Trying to Upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 – Take 2

My second attempt to upgrade from Vista to the Windows 7 Release Candidate ends in failure – again. The reason for the failure remains a mystery!

So this weekend I set aside a block of time (roughly 5 hours) when I wouldn’t need my computer so I could take a stab at trying to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (again).

This time, I moved my Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos (which constitute the bulk of my user profile) into a separate folder on my 2nd hard drive for safe keeping, and then used a 2nd user account to delete the directory junction that linked my user profile to my 2nd hard drive. Then, I moved my (now much smaller) user profile back on to the boot drive (C:), and began the upgrade process again.

The last time I tried this, I thought that the reason the upgrade failed was because of my use of a directory junction to put my user profile onto my 2nd hard drive. So this time, I thought I’d have better luck, since the link was gone and everything was back where Windows probably expected it to be.

Unfortunately, the result of this second attempt was the same as my first attempt: FAILURE. The only difference is that this time the upgrade didn’t take as long (probably because my user profile was so much smaller). However, it still failed in exactly the same way – it got all the way to the very last step of the installation, and then quit, saying:

“The upgrade was not successful. Your previous version of Windows is being restored.”

It then spent some time rolling back the upgrade, leaving me back where I started. When my desktop came back up, I was greeted by this message:

“This version of Windows could not be installed. Your previous version of Windows has been restored, and you can continue to use it.”

No clue as to the reason for the failed upgrade – that’s my next task.

I don’t want to admit defeat (i.e., do a clean install) – an upgrade from Vista Ultimate 32-bit to Windows 7 RC 32-bit should work just fine. I guess I’m going to have to spend some time spelunking through arcane log files to see if I can find out the root cause of the failed upgrade – wish me luck!!

UPDATE: I’m not the only one with this problem – Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror) had a similar problem and asked for help over on the website (great place for getting help). Sadly, he did not get any further than me!

Upgrading from Vista to the Windows 7 Release Candidate

My attempt at upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 RC ends in disappointment – I blame directory junctions for the problem. Guess I have to wait until I make the switch to 64-bit to get Windows 7 goodness on my computer!

So last night I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to the Windows 7 Release Candidate. The word on the street (well, web) seemed to say that it was very stable (as you’d expect from a release candidate), and it’d be good for a year (plenty of time for my plan to upgrade my computer & then buy the 64-bit version of Windows 7 when it comes out). Plus, as a developer, it’s nice to have the “latest & greatest” for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is being able to test your software on a new operating system to see if it works!

So, I double-checked my Mozy backups to make sure they were current & up-to-date, did some last minute downloads of software in case I needed it right after the upgrade, uninstalled a few programs that I’d been told by the upgrade advisor were potential problems, and then I put in the DVD and clicked “Install.”

After spending some time churning away “analyzing” something or other, I finished the initial questions and the installation proper began. Based on my experiences from upgrading from XP to Vista, I knew this would take a while – as in, a LONG while. So I turned off my monitor and let the computer churn for a few hours.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take as long as my XP to Vista upgrade did. After about 4 hours I came in to check on it, and caught it rebooting – and I was excited to see that shiny new Windows 7 boot screen (with the glowing Windows logo). Certainly, it seemed as though the installation (sorry, upgrade) was proceeding nicely. After the boot screen, setup appeared again, and I saw that I was on the last step (out of 5 steps), with the progress bar at the bottom of the screen about 3/4 of the way across. I figured it’d be done before I went to bed that night.

Well, turns out, it was done before I went to bed – but not in the way I’d imagined.

I came in about an hour later and I could immediately hear that the hard drive wasn’t churning away. “Excellent,” I thought, “it must be done!” So I turned on my monitor… only to be greeted by my usual Vista desktop, and a message box letting me know that the upgrade could not be completed, and suggesting I visit Microsoft’s website to find out why. Fortunately, the setup was kind enough to restore my system to exactly the way it was before the upgrade began, instead of leaving my computer in a half-upgraded state. (I was actually quite surprised it managed to pull this off, given how close it was to being “done.”)

