Your Operating System is smarter than you are…

Last week, I paid my friend Billy in Weehawken, NJ a visit, to help him with his computer troubles. Since he installed iTunes last year, his Windows Vista laptop could not access his CD/DVD drive.

Now, it often failed to power up, igniting the sytem lights and spinning the fan before abruptly powering down. It took the “three finger salute”: Ctrl-Alt-Del, to break this vicious loop and finally boot normally.
Since I had the Windows 7 Ultimate Release Candidate 1 and activation keys, I suggested he upgrade.

My experiences with Windows 7 have been quite positive, and all my business clients have avoided Vista at my advice. On the strength of my recommendation, he decided to take the plunge.

I brought a 250 GB external hard drive, intending to use DriveImage XML to image his hard drive, in case of any problem during the upgrade process. As this was his only computer, I didn’t want to risk leaving him stuck in limbo, his former operating system gone but the new one not yet in place.

But the onboard CD/DVD was offline, and the BIOS of his HP laptop recognized USB floppy and USB hard drive as boot devices, but NOT USB CD/DVD. And I had left my Ultimate Boot CD for Windows bootable USB key across the Hudson, in Manhattan.

So we figure we would trust the good folks in Redmond, and proceed with the upgrade in full faith it would succeed as planned. It took a reboot or two to realize that there was a slightly counter-logical pre-stage

  • CANCEL the upgrade, 
  • REBOOT once and then
  • RESTART the upgrade.

User account settings are captured and stored during that first phase; after that, it was the typical boring process of progress bars, check marks and the blur of files being expanded and transferred.

And then… the absolute worst case scenario occured. The pet beagle knocked out the power cable — although this was a laptop, my friend had removed the battery to cut down on a little heat, since he ran the laptop pretty much all day. So, one second the upgrade was 85% complete and the next second, the screen was black.

While Billy restored the power I smacked myself for this ridiculous oversight, and held my breath. Normally, this power crash would have rendered this computer inert, require a reformat and complete reinstall, if not completely ruined.

When we pressed the power button, instead… was the typical post-BIOS Windows boot screen, with two options. The boot option that immediately caught my eye was the second, which read “Windows 7“. I wondered: “Was it possible that we could simply pick up where we had left it?”

No, it wasn’t. But after a couple false starts, I reconsidered the boot options, and selected the first boot option: Windows Rollback. As I had hoped while holding my breath, waiting for the power to be restored, Windows after XP has gotten a lot smarter. The upgrade process left the Vista install unchanged until it was 100% complete. The rollback was so exacting, the boot cycle errors even returned.

It took another several hours, since we had to start again from the beginning. But the grill was hot, the drinks refreshing, and the upgrade completely successful. It transferred his applications, his desktop icons, even his wallpaper photo – a shot from the stage of CBGBs, back in the day.

Not all change is good, but I can attest that the Windows upgrade system has definitely improved since the days it took a stack of floppies and a lot of luck.

Now, it seems, it can even survive catastrophic user error…

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