The Agony of Reloading Windows

The Agony of Reloading Windows

Summary: I spent most of the weekend reloading Windows Vista from scratch on a friend's laptop. This was pretty much a worst-case scenario, because they had no backups or image copies of any kind, and the laptop is old enough that it came only with original Vista (no SP) recovery media.


I spent most of the weekend reloading Windows Vista from scratch on a friend's laptop. This was pretty much a worst-case scenario, because they had no backups or image copies of any kind, and the laptop is old enough that it came only with original Vista (no SP) recovery media. It was not one which had an XP "downgrade" option, so I couldn't get away from Vistaster that way, and it wasn't new enough to qualify for a free or reduced price Windows 7 upgrade, so I couldn't get away from Vistaster that way, without asking my friend to throw even more money at an old laptop. So there was nothing to do but suck it up and do the reload. Ugh.

Load Vistaster from the Recovery DVD. Elapsed time: about an hour. Then starts the fun. Connect to Windows Update, and after thrashing about for a while it says that there are 85 "critical updates" to be installed. Ok, do that... it takes well over two hours. Reboot, and connect to Windows Update again, in hopes that it will now be ready for SP1. Nope, Update says there are 4 more "critical updates" to install. Ok, do them, it takes 15 minutes or so, then of course the obligatory reboot, connect to Windows Update again... 2 more "critical updates". Install. Reboot. Connect to Update... 1 more "critical update". Install. Reboot. Connect to Update... 2 more "critical updates". Install. Reboot. Connect to Windows Update... 1 more "critical update"... Install... WAIT! It didn't demand a reboot this time, and it says there is one more update... Hooray, it's SP1! It's only been several hours, and at least six reboots, but we finally got to SP1.

Start the download and installation of SP1. That's going to take a while, so I go off to get a sandwich. When I get back I discover that wasn't the "download and install", it was only the download, because the idiots at Microsoft don't know how to ask all the questions at once, so after downloading it wants to ask if I accept the license and am really ready to install SP1. Well, no, what I am really ready for at this point is to turn this laptop into a frisbee, and send it out the window. But I retain just barely enough control to click the appropriate boxes, and actually get SP1 started installing. That takes about 15 minutes, plus another 10 minutes to get through the shutdown with its interminable "Configuring update, stage 1 of 3... stage 2 of 3....", then another 10 minutes to get through startup with "Configuring updates, stage 3 of 3....". Finally, it is up and running Vistaster SP1.

Of course, this is only "half way home", I need to get through SP2 and beyond. So back to Windows Update. This time it says there are 8 "critical updates". Download and Install, Reboot, connect to Windows Update... It is ready for SP2 already! As for SP1, download and install, struggle shutdown and startup with "stage 1.... stage 2... stage 3...", another hour is down the drain. Finally, up and running SP2.

Back to Windows update, only 3 "critical updates" found this time. Install and reboot, back to Windows Update again... and nothing found! Good heavens! Only the best part of 9 hours wasted on a job that should have taken an hour, but at least it is done.

This is what Microsoft considers to be an "Operating System"? This is considered to be "normal" for reloading it? Yes, I know that Vistaster is "out of date", and if you try to talk to Microsoft about it you can't even get them to say the name, much less admit that they ever produced, sold or supported it. But the only alternative is to "upgrade" to Windows 7, which involved paying Microsoft again - so they get a bonus for producing garbage? I learned a long time ago not to throw good money after bad...

As a closing note, here is a simple comparison with a Linux distribution. I didn't choose this particular distribution as an example because it is fast or easy, it just happens to be one that I loaded from scratch on a different system over the weekend, while I was waiting for the Vistaster laptop to load. I loaded Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), from the original distribution image. I then went immediately to "Update Manager". It took about a minute to search and process, and then came back to tell me that there were 389 updates to be installed. I clicked "Install Updates", and less than 20 minutes later it was done. Rebooted, up and running, everything working normally. I double-checked for additional updates. Nothing to install. Done.

