Fatal error!? Why do they do this to us? Why can't they just say, "Oh, excuse me, but your system has a serious problem. The trouble may just be temporary, and if you'll turn off the computer and try again, maybe everything will work fine."
But when you see this message, the word "fatal" tends to make your heart skip. You pause a moment, wondering how the fatality is going to occur will it be a shot to the head from the person who owns the computer, or a long lingering disease caused by the radiation emanating from the screen? It conjures up dead bodies and grieving children. Then, when you realize it's not your condition that's fatal, but the computer's, you can just hear tiny little screams of agony from deep within the bowels of bits and bytes as the last threads of your hard work are devoured by the Fatal Error.
The computer may offer you a button that says Restart, but clicking it probably won't work. You can try a force quit (always after a force quit, save and quit all other applications and restart). If that doesn't work, the only thing you can do is turn off your computer, wait about fifteen seconds, and turn it back on again. Yes, it's true: anything you had not saved to disk before a fatal error occurred is lost for good.
Why did your System have a fatal error? Most of the time you may never know. It may never happen again. Or it may happen again if you completely recreate the scene just before it happened. It may be a particular graphic or event within your document that caused it. The best thing to do is always have a backup of your work and save every few minutes; then when a fatal error or some other milder form (ha) of a System crash occurs, you can just pick your chin up off the floor and continue on. Call your power user friend or ask your user group for suggestions. There are also several books available for troubleshooting; again, ask your user group for recommendations.
I do apologize for getting so dramatic here. I couldn't help it. The only thing worse than seeing the message "Fatal Error" is hearing the Chimes of Doom.
Some PC programs also display a "Fatal Error" or "Catastrophic Error" message if you do something that really ticks them off, like trying to run the program with not enough memory available. In this case, you don't have to turn your whole computer off. Dos itself isn't known for "Fatal Error" messages-it says mysteriously ominous things like "Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?'