Latest tricky job

Had a request from a client to ‘repair windows XP’ on his Asus laptop. He’d tried but couldn’t get his XP disk to repair the XP system. Dropped into  see him to see if it was something quick, and looked at the Asus system restore options. These are a bit heavy handed, and involve wiping the partition, which the client did not want. The problem was, it would not go out of restore mode, repeatedly booting into the restore screen. So I decided to take it back to the workshop.

First things first, I backed up all the partitions onto my  external hard drive using Ubuntu. This gives you a real peace of mind while doing this sort of job.

I was unable to get past the restore screen, so I did a fresh install of Windows XP SP3 using my slipstreamed disc, and the clients product key. When this completed I realised the results were not very attractive to the client, but did looked at what I could do to restore applications and data off the original partition. In doing this  I noticed that the recovery partition had become visible and was appearing as the C: drive, bumping the two main partitions on to E: and D:. I went back into Ubuntu, and made the recovery partition hidden, and restored the original C: drive partition back  onto the laptop.

I could now boot into windows, missing out the recovery partition. Now we could start to see the real problems!

Problems 1 was every time an application was started, a pop up window stating that the Setup engine could not install the packages came up. I found a website that gave a work around for this, involving moving the MSOffice setup directory from its usual location to the desktop. This allowed applications to start, but a similar issue still occurred when starting office applications. The client had mentioned uninstalling office and re-installing it, so I thought a re-install later would do the trick.

I reapplied the SP3 disk to the windows on the machine, and this seemed to get rid of a couple more issues. I put my XP SP3 disk in and tried a repair from within windows, but the install kept giving errors on two missing files (AJTW81f4.sys and a1dnqr5x.sys). So, rebooted with the disk in the machine, and tried to do an repair from their. This now worked (under duress). The reason the client could not do this was because his XP had had service packs applied, but his XP disk was the original disk. It was a hard install, as it needed graphics drivers for which I did not have the disks, and even when I supplied them, it went around the loop asking for them several times. But after two hours the repair seemed to work OK.

Back into windows, and allow all the latest updates come down from Microsoft, including updating to IE8, without which it would not get past an error message along the lines of “The requested lookup key was not found in any active activation context”.

Next day I got a call saying that he could not re-install Office 2007, which I should have expected. When I got the laptop back, I realised that Office 2007 was in a bit of a state, most of it not being present, but some of it still hanging around, including the Office Setup Engine (OSE) service, which had a description in Thai! The client later told me that one of the versions of office he tried to install was a Thai version.

So I removed the OSE service, and found a knowledge base article on how to manually remove Office 2007. This involved deleting many files, directories, and about 150 registry entries. But when completed, Office 2007 installed correctly.

All together, the laptop  has on for about 4 hours while I did this work, and I spent a lot of thta time waiting for things to fail. But persistence paid off yet again!

Update  13/01/2010. Yesterday the laptop came back again with four problems. I should have gone with blowing it away and starting again.

1. Flash player would not update. Solution, uninstall IE8, uninstall flash player, re-install flash player, and re-install IE8.

2. HP drivers would not install. Solution, completely uninstall existing drivers using two utilities from HP, and the Windows Installer Cleanup utility. I then installed drivers for another HP printer and uninstalled them fully, and the drivers would still not install from CD (missing file HPZPRL01.exe). Tried from the hard drive, and they installed fine.

3. Nero would not install. Did a full uninstall of the old Nero, and was able to install a version of Nero I had lying around, and uninstall it. So clients version should install.

4. There is continuous internet activity when the laptop is connected, even though no programs, browsers etc are running. Downloaded a tool called TCPView, which showed a program called SearchSpiderSvc.exe doing a lot of external stuff. Looked it up on the web, seemed to be part of Gnutella, which is the engine behind Limewire, and as the client had ‘un-installed’ Limewire, SpiderSearchSvc bit the dust.  Result – normal activity on the network.

The HP fix above did not work, and finally I figured out that the drivers for my HP1500 were a more up to date version of the drivers for the HP2310, and installed correctly on windows XP SP3, so I put them on, connected up the printer at the clients premises, and lo and behold, a working printer at last.

My income on this job is about $2 an hour for the hours I spent on it, but I have learnt a lot about persistence, XP, Office, HP, network tracing and all sorts of stuff, so I think I have a win really!

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