Blackmagic, Penelope, Pocket)
10erf (Epson raw file)
11exr (high dynamic-range file format)
12fff (Hasselblad raw image)
13gpr (GoPro raw format)
14heic (high efficiency image file format)
15iiq (intelligent image quality raw Leaf, Phase One)
16insp (panoramic image Insta360)
17jp2 (bitmap image format JPEG 2000)
18jpg (joint photographic experts group compressed image)
19kdc (Kodak digital camera raw image)
20mef (Mamiya raw image file)
21mos (Leaf and Mamiya raw image file)
22mpo (multi picture stereoscopic object file)
23mrw (Konica Minolta raw image format)
24nef (Nikon raw image file)
25nrw (Nikon raw image file)
26orf (Olympus raw format)
27pef (Pentax raw image file)
28raf (Fujifilm raw image file)
29raw (native digital camera file)
30rw2 (Panasonic LUMIX raw image file)
31rwl (Leica raw image format)
32sr2 (Sony raw 2 image file)
33srf (Sony raw file)
34srw (Samsung raw image file)
35tiff (tag image file format)
36x3f (Sigma camera raw picture file)
37x3i (Sigma super fine detail picture file)

With only a few exceptions, PhotoRec performed well when recovering the variety of image file formats included in our test data sets, living up to its name. Even fairly modern raw photo file formats were recognized by PhotoRec.

Video formats recovery

Video recovery performance measured against commonly used video formats Video file formats have evolved a lot during the last decade, and not all recovery software tools support modern formats used by the latest digital cameras, camcorders, and mobile devices

67%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1360 (GoPRO 360 degree videos)
2ari (ARRI professional digital video camera)
3arx (ARRI professional digital video camera)
4avi (GoPRO CineForm intermediate codec)
5avi (MJPG, H.264, MSMPEG4 v2 codecs)
6braw (Blackmagic raw video file)
7insv (Insta360 panoramic AVC H.264 video file)
8insv (Insta360 panoramic HEVC HVC1 video file)
9mov (Apple ProRes 422 Proxy/LT/HQ)
10mov (Apple ProRes 4444 Raw/HQ)
11mov (advanced video coding H.264)
12mov (CineForm HD codec)
13mov (HEVC, HVC1 codecs)
14mp4 (advanced video coding H.264)
15mp4 (HEVC, HVC1, Apple ProRes codecs)
16mxf (advanced video coding H.264)
17mxf (DVCPRO HD codec)
18mxf (ARRI raw, Apple ProRes codecs)
19mxf (XDCAM HD422, HD35 MPEG2 codecs)
20r3d (Red digital camera company raw video file)
21wmv (pro raw 9 codec)

PhotoRec’s video recovery performance is almost as good as its photo recovery performance. Again, even advanced file formats that haven’t been around for a long time were recognized and recovered by the data recovery application. 

Document formats recovery

Determining how well the software recovers document file formats Documents are among the most commonly recovered file formats because their importance can be tremendous, especially when they're related to work or school. Because of how many document file formats exist these days, older and less developed data recovery software often struggle recovering and recognizing all of them

64%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1accdb (Microsoft Access 2007+ database file)
2djvu (compressed image format)
3doc (Microsoft Word 97 – 2003 document file)
4docx (Microsoft Word 2007+ document file)
5fb2 (FictionBook 2.0 File)
6key (Apple Keynote)
7mdb (Microsoft Access 97 - 2003 database file)
8numbers (Apple Numbers)
9odp (OpenOffice presentation file format)
10ods (OpenDocument spreadsheet file format)
11odt (OpenDocument text document file format)
12pages (Apple Pages)
13pdf (portable document format)
14ppt (Microsoft Powerpoint 97 - 2003 presentation file)
15pptx (Microsoft Powerpoint 2007+ presentation file)
16rtf (rich text format)
17xls (Microsoft Excel 97 - 2003 spreadsheet file)
18xlsx (Microsoft Excel 2007+ spreadsheet file)

When it comes to document file recovery, PhotoRec delivers mixed results. On the one hand, it recovers certain file formats, such as DOC, ODS, and XLS, almost perfectly. On the other hand, it sometimes struggles to recover file formats that we wouldn’t expect to be problematic, such as those associated with Apple’s office suite.

Other notable recovery features

Additional recovery features and their performance These additional recovery features are what often separates average data recovery software solutions from those that can satisfy the needs of professionals and power users

16%

Average Score

#FeatureScore
1Overall non-intrusive read-only algorithms
2Network recovery
3Effectively filters out corrupted scan results
4Byte-to-byte device backups
5Bootable recovery drive creation
6Convenient scan session management
7Bad sector management
8Recovery chance prediction
9RAID reconstructor
10Disk vitals monitoring and tracking during scan
11Data protection
12Links to in-lab recovery service for physically damaged devices
13Scan speed
14Scan free space only
15Start file recovery without interrupting the scan
16Preview recoverable items without interrupting the scan
17Forensic features

PhotoRec is a straightforward data recovery application that focuses on the recovery of lost files from local storage devices using its signature scanner. As such, there’s only a small handful of additional recovery features, including the option to skip free storage space during scanning. 

