Weblog entry #94 for dkg

proprietary software activation fail
Posted by dkg on Fri 1 Feb 2013 at 16:25
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i have a colleague who is forced by work situations to use Windows. Somehow, I'm the idiot^W^W^W^W^Wfriendly guy who gets tapped to fix it when things break.

Well, this time, the power supply broke. As in, dead, no lights, no fan, no nothing. No problem, though, the disk is still good, and i've got a spare machine lying around; and the spare is actually superior hardware to the old machine so it'll be an upgrade in addition to a fix. Nice! So i transplant the disk and fire up the new chassis.

But WinXP fails to boot with a lovely "0x0000007b" BSOD. The internet tells me that this might mean it can't find its own disk. OK, pop into the new chassis' BIOS, tell it to run the SATA ports in "legacy IDE" mode, and try again.

Now we get a "0x0000007e" BSOD. Some digging on the 'net makes me think it's now complaining now about the graphics driver. Hmm. Well, i figure i can probably work around that by installing new drivers from Safe Mode. So i reboot into Safe Mode.

Success! It boots to the login screen in Safe Mode. And, mirabile dictu, i happen to know the Administrator password. I put it in, and get a message that this Windows installation isn't "activated" yet -- presumably because the hardware has changed out from under it. And by the way, i'm not allowed to log in via safe mode until it's activated. So please reboot to "normal" Windows and activate it first.

Except, of course, the whole reason i'm booting into safe mode was because normal Windows gives a BSOD. Grrrr. Who thought up this particular lovely catch-22?

OK, change tactics. Scavenging the scrap bin turns up a machine with a failed mainboard, but a power supply with all the right leads. It's rated for about 80W less than the old machine's failed supply, but i figure if i rip out the DVD-burner and the floppy drive maybe it will hold. Oh, and the replacement power supply doesn't physically fit the old chassis, but it hangs halfway out the back and sort of rattles around a bit. I sacrifice the rest of the scrap machine, rip out its power supply, stuff the power supply into the old chassis, swap the original disk back in, and ... it boots successfully, finally.

That was the shorter version of the story :P

So now my colleague has a horrible mess of a frankencomputer which is more likely to fail again in the future, instead of a nice shiny upgrade. Why? Because Microsoft's need to control the flow of software takes priority over the needs of their users.

This is what you get when you let Marketing and BizDev drive your technical decisions.

Do i still need to explain why i prefer free software?

 

Comments on this Entry

Posted by Anonymous (188.154.xx.xx) on Fri 1 Feb 2013 at 18:13
Oh, there's so many more examples. In this particular genre I rather like swapping my linux OS disk between two computers with fairly different hardware (even using proprietary AMD drivers on one machine and NVIDIA ones on the other). Even managed eventually to get bays I can reasonably easily pull a disk in and out of.

Another fail for MS: Windows LIVE. Try play a game like DIRT 2 and you have to sign into windows live (if you want to save progress — because apparently hard drives aren't any good for this any more). Then LIVE wants to do an update, from within the game, before it allows you to do anything else. And it even manages to break Alt+Tab while taking ages to download whatever useless features the new version offers. Yeah, enough complaining...

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Posted by Anonymous (195.251.xx.xx) on Fri 1 Feb 2013 at 19:31
Virtualization was not in your friends options? You could install a linux distribution and make for him a nice virtualized windows enviroment with the applications he needs. Nevertheless this is a very true scenario which occurs in every situation ie. academic, professional etc.

Dimitris.

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Posted by dkg (108.58.xx.xx) on Fri 1 Feb 2013 at 19:40
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Heh. Virtualization was one of the routes i considered, tried, and discarded in the longer version of the story (i told you that was the shorter version!). For some reason, the new chassis wouldn't boot from either USB or network (my two usual mechanisms for installing a reasonable operating system), and i didn't feel like digging up a blank CD. Oh, and the BIOS password had been set by the vendor, so i had to work around that too (speaking of proprietary nonsense making my life more difficult).

But even if it had worked, and i could have booted the old disk inside a virtual environment, Windows probably would have complained in the same way because its hardware had changed out from under it (the virtualized hardware wouldn't look exactly like the chassis it came from). Now, granted, it might have made it past the 0x0000007e BSOD, and maybe i would have been able to "activate" it on the new hardware without booting into safe mode.

But really, computers are fickle, finicky things. It's difficult enough to get them working when they're under your control. The idea that someone actively spent time and effort deliberately engineering the problem i ran into makes me upset. I seem to keep coming back to the idea of Antifeatures when i think about this stuff. Aggravating! :(

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Posted by Anonymous (173.56.xx.xx) on Sat 2 Feb 2013 at 00:23
Been there and suffered, too. Now that you are able to boot into the resuscitated system, you can "prepare" Windows for relocation to your shiny, better machine by using the mergeide.reg technique here:
support.microsoft.com/kb/314082

In general, the techniques described here:
www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Migrate_Windows

should be done before moving a windows hdd to another physical box. Not useful for emergencies like yours, but now that you have a working power supply and can do it....

"Windows installations, unlike Linux, cannot easily be moved from one hardware to another. This is not just due to Microsoft's activation mechanism but the fact that the installed kernel and drivers depend on the actual hardware."

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Posted by Anonymous (61.8.xx.xx) on Sat 2 Feb 2013 at 08:12
s/^W/^H/, or s/^W^W^W^W^W/^W/ :)

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Posted by dkg (108.58.xx.xx) on Sun 3 Feb 2013 at 03:23
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If we're playing that kind of pedantry, i'll see you and up you to:
s/^W/^H/g
But thanks for the nit-pick :)

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Posted by Anonymous (184.97.xx.xx) on Sun 3 Feb 2013 at 22:28
The situation has gotten better. I saw a Windows 7 installation survive something like that recently. On the other hand, I successfully booted a Linux disk on a SATA-to-USB adapter several years ago, and I think Windows will still barf if you try to do that.

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