Unfortunately, I have no idea if there’s a log or something to tell me why the upgrade couldn’t be completed – although I can guess. (The fact that my user profile is directory-junctioned to a 2nd hard drive probably has something to do with it.) I can only hope that some of the data about my upgrade experience was sent back to Microsoft, so they can learn from it and improve the upgrade process.

So it looks like I’m stuck where I am until later this year, when I upgrade my PC to a 64-bit processor – which will require a clean install of a 64-bit version of Windows anyway.


UPDATE: I tried to upgrade again – turns out the directory junction wasn’t the problem, though, because the upgrade failed – AGAIN. Anyone know how to find out why an upgrade failed – what log file to look in, for example? Because I’m stumped!

Computer Recovery Day

An agonizing tale of computer malfunction, data recovery, and pain.

It started innocently enough – Internet Explorer 8 came out just the other day, so I figured I’d give it a try. Little did I know that this was to become the catalyst for a computer meltdown unlike any I’ve had in a long, long time.

Here’s the story, broken down into little snippets for easy consumption. Our story begins mid-morning on a Friday…

  • Hmmm, IE8 is getting a lot of press. I guess I should give it a try.
  • Downloaded & Installed IE8. It said “you need to reboot and install some more Windows updates.”
  • Ok, reboot. Wait forever for startup programs to finish.
  • Try to connect to VPN for work… Windows says “I couldn’t find any connections!” Huh?
  • Notice that the network connection icon has a red “X” on it. Hovering over it gives the message “Connection status: Unknown. Access is denied.” WTF?
  • Even more strangely, the Internet connection works just fine – I can get on-line. Curious.
  • Something fishy is going on with my user account and permissions & things… certain control panel applets won’t open, like the add/remove users applet. It normally would give a UAC prompt, but now it just opens a blank window which immediately closes. Huh?
  • Try to fire up VirtualBox to look at my virtual Vista machine for comparison, but VirtualBox won’t start: “E_ACCESSDENIED” it says, quoting error number “0x80070005.” Something about COM?
  • Spend some time looking up help (thank you, Google). Tried some solutions like adding the “LocalSystem” account to the “Administrators” group. Didn’t work. (Shouldn’t be needed, anyway.)
  • At this point I’m getting rather frustrated, so I enable the Administrator account and try logging in under it, just to see what’s up. To my surprise, everything works. Hmmm.
  • So, must be a problem with my user profile… not surprising, since it was sort of half-assed migrated from XP. Maybe it’s just time to bite the bullet and make a new profile and copy my relevant data and a few program settings over.
  • At this point, I’ve basically given up on getting any work done for the day, so I fire off an email summarizing my sad story thus far, and settle in for spending some quality time with Windows.
  • First step: dismount my user profile drive so nothing gets touched.
  • Delete old account.
  • Create new account.
  • Mount user profile drive.
  • Log in under new user account… d’oh! Windows goes and makes it’s own, new directory for the profile instead of using the one I mounted. (Now I have Users\Keith and Users\Keith.ELYSION).
  • Log back in under Administrator, move drive mounting to the new user profile folder that Windows created.
  • Try to log in under that account. Nope! Windows says “I couldn’t read the user profile, so have a temporary one!” Damn.
  • Obviously, I’ve got some files to delete, probably NTUSER.DAT.
  • Let’s see if I can start again and do this right – instead of mounting the volume as a directory, I’ll use a directory junction instead.
  • Log in as Administrator.
  • Delete user account.
  • Oops, Windows Vista doesn’t just leave the user profile directory where it is if you choose not to delete the files – it “helpfully” tries to copy the profile to your desktop.
  • My user profile is huge – the whole reason it’s on a second drive, after all – so this isn’t going to work. Rather than wait around, I try to cancel it.
  • Can’t cancel it – so I shut down instead.
  • After restart, made directory junction to a new folder on the 2nd hard drive.
  • Moved the new (empty) user profile over to this new folder.
  • Logged in under the new profile – now I’ve finally got a user profile that’s correctly running on the 2nd hard drive. Now I just need to move my user data over selectively.