I hate Microsoft. I hate the garbage they produce, and I hate the people who produce it. It is an absolute disgrace.

jw 22/3/2010

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • While I can see where you're coming from here, however downloading the standalone sp2 from MS isn't that difficult (It's the first hit in google for 'windows vista sp2 download').

    Meanwhile over in Linux land on my Asus eee Mandriva 2009 doesn't seem to be upgrading Mozilla to any of the 3.5 or 3.6 versions and to upgrade to a later Mandriva Version I suspect I'll need to reformat the eee as it's one of the original 4GB versions.

    Both as cr**py as each other.
  • @PeterI - Thanks for reading and commenting. However, I'm not sure that I understand what you are suggesting to download here, and how it would help in this situation. The first hit I get on your suggested search terms is something to do with Windows Server 2008. If I read through the rest of the hits, it appears that what you are saying is that I could have downloaded the Service Pack, rather than getting it through Windows Update. If that is the case, then yes, I understand that, and I have done so in the past, for example when upgrading my Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 to Vista SP1 a long time ago. But that doesn't same me much, in terms of the overall process, does it? I'm certainly no Windows expert, but even if I download both SP1 and SP2, doesn't the system still need all of those other updates that Windows Update installed? I would agree that your suggestion solves most, and even perhaps all, of my complaints if I could do that and nothing else - but then, if all I really needed to do was install SP2 on top of the original distribution, why in the world would Windows Update not have simply done that, and eliminated the 85, 2, 1, 2.... series of update and reboot?

  • Apologies I am a twit, just checked the SP2 for Vista page and says that SP1 is a pre-requisite (unusually for Microsoft). This is unlike XP SP3 which doesn't care and will upgrade from XP RTM.

    However I would normally in this case have gone SP1 followed by SP2 then let windows update run, which keeps the number of reboots down.

    Windows update is however a pretty stupid program and always seems to involve too many reboots under these circumstances, it won't download the whole service pack just the bits the previous updates missed. Overall it's a pretty cr***y experience.
  • I have a longer reply that is sat in the moderation queue apparently. Short version is that vista requires SP1 then SP2 and I am a twit for not reading the web page properly.
  • I agree whole heartedly that Windows updates are a huge pain, mainly just as you mentioned because of reboot upon reboot. Windows is clearly not nearly as efficient, and cannot install all updates at the same time like most Linux distributions can. Also, it's very annoying when updating Windows especially on server systems when a reboot is a bigger deal. Updating Linux servers is a snap and usually doesn't disrupt any services running on it. I agree with PeterI, it's generally good practice to first install all of the service pack(s) first (Windows and Office), then install Microsoft Update (NOT Windows Update -- there is a prompt on the right side of the page on the Windows update site), so that it will detect and install all Windows and Office updates (not just Windows). Then install and reboot for the remaining patches to get to the current patchlevel. The problem though is that the service packs are huge downloads and take forever to download and install by themselves.

    Your point about Microsoft customers having to re-buy Windows (in order to "upgrade" from Vista to 7) is a great one. If Microsoft was anything of a decent company, they would give Vista users a FREE upgrade to Windows 7 or at a minimum give them a steep discount. They've done neither, which to me demonstrates that Microsoft only cares about one thing, its bottom line, NOT its customers.
  • @PeterI & @apexwm - Thanks again. It hadn't occurred to me to install the SPs and then let Windows Update look to see what else is missing, that might be a good idea. I seem to recall that one of the pre-SP1 updates was described as "install this ensure that subsequent updates and Service Packs install correctly", so that might be a problem. If I remember correctly from when I installed Vista SP1 the first time, though, if you download the SP for later installation, you get the "worst case" package, which contains everything possible, so it is the maximum size. If you let Windows Update do it, it downloads only what it needs. I'm not 100% sure about this, I haven't seen it documented anywhere, I'm just speculating based on my own experience.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  • Me too! I took delivery of a desktop on Friday for a business friend. The deal was an XP Professional downgrade from Vista Business plus all the Acer extras. Rather than wipe the computer with the XP downgrade, I decided to complete the installation and and image Vista first so that, if required, it would available in the future and not lost. I spent an inordinate amount of time, on and off, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday bringing it up to date.

