Recently, we've been seeing a noticeable increase with Windows 7 and "repair mode" which is launched automatically at boot time. During this latest increase, Windows 7 will launch the automatic repair, which when the user attempts to allow it to repair, ends up failing and results in a boot loop where the repair mode comes up and Windows cannot boot into the regular shell any longer.
I grabbed a Windows 7 DVD with these latest occurrences, and tried to get Windows to repair itself, hoping to avoid a lot of user downtime, and maybe try and identify the cause of this latest increase. I do know that it is not caused by Windows updates, as WSUS is used and no updates have been released recently to the organization. I do have to admit the repair tools are very easy to follow, all completely wizard-driven, however seldom have I seen them actually work or fix the problem at hand.
In the latest cases, I tried booting the PC in Safe Mode as well, hoping that I can get into Windows to look around at the event logs. However even with that, the PC reboots itself just before the Windows shell would come up.
So, for now we've been faced with re-imaging PCs to get users back up and running quickly. This is much faster than re-installing Windows manually or trying to diagnose the list of error codes provided by Microsoft's tools. If Microsoft's own repair tools could simply fix the issue, it would be a huge time-saver as the system could be fixed within minutes, rather than hours that it takes to re-image a system and archive and restore user data. The problem is, I've rarely seen the Microsoft repair tools actually fix anything.
Before Windows apologists can comment on this post, I will provide the steps taken to attempt the offline repair on one of the sample PCs with this latest issue, to demonstrate whole hearted attempts to use Microsoft's repair tools.
1. Boot the Windows 7 DVD. 2. Select English language, and click Next. 3. Click "Repair your computer". 4. The repair tool searches for Windows installations, and shows the one present on the system. 5. Select the option "Use recovery tools that can help fix problems starting Windows" and click Next. 6. Next there are 5 options displayed: Startup Repair, System Restore, System Image Recovery, Windows Memory Diagnostic, Command Prompt. Since the issue at hand is a boot issue, I selected "Startup Repair". 7. The recovery tool says that it is searching for problems, then after about a minute, says "Startup Repair could not detect a problem".
But, there's an option for "View diagnostic and repair details", so I click that. I figure that there HAS to be something useful in the log. Well, the log is detailed. It shows the primary disk in the system and the partition, along with the tests performed which include: disk, OS, registry, and other volume information. Then at the bottom it says "Root cause found: Unspecified changes to system configuration might have caused the problem. Repair action: System files integrity check and repair. Result: Failed. Error code = 0x490. Time taken = 784575 ms." So, why can't the repair tools, actually repair something? Can't system files be copied from the source DVD and restored, without doing a full re-installation? Apparently not.
So, back to the main menu we go, and this time "System Restore" is tried. I click next and select the restore point from 6 days ago. A prompt came up, "Once started, the system restore cannot be interrupted. Do you want to continue?", and I select Yes. Immediately the main menu comes back up and a message pops up saying "Restoring files". After a couple of minutes of churning, the error comes up "System Restore did not complete successfully. Your computer's system files and settings were not changed. Details: An unspecified error occurred during System Restore. (0x800700b7)". Click "Close" and the system reboots itself. A minor annoyance, I just have to boot back into the recovery tools. Two other restore points were tried and the same error resulted.
So, after about an hour of messing around with a single PC, we are in the same boat and nothing accomplished. No cause has been found for this latest round of corruption and boot problems. This time as I mentioned above, is better spent re-imaging a new system. For those who say that Windows 7 has superior stability or is miles above XP, are only kidding themselves. Even after a year of deploying Windows 7 over XP, there is still little return on investment seen. In fact, I think there is still a deficit because of the resources used not only for troubleshooting ongoing Windows 7 problems, but for testing and re-purchasing incompatible applications.
In comparison, GNU/Linux has similar repair software that is used by booting the repair DVD for the distribution. It scans the installed packages and repairs as necessary. Since the Linux boot sequence is far less complex than Windows, the kernel can at least boot and get the user to a command prompt (in case X11 can't start), allowing for further troubleshooting of log files. Fortunately, I haven't needed to run a repair like this for GNU/Linux in a long long time. Corruption and repairs just aren't needed like they are in Windows. But, I'm guessing the latest GNU/Linux repair DVDs are very efficient at fixing issues, if any do come up. GNU/Linux keeps most everything at the filesystem level, and uses a very stable filesystem on top of that (EXT3/EXT4 commonly) which overall provides top notch stability as GNU/Linux is already well known for.