  • Easy stuff first – Documents, Music, Videos, Pictures, etc.
  • Hard stuff second – specific folders from Application Data and Local Settings (Firefox/Thunderbird profiles mostly).
  • Finally got stuff moved around, but… why does my Documents folder only contain files starting with the letter P or later?
  • Horrible moment of realization: the “helpful” copy that took place when I deleted the profile a few steps (and by now, a few hours) ago wasn’t just a copy – it was a “move.” And apparently shutting down wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
  • Half of my “My Documents” folder is gone. Begin slight panic.
  • Calm down, remember that I’ve got Mozy. Backups are GOOD.
  • Begin trying to recover files from Mozy. Because only half of my stuff is gone, I have to go through and select what to restore manually, by hand. Mozy is not the fastest program in the world, so this takes some time.
  • Begin the arduous process of restoring files from Mozy.
  • [Many, many hours pass.]
  • Mozy’s not super-fast at restoring files (and it doesn’t help that I had it set to throttle back its bandwidth usage during the work day – oops!) but it gets the job done. Thank goodness for backups!
  • Files restored, but of course to totally wrong folders, since now everything’s “Vista-Style.” Why, oh why did Microsoft decide to re-arrange where user’s files go???
  • Spend some time copying/moving files around. OK, documents, music, videos, pictures, etc. Back where they belong, nothing seems to be missing. Cool.
  • Fire up a few programs (Winamp, iTunes, Quicken) to make sure they work – they do… sort of. iTunes says it can’t save the iTunes library file, and Quicken says I don’t have permission to open the file. Huh?
  • Winamp also won’t save any settings – it keeps resetting to the default style. Something is not right.
  • Find out that there’s a weird permissions problem on my new profile – the CREATOR OWNER doesn’t have ANY rights! Ah, the joys of NTFS file permissions.
  • Spend some time fiddling with the permissions – setting my new user account as the “Owner” of the files, giving myself full control, etc.
  • OK, permissions set – programs working. Excellent.
  • Fire up Firefox – and it starts walking me through the “new profile/new settings” wizard. Crap.
  • Try to figure out where my Firefox (and Thunderbird) profiles are.
  • Second horrible moment of realization: my Firefox and Thunderbird profiles weren’t backed up. Apparently, they both have a “Profiles” folder under Application Data, and another one under Local Settings\Application Data. One contains the real profile – the other contains some, I don’t know, extra .xul files or something. Guess which one was part of my backup set?
  • Manage to find an old copy of the “real” profiles folder in Mozy and restore from it.
  • Spend some time re-creating the “profiles.ini” file for Firefox and Thunderbird.
  • Open up Firefox – my profiles appear!
  • Try to start my default profile – and Firefox crashes. Ditto Thunderbird. Some problem with an add-in?
  • Start Firefox and Thunderbird in “safe mode” with no add-ins or extensions. Disable them all, restart.
  • Go through extensions one-by-one until I find the troublesome ones. (Enigmail and the Calendar plugin.) Ok, fine, they’re not that important, I can always re-install them later. Uninstall them for now.
  • Success! Firefox and Thunderbird open properly. Except…
  • For some reason, Firefox has lost all of its history, saved form data, and saved passwords. Fuck. I kind of depend on them.
  • At this point, it’s well past midnight for a process that started mid-morning. I’m tired, and aside from the saved passwords thing, my computer is mostly working. Well enough that I feel OK going to sleep and picking it up in the morning.
  • [All too-few hours of sleep pass.]
  • The next morning, I fire things up again, and it’s working as well as you could expect. Actually, it’s working just fine. I feel a lot better about the whole affair now that things are back together again!
  • After a good nights sleep, I hit upon a brain-wave. I occasionally use MozBackup (not Mozy) to do complete backups of my Thunderbird and Firefox profiles! I can use these backups to restore my passwords and other settings!
  • Looking through my files, I see I did a backup not long ago – less than a month, in fact. SWEET!
  • MozBackup, restore profiles, lather, rinse, repeat.
  • Ka-ching! Profiles restored. Bookmarks, saved passwords, cookies, history, the works.

