The Long Road to Vista

So, I finally made the decision to consider Vista.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Vista installers available, and the only option I have is to restore my laptop to its factory setting, which contained Vista Home as its base OS. But as it turned out, the recovery partition was gone. Good thing, the recovery CD’s were included when I received my machine. But, to begin the long list of bad luck I have encountered during the entire process, I just discovered that the DVD drive doesn’t work, and so is my external DVD drive. The only alternatives left are USB disks, and unfortunately, the only one that I can use is the large 160GB one (ironically, I only need 5GB of space, most of my disks’ capacity ranges from 512MB to 4GB. And I don’t want to format my iPod. Oh well.)

Like previous undertakings, before doing the actual processes, I always have to search for relevant info on the net. Before long, my desktop is almost filled with saved web pages and downloaded files.

Making USB drives bootable involves a lot of steps, including cleaning and making the partition active (using DiskPart) and writing to its boot sector using MS’s boot sector utility. After that, simply copy all the files from the bootable media to the target disk and the disk will now behave exactly like the source.

The disk booted successfully and the recovery program have loaded as well. Unfortunately, after the disk format, the setup was interrupted with the dreaded error 10002. The result was an empty system, having just lost the XP OS because of the formatting. I could have done the easy route by installing a bootleg XP, but I need the license and I think it’s quite inappropriate for a laptop to have unlicensed OS. There’s got to be a way. It happened a few days before the end of 2008, and remained so when 2009 arrived. I’m not superstitious, but I was still dreading that my rig will remain in that state throughout the whole year. With more bad luck coming, it almost seemed likely.

On further research, it seemed that there’s no such thing as a genuine or bootleg Vista installer. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to borrow someone else’s disk or even download the installer from reputable or even disreputable ones. Furthermore, what sets apart genuine Vista’s from fake ones were the licenses, which will also determine the version for the user (whether it’s Home Basic or Business or Ultimate). Also, the license needs online validation, and most of the piracy fixes are generally unreliable, making Vista notoriously harder to pirate than XP (and which was probably the reason why Vista didn’t achieve mainstream success IMO). However, on the bright side, it was actually easier for licensed users to do a reinstallation of the OS and retain the license. That’s because there’s an alternate method for validation of OEM licenses. But more on that later.

Unlike the other New Year’s, I was broke at the start of 2009, and I badly need money to buy a Vista disk. There’s another option, and that was to download the required files (only three files are needed, namely BOOT.WIM, INSTALL.WIM and a program called “Vista Preparation tool”), unfortunately the download link for the two WIM files were no longer available. Good thing I was able to work on a sideline job fixing someone else’s computer, and I was paid a good amount, just enough to buy a Vista disk.

Unfortunately, the disk contained the beta version of Vista (build 5600), the validation method doesn’t work, and I can only operate the system on limited functionality (to make the wallpaper and Start Menu appear, you need to open the explorer from the IE address bar. The license nag screen still appears onscreen, and there’s no way to hide it. You will also logout automatically after 30 minutes of use).

After one week of thrifty spending, I bought the second Vista disk (I also tried to ask friends, but I was unable to get anything). This time, I made sure I got the retail version. The setup was unsuccessful as well, because the installation media was corrupt. It turned out on further investigation that the culprit was a broken shell32.dll. I looked for ways to repackage the install.wim file but the methods were pretty discouraging. Imagine downloading a 1GB+ file just for a few files (on a similar note, I did remember downloading a 350MB file three years ago just to get two files for BartPE. That was tolerable. Not this one.).

Finally, after four weeks(!) of frustration, I finally got everything right. Vista setup completed successfully (I used a Vista Black edition installer, I didn’t setup directly from the disk, instead I customized the setup first using the Vista preparation tool). I have 30 days to activate my OS, but I was no longer bothered by it. I was able to get my OEM license from the recovery CD by opening the base.wim file from 7Zip. In the \Windows subdirectory, there is a folder called OEMCert that contained the xrm-ms and vbs files needed. After this, simply navigate to the folder containing the file from the command prompt, then execute the slmgr command. Vista was activated after a reboot.

I’ve been using Vista for two weeks now, and loving every minute of it. After all these years of using XP, I’m officially saying goodbye to XP. There are no regrets. And no turning back. In the end, I never understood where all those Vista criticisms came from.

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