Extras 0% by 10 rating criteria

0%

Extras

10 rating criteria

It has become a common practice for the developers of data recovery software to bundle their applications with extra data management and data protection tools as a way to help users prevent data loss from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, PhotoRec doesn’t come with any such tools.

#FeatureResultDescription
1Disk space mapping
No
Not supported
2Disk clean up
No
Not supported
3Corrupted video repair tool
No
Not supported
4Corrupted photo repair tool
No
Not supported
5S.M.A.R.T.
No
Not supported
6Duplicate finder
No
Not supported
7Built-in disk space secure eraser
No
Not supported
8Disk cloning
No
Not supported
9Disk surface test
No
Not supported
10Secure data shredding
No
Not supported

Perhaps the optional graphical user interface, called QPhotoRec, could be considered an extra feature, but it’s also something that users expect by default. 

What Users Say about PhotoRec for Windows

Don't let the DOS-like user interface fool you. This is the BEST software to recover photos from SDCard. You just select the SD Card, select a directory to place the recovered files, and BOOM, everything will be there. Can't be better than that. And it's totally free!

The draw of free and open-source software is always strong and while TestDisk and PhotoRec deliver, neither tool seems good enough to fully recover data from the source disk. Useful for low-level recovery, they appear unsuitable for recovering long-lost data.
 

The oldest and the best. Simply scans the disk and shows you what it finds, good for recovering files of all types, on all types of media.
 

I've tried the program, but it doesn't recover my videos files completely. Just some of the audio. Any help?

Bottom line

PhotoRec for Windows is a single-purpose data recovery application that delivers excellent value thanks to its open-source license and an appealing price tag of exactly $0.

Compared with commercial data recovery applications, PhotoRec offers almost nothing in terms of extra features, and the software also falls short when it comes to usability. 

If you decide to give PhotoRec a try, then we recommend you start with QPhotoRec because it has a convenient graphical user interface. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer some commonly asked questions about Stellar Data Recovery for Windows.

PhotoRec is an open-source data recovery software application developed by CGSecurity and volunteers from around the world.

PhotoRec is used to recover hundreds of different file formats (not just photos) from Windows, macOS, and Linux storage devices.

On Windows, you don’t have to install PhotoRec at all because the application is portable, so all you have to do is extract its files and launch the main executable.

PhotoRec is a command-line application, so it must be launched from a terminal emulator. Fortunately, it does feature a step-by-step recovery wizard that makes the recovery process easy. You can also use the optional graphical user interface, called QPhotoRec, but it runs only on Windows.

Yes, PhotoRec is open source and completely free, so you can use it to recover an unlimited amount of data.

Absolutely! PhotoRec has been around since 2002, and it has established itself as one of the most popular applications of its kind.

Both TestDisk and PhotoRec are data recovery applications developed by CGSecurity. The purpose of TestDisk is to repair damaged file systems so that files can be recovered with metadata intact. PhotoRec, on the other hand, assumes that the file system can’t be repaired, so it uses different methods to recover lost data.

The latest version of PhotoRec can recover over 400 file extensions, including photos, videos, audio, office documents, file archives, and more.

Yes, PhotoRec can recover many popular video file formats.

When PhotoRec encounters a corrupted file system, it performs a signature-based scan to find and recover as many files as possible. However, not all corrupted files that can be recovered are guaranteed to be openable.

No, PhotoRec isn’t designed to recover the folder structure. To do that, you can use its sister application, TestDisk.

PhotoRec creates a directory called “recup_dir” in the folder where its executable is located, and it stores all recovered files there.

Will do ⚖️️

PhotoRec for Windows Review: Intimidating but Worth It
2.29

Out of 5 Total score

No. 5 Among all Windows solutions

PhotoRec may have a steeper learning curve than most commercial data recovery software applications, but the value it offers is hard to ignore, and its data recovery performance isn’t bad either.

Visit developer's website
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David Morelo
David Morelo
Content Writer

As a professional content writer with a specialization in data recovery, I spend my days helping users from around the world recover from data loss and address the numerous issues associated with it.

When not writing about data recovery techniques and solutions, I enjoy tinkering with new technology, working on personal projects, exploring the world on my bike, and, above all else, spending time with my family.

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Nikolay Lankevich
Nikolay Lankevich
Approver

Nikolay Lankevich has over 15 years of strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development, and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.