So now I’m pretty much back up & running. I’ve still got a few niggling little things to work out (like my Outlook/Exchange email for work), but nothing terrible. I’ve also got to go through Mozy and make sure that I really did restore EVERYTHING I need before I let it start backing up the newly arranged profile – because Mozy doesn’t store differential backups; you’ve only got the most recent backup, and that’s it. So if I start backing up now, and I forgot to restore a file, it will assume I deleted the file and it’ll be removed from my backup. So I need to do some further checking, but I’m confident.

I also need to go through my backup sets and make absolutely sure that they include the entirety of my Firefox and Thunderbird profiles.

Although in the end I didn’t lose anything important (some virtual machines were lost, but they’re easy enough to re-create and I just use them for testing anyway), the whole experience was very frustrating.

When computers break down, when things go wrong like this, it totally destroys the metaphor of the computer. When you find out that your carefully arranged media libraries are gone now because you physically moved the files on disk, you really begin to curse and swear. I think Neal Stephenson described it as metaphor shear, and I think that’s a good description.

Suddenly, you’re not dealing with pictures and movies and documents anymore – you’re no longer working “in your terms.” Instead, you’re now working with the computer’s terms – folders and files and paths and ACLs and profiles and user accounts and permissions and so forth. Honestly, it’s terribly disheartening. It almost makes you want to give up on the whole “computer” thing, maybe go live “in the cloud” where you don’t have to worry about this sort of shit anymore.

But in the end, it’s all just fluff, all just levels and layers of metaphors piled on top of one another, abstractions built upon abstractions – and like any other work of man, eventually it all falls down and you’re left holding broken sticks and trying to figure out how they used to be put together to make the Internet.

It’s a humbling experience, in a way. And one I hope not to go through again for a long time!

For the future, though, I’ve learned (or re-learned) a few things:

  1. Check your backups carefully on some sort of regular schedule. Things change, and you don’t want to have something be left out!
  2. When deleting a user profile, if you want to keep the user’s data where it is, don’t use the Vista control panel applet to delete the account – use the “Computer Management” MMC console to do it instead.
  3. Hard drive space is cheap; although I used to turn off “System Restore” because I didn’t like the disk space it used, my disks are big enough these days that there’s no reason not to have it turned on now. If I had used it to create a restore point before installing IE8, I probably could have avoided this whole mess. And Vista has “Volume Shadow Copies,” too, so I probably could’ve recovered my missing files easier, too.

Ah well – always something new to learn! At least it’s over now, and I’ve learned my lessons. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle!

I Upgraded to Vista – But for all the Wrong Reasons

Even though I swore I wouldn’t upgrade to Vista, just recently I bit the bullet and did it anyway. But I did it for all the wrong reasons.

Even though I swore I wouldn’t upgrade to Vista, just recently I bit the bullet and did it anyway. But I did it for all the wrong reasons.

vista First and foremost, I upgraded to Vista because I had already decided that I was going to use Windows 7 when it came out (hopefully) later this year, and I figured rather than make the big jump from XP to Windows 7, I’d “ease” my way into it, using Vista as a “temporary” OS to look for problems and get used to some of the newer ways of getting around and doing things.

Of course, when I upgrade to Windows 7 it’s still going to be a big jump, because I hope to make the transition to 64-bit at the same time, and that means a full reformat & reinstall of Windows (there is no 32-bit to 64-bit upgrade path).

Other reasons I decided to upgrade to Vista “in the meantime:”

  • Finally fix that annoying flaw in NTFS mount points
  • Find out whether my current video card can support those fancy Aero Glass effects
  • Work out the kinks in my unusual user profile arrangement (more on that in a moment)
  • Get the new version of Windows Media Player

Of those reasons, the NTFS mount point flaw and the new Windows Media Player were probably the biggest reasons I upgraded. But the kinks with my user profile were worth working out in advance – let me explain.