    On Monday, I fooled the installation downgrade media into installing XP to a different partition, thus preserving the Vista installation. However, although I was able to start both systems (by restoring the relevant MBR, I was not successful in setting up a dual boot - something to do with being unable to find NTLDR, even though it was there to be seen.

    So I gave up as I was primarily trying to set up the dual boot for my own satisfaction.

    From the above, it can be observed that it only took a fraction of the time to install and update Windows XP which, with the same setup, takes up half the disk space and boots up and runs very much faster without the endless disk thrashing. Since I do run Win7 satisfactorily on a netbook, I cannot imagine even trying to install Vista on the netbook - impossible, I imagine.
    The Former Moley
  • My blog comment, with *no* questionable content, has been sent to moderation!
    The Former Moley
  • Wow Jamie - I'm speechless.

    What's at the core of this? Where's the real root of the problem. Is it a fundamentally flawed approach to overall architectural design from the start?

    Adrian Bridgwater-3dc6b
  • I think you are right Adrian. It is flawed architecture. The basic design has never been changed. Anytime I have to re-install XP, I will give a full days time to the ordeal.. I did a new install of PCLOS 2010 beta2, on my laptop, and when the final comes out I will install it, but only format /, and leave my home partition as is to preserve all my music, photos, etc. I full expect to spend a maximum of 30 minutes, or less. I have classed windows as a UFFM.(Useless fragment of fecal material), which can be paraphrased.
  • @Adrian - I am not familiar with the internals of Windows Update, so I can't say whether it is a flawed design, a botched implementation, or incompetent administration. It is certainly at least one of those three, and perhaps all three to various degrees. First and foremost, what is the point of a "Service Pack" if it is not to consolidate ALL of the patches which came before it? How totally insane is it to have to install 90+ patches before installing SP1? I'm not naive, I know very well that having to install the original release of a two or three year old operating system and then bring it up to date with patches is going to require a lot of patches, but the way it is handled by Windows is just beyond comprehension. My personal opinion is that Microsoft actually chooses to have Widows Update operate this way because they will not do anything that might in any way help a user to avoid buying a new copy of Windows, and once you have been through this nightmare, you are very likely to be willing to go out and buy a new copy.

    By the way, I have tried to avoid this silliness by getting an updated Recovery DVD from the OEM, with both Fujitsu-Siemens and Dell, and both times I was told that they could only send me another copy of whatever was on the system when it was purchased. I think this is only partially bureaucratic stubbornness, it is also due to the fact that OEM Recovery media often have system-specific drivers and even pre-loaded applications included, and tracking/reproducing that for systems that may or may not still be in production would obviously be very difficult.

  • @Moley - I have tried to make that kind of dual-boot configuration using Recovery/Downgrade disks as well, for the same reason, I would have liked to have both XP and Vista on one of my laptops for reference purposes. I also failed. I think the reason is that in most cases the OEM Recovery/Downgrade media is more like an image copy than an installation disk, so it is already installed and configured to expect the boot partition to be C: or the first partition on the disk. Whichever image you manage to install in the second partition ends up being unhappy.

    There is another possibility, though. This may sound a bit garbled, because I have never cared enough about it to really investigate in detail. Vista uses a "loader" which is written to the beginning of the drive, after the MBR. On some laptops I have seen this installed in a very small partition at the beginning of the disk, while on others it is not in a partition at all, there is just a small unallocated gap left before the first partition. Either way, if that loader is not there, and the MBR is set up for Vista, it will not boot. So if in the process of creating your tricky dual-boot system the loader got either deleted or overwritten, that could be the reason it won't boot for you.

    When I set up my multi-boot systems, I always use Grub, and the first thing I can do is delete that loader partition, or reclaim the space left free for it, because Grub is enough of a loader itself, you can boot Vista directly from it. However, it just occurs to me as I write this, I wonder if this is the reason that the Vista SP2 installation failed on my multi-boot Grub systems, which I wrote about a while back? Maybe they were trying to update the Vista loader, and couldn't find it?

