Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Monday, 21 August 2006
I do a lot of desktop support at work. That means I do a lot of drive re-imaging and re-installing of Windows. I used to rely heavily on Norton Ghost and Ghostcast server, so that when we got a new flock of machines, I could set one of them up the way we wanted it, run Sysprep and then make an image of the hard drive. Once I had that, I could use Ghostcast to push that image out to the other machines (the highest # of machines I ghosted at a time was 15, using a 16 port switch). It was a great solution, and if one of those machines got buggered with a virus or spyware, I could re-ghost it and have it back in service in about 25 minutes.

The downside of that is Windows XP's product code/licensing and now Windows Genuine Advantage. Every time I ghosted a machine and started the install process, it would not accept the XP license code that was on the sticker on the computer. Even if I got past that, the OS would not activate. That meant a phone call to Microsoft, waiting on hold forever and then getting the joy of trying to understand Sandeep or whoever was on duty in the call center in India. I would have to read them off a 25-digit code, then they would verify it, then they would read me back a 25-digit response code, I would verify it, punch it in and then it would activate ok. It was a colossal pain in the ass and drove me to looking for cracks and patches for XP on more than one occasion. Ultimately it got to the point where it was faster for me to install Windows from scratch, manually, and then download all the security patches and whatnot (last time I did it earlier this month, it was 54 updates worth abut 80megabytes of downloads) and then install our applications, join it to the domain and all that sort of thing. There had to be an easier way.

Fortunately there is. As I was Googling around, I came across this site who's title was Automatically Slipstream Windows XP with SP2 and All Post-SP2 Security Hotfixes with a Single Command. Sounds like just what I was looking for. On top of that, this guy Ross updates it every month after Patch Tuesday! He has a windows script/batch file that will copy all the files from your source CD, then download ALL the patches and slipstream them into the folder structure. It's a bit of manual labor/clicking, but it sure beats having to download all that crap everytime I have to do a reinstall. There's also a make file for if you have Cygwin installed to run the script, download the patches, verify the downloads using an MD5 hash, integrate them to the folder structure and then burn it to CD, all in one step. I figured I'd give that a try, I installed cygwin and it didn't work. Then I went back and reinstalled some of the packages for Cygwin, and it still didn't work. I finally gave up on Cygwin and the make script and went back to the Windows batch file, which worked. If you're a Linux command-line freak, Cygwin will probably work for you, but for me it's just one more reason why Linux just won't catch on for the mom n pops and grandmas.

The next step was to create a bootable floppy disc which, even in 2006, is still a pain in the ass and easy to screw up. I've done it before, but I couldn't remember exactly how to do it. I made about a half-dozen coasters last month trying before I "stopped and asked for directions". Enter The Elder Geek. I've been to his site both directly and ended up there from Google a few times in the past and he has good stuff there in simple, easy-to-understand steps (at least for me). His tutorial on making a bootable CD-Rom has instructions for both Roxio and Nero 6. I was using Nero 7, but the dialog boxes were close enough that I could figure it out. The reason I kept making coasters was that I had the "number of loaded sectors" set to the default of 1, and on the tutorial it says to make it 4, or they won't boot. What "number of loaded sectors" means, I have no idea and would not have thought to try and 2, 3 or 4 by trial-and-error. I burned the new image to a disc and popped it in a cow-orker's unsuspecting computer and the Windows XP autorun menu came up. Good, but I'd seen that before. I rebooted and saw the magic "Press any key to boot CD" message come up, pressed The AnyKey and saw the Windows Setup screen come up and start loading files. Woohoo! As I type, I'm making 3 more CDs so that two of us can do the install on two machines at once. Once Windows Setup finishes, there might be a few downloads left, but a few downloads is better than 80mb of downloads.

Monday, 21 August 2006 09:50:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Tech | Microsoft | WWW#
Thursday, 31 August 2006 12:58:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
For those that live in fear of batch files and the command line, there is also nLite perhaps you've heard of it already.

Seems extremely ironic to use Linux or Cygwin to create a Windows XP installation CD. ;)
Saturday, 02 September 2006 11:59:52 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
No, the irony was not lost on me. :) A friend of mine used cygwin to make the disc after trying the batch file way and got perturbed by the 30-40 dialog boxes that he had to click on to have wget/ie download all the patches. I found that running it again a month later, I only had to download a few patches, as it checks to see if the previous ones exist already.
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