Longtime readers might remember the bit of computer drama I had when I bought my new 500 GB hard drive, and how my plans for re-arranging my drives/partitions/data/etc. didn’t exactly work out. In the end, I ended up “mounting” the new 500 GB hard drive to my Windows User Profile directory – or to put it in terms that UNIX/Linux geeks might understand, I created a directory junction from my user profile folder to the root of the new hard drive. In other words, C:\Application Data\Keith was a “redirect” or “junction” to my 500 GB hard drive. This gave me the breathing room I was after at the time, since my user profile was taking up well more than 50% of my disk space at the time.

drivesThe above picture demonstrates the scope of my disk space problem – the C: drive is just Windows and applications. That K: drive contains just my user profile, and nothing else.

Of course this worked fine (aside from the aforementioned flaw in NTFS mount points)… but then I upgraded.

Remember that under Vista, your user profile directory is now (by default): C:\Users rather than C:\Documents and Settings. Which means that during the upgrade, my profile would have to be “migrated” somehow.

The Vista upgrade tried very hard, but in the end, a lot of weirdness happened, as you’d expect. In retrospect, I suppose I should’ve just created another mount point at C:\Users\Keith before upgrading and saved myself the trouble… but that probably would’ve caused problems as well.

However, with all that said, I was able to get into Vista after the upgrade, do some fiddling with user profiles, and mount C:\Users\Keith back to my 2nd 500 GB hard drive, and my profile (with my documents, music, and videos) appeared intact.

start menu Now, of course, I have all the time in the world to shuffle things around – since Vista (and Windows 7) have done away with the concept of “My Documents” and instead replaced it with “Documents” and so forth. Currently, my user profile is a weird blend of a “My Documents” folder, combined with Vista-style “Music,” “Videos,” and “Pictures” folders. Eventually I’ll get it all sorted out so that it matches what Vista (and Windows 7) expects natively.

Then, when I do finally upgrade to Windows 7, at least my user profile (and all my documents/music/videos/pictures/etc.) folders won’t be messed up and can easily be migrated.

So that was the other big reason for taking the plunge into Vista. (Either that, or I’m just a sucker for self-punishment!)

Still… there are a few things in Vista that I didn’t really know about before, or that I knew about but didn’t appreciate how nice they are. Things like:

  • Thumbnail previews in the task bar
  • The “Windows Search” built into the Start menu
  • When renaming a file, only the file name is selected by default (not the extension)
  • “Favorite Links” in Explorer windows
  • Yeah, yeah, I do sort of like the “glass” effects!

And, of course, the NTFS mount point problem is fixed in Vista, meaning I don’t have to SHIFT-DELETE when deleting folders from my profile anymore. FINALLY!


Oh, and Windows Media Center finally understands about skipping chapters in a DVD – something that it just did not do before – and that really annoyed me. Now, however, when I press the “next” button on my Windows Media Center Remote, it skips to the next chapter like my DVD player does. (It’s kind of sad, actually, that I had to upgrade my entire operating system just to get this one fix to a media player!)

Of course there are the usual downsides to Vista that have been ranted on a million times before – things like UAC (user account control), which is still annoying, no matter what people say about “it gets less annoying as you use your computer.” I can’t wait until Windows 7 when I can adjust the UAC prompt behavior with a bit more granularity.

So, all in all, I’m somewhat pleased with my Vista upgrade experience, but mostly I’m just glad that I’m working all these issues out now, instead of later when I upgrade to Windows 7.

So Much for my “Upgrade” Path

There’s been a major change in my plans to eventually “upgrade” to a 64-bit OS (probably the 64-bit version of Windows 7). Namely, the idea that it could be an “upgrade” at all.

There apparently is no upgrade path from any Windows 32-bit edition to any Windows 64-bit edition. If you’re going to make the jump, you have to do a clean install.

Major bummer.