Windows XP Challenges

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When Windows SP3 Lets us Down

Recently our little acer netbook running windows XP SP3 in only a 8GB static disk drive broke and wouldn’t allow us to perform updates. The computer is fast and I had tuned it to not use the very slow 8GB static drive of the acer ZG5 (acer aspire aoa 110). Normally, I wouldn’t care but Chrome wouldn’t upgrade because it required a new patch from Windows. The failure mode was the ‘blank window’ when you attempt to do a windows upgrade. There are lots of people having this problem and I haven’t found a satisfactory answer to what caused this problem. HiJackThis and my other various  tools indicated the device is working correctly and malware free. The procepxe.exe also appears to confirm that everything is in order. It is snappy but something has gone terribly wrong with the  microsoft update process.

I used sfc which is a nifty little tool to scan and verify the versions of all protected system files and all was reported well.

sfc /scannow

Here is the usage of the command:

System File Checker (sfc)

sfc [/scannow] [/scanonce] [/scanboot] [/revert] [/purgecache] [/cachesize=x]

Next I thought I would disable everything on startup via the msconfig command and reboot. Same result. At this point after reading all the various bad advice and pointers on the net, I thought I would reload the SP3 patch again and immediately ran into disk limitations because I did not have enough free space in install it. Arrh why does it always have to be so difficult with these guys?  Couldn’t they have told me this prior to the download, extract, wait for what seems like forever to tell me that they need more disk. My solution was to use the really slow compact flash D drive and execute it by hand. This is the same procedure you might perform if you wanted to speed up installing it on multiple computers in your LAN. The procedure is as follows:

  • Download SP3 patch from
  • Save it on the D drive
  • make a directory and I called mine update (mkdir d:\update)
  • extract it to the D drive with this command (windowsxp-kb936929-sp3-x86-enu.exe /d:\update)
  • run this command (d:\update\i386\Update\update.exe)

That’s it. If you share that d:\update directory in your lan you can do this from every computer. That will save you about 95% of the time it takes to perform these upgrades. In my case even on the slow 8GB static drive with this acer it was complete in about 2 mins. That is a far cry for the 40-50 mins that it normally takes to download and then do the extraction and installation.

Alas still no joy. Well kind of. IE is certainly the broken component here. The automatic update did work and I was able to perform some security updates. Google chrome was still complaining that update server not available (error: 7). Going to reports that files required to use Windows Update are no longer registered or installed on your computer. Sames message as before and clicking on the fix option provided with that message gives you a blank window. Arrhhhh.  Went to the microsoft site and found a whole slew of tools that would report, fix, repair, or whatever.  None worked.  Finally started going the direct route since a broken IE means a broke PC in their world.  How many of their active x tools do you think they use. 🙂

I reinstalled IE and it fixed some things and in the end, it was something in their war against software piracy and the ever  increasing levels of validation that blew up. It was failing on an active x office script and I don’t even have office installed nor ever have. I use open office which is completely free and works very well..  How ironic and that was the final straw for me. XP kept growing and with only 8GB, it was harder and harder to have anything else installed in the ever increasing windows XP SP3 platform.  Since all I need is chrome, I can load that on various other platforms which is what I intend to do.   I verified with the family, and they said go for it.  Given that we have two OS X users, and various linux users here  it really isn’t a huge leap of faith to make this decision.  Just in case, I made an acronis image of the XP image just in case.

Next step to load either Chrome OS or Ubuntu 10.10 netbook. Stay tuned.   I know that back track  works perfectly and I have that on USB stick so there is always that.