  • JW that is a great point about the package size possibly being smaller with the Windows Update site. I think you are right. Often times they put the "express" version of the service packs on the site which are sometimes smaller. Not sure about the Vista ones though, I haven't touched them. But the XP service packs were like this. Ideally you are correct, you should be able to simply go to the Windows Update site and update from there. Unfortunately as you have pointed out, Microsoft's update process is far from efficient. Personally I ended up downloading the service packs manually and burning them to CDs for when I work on friends' PCs. Another really handy tool is Clonezilla, which is a great app for taking a snapshot of the disk to avoid having to reload the Windoze OS from scratch, in case it blows up from viruses, spyware, bad hard disk, etc.
  • A Better method would have been to obtain an upto date Iso/disk image of Windows Vista SP2 (Microsoft do provide this for a fee if you have a previous retail licence (cost of postage&packing), If you have phoned them with your retail licence info, they may even offer a download link nowadays.
    (I find MS pretty helpful, unlike HP). Most machines don't have a retail licence but an Vendor OEM Licence, so MS will refer you to them.

    Many companies such as HP (for a fee) also provide recovery disks to restore the system to Vista SP2 (with bloatware) for each make/model. HP and others expect you to create three DVD's when you first got the laptop so you never have to follow the above process.

    Again - Backup before this happens!

    Another method is to slipstream Service Packs into the Original Installation CD/DVDs, but if you have never done this - Microsoft don't make it an easy process for the average user, so most stick to the standard installation method and use Windows Update. With slipstreaming -The updates are merged into an image of the original disk, so when you run the installation these updates don't need to be installed via Windows Update.

    For large numbers of installations - Its also possible to use Microsoft Update Server, so that Updates are stored within the company on a server and downloaded once, and distributed throughout your organisation locally, from your own server (also allows the company to pick which Windows updates are installed)

    Had you opted for Windows 7, the result might not have been that easy either, as the vendors such as HP don't always provide Windows 7 Drivers for vendor specific hardware. eg. fingerprint readers,card readers etc on older 'unsupported/obselete hardware'. Several months since release even Windows 7 now has a fair number of upgrades and sizeable ones at that.
  • Its the typical case of throwing out the old and cheaper to buy the new (which I hate)

    It does make a case for using a good piece of imaging software, and though the usual ones are good, I recently purchased Paragon Hard Disk Manager 2010 (has both standard and professional versions). The Professional version allows for dynamic disks such as used by Windows 7, Apple Machitosh. It works perfectly with Windows 7. I recently did an installation of Windows 7, then backed it up (10 mins) and restored it in 8 minutes, when I acidently installed a Vista driver, rather than a Windows 7 driver.

    Paragon Hard Disk Manager 2010 is a bargain- best imaging bar none. Works perfectly with Windows, Mac, and Linux (even EXT4!), and dynamic disks. The only problem I've had with it was trying to image to a smaller disk (the size of the data on the partition was less than the size of the new partitioni, but the partition itself including free space was bigger), where it wouldn't do this on the fly, whereas Acronis products do. You had to size the resize the partition to a smaller size first then copy it.

    It also will automatically find unbootable Windows Systems and correct the boot information automatically - this works too!
  • On a postive note..

    Installed Ubuntu 10.04 Beta over the weekend on a HP DV Series, Paragon came in very handy moving round EXT3 and EXT4 Partitions, aswell as keeping Windows 7 intact. Backing up beforehand-always a good idea!. Ubuntu installed pretty well perfectly, one really nice touch is that you can surf the web while its installing.

    One thing was the progresson bar worked perfectly upto 95%, but the last 5% took about half the time again, so don't give up at this point and think its frozen, it still working away.
    The boot time is phenomenal, the new layout,as is the way it offers proprietary drivers for wireless cards, nvidia cards. Actually it hardly displayed the ubuntu logo bit (mine seemed to be text at the moment, but as you don't see it , it didn't matter.

    As a beta, its pretty much working fine for me except for a few cosmetic issues, still wouldn't recommend using it for anything other than checking it out - but this LTS Version (Long term support) is really promising. I'd actually say I like it better than Windows 7! New colour scheme, menus are much nicer, but I had got used to the brown.

    I still prefer XP to Windows 7, but Microsoft have done miracles to turn Vista into Windows 7, and as we all have to use MS Products during a daily life, because of convention - I'm pretty glad they did.
    Many will definitely start to question the logic of why everyone is still buying/using MS Products when you start to use Ubuntu 10.04.

    9.10 is Ubuntu's Vista in comparison (I thought 9.10 was rushed out for Windows 7 launch) to Ubuntu 10.04, which looks to be Ubuntu's 'Windows 7', I mean in terms of build quality. This early beta is an extremely high standard, as was the early Windows 7 RC. In recognition, I've given the 10.04 beta a permanent partition on my main laptop.

    When you compare Windows 7, Snow Leopard, and Ubuntu 10.04 - they all have their own plus points and negative ones- I don't think there has ever being a time though, before this where the choice between products was so small in terms of quality.
  • But come on chaps. Flawed architecture at this level? Surely that can not be so. How could Microsoft establish such a level of brand dominance with a product that is fundamentally flawed at the core?

    That's like suggesting that, I don't know, something like the car industry seeing a manufacturer as big as Toyota having to recall a huge number of its vehicles due to some oversight in the design process. I mean that's just not going to happen.

    Oh - wait, hang on: what's that I just said?

    But you know it's funny. I have met and worked on features with Matt Deacon who is Microsoft UK's Chief Architectural Advisor - and he knows his onions, speaks (and writes) well and is a nice guy.

    Here's a link related to what I could find on him on the web.

    My question to you guys is - yes, Microsoft has flaws, but then so does my prawn and garlic sausage jambalaya recipe (which is good, but still not quite right) - how can we sit here and cast our big statements out on the structure of Microsoft's kernel, OS and upwardly supporting layers of architecture and application structure unless we analyse and substantiate our criticism to a rather more detailed technical level.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending Microsoft - I use an Apple Mac and a Linux box out of choice. I have a Windows toy in the corner too. But it ranks third.

    Adrian Bridgwater-3dc6b
  • Adrian - Now that the comments have been fixed (well done ZDNet UK, and I mean that!), I can read and answer your comment. It is never my intention to approach things related to Windows on a detailed technical level, first because I am not qualified to do that, and second because I don't think most of the audience here is interested in that. Particularly in the case of Windows, I am approaching things from a User's perspective, and thus I don't care about the underlying details or architecture, there are plenty of things which are fundamentally flawed. Windows Update happens to be a prime example - it is ridiculous, clumsy, error-prone, unreliable and confusing. You don't even have to compare it to another update system, you just need to sit down and use it once.

  • In response to AdrianB, I personally believe Windows is flawed at various technical levels, when compared to operating systems like Linux. I've seen Windows and Linux systems running side by side, and consistently watching the Windows systems develop problems on their own, while the Linux systems continue to run unattended. The example of this post with Windows updates is a prime example. Windows needs to be rebooted frequently to apply patches. Linux does not. Applying general software updates and installing software in Windows is also flawed and quirky (we have a variety of 3rd party installation engines like InstallShield, plus Microsoft Installer, which can blow up and leave the system in a terrible mess). Installing updates and software in Linux is very well done with package management (RPM) all integrated and clean, and seldom requires rebooting at all. In fact, technology exists now (Ksplice) that allows Linux to run indefinitely after all software updates, including kernel updates. Rebooting is definitely more critical at the server level, which is overkill when discussing desktop systems. But Windows is bloated which in my opinion is one cause for the frequent rebooting and also the cause of many security problems. Personally, I prefer a more lean operating system like Linux which is more efficient from the start.
  • The answer? Windows 7! Easiest installations ever. Takes about 30 minutes, boot up and everything's working out the box. Updates kick in over the next few days. It's almost too easy. I even installed the 32-bit version, used it for a week or so, thought to myself, nah, I need 64-bit, and in no way felt upset about having to re-install Windows again.

    Compared to the unbelievable hassle of my Vista upgrade path (first install Windows XP, then upgrade to Vista), it's a dream come true.