Technology Thoughts

Windows Vista Installation Experience…

We now have a fair collection of both 32bit and 64bit Windows Vista installations at work, with Vista Home Premium and Vista Business on laptops, and Vista Business on desktops. However today, for the first time, I came to install Vista from scratch onto a pre-existing machine which had been shipped with Windows XP.

My first observation is that the help text during the Installer from the DVD renders bullet points as Unicode ‘character not present in font‘ boxes. I know that this was the case with the Beta and even the initial release – but you’d have thought that they’d fix something simply like this by now…

Despite already being Vista SP1, there was still hundreds of megabytes in some 74-odd updates which were marked as “Important” and that Windows Update wanted to install. I set this going, after about an hour these had been pulled-down and installed. Windows wanted to reboot, at which point it took at least another thirty minutes saying that it was ‘Configuring updates‘. The machine rebooted, and a similar amount of time passed as it completed some further installation steps – whereupon it then informed me that “Updates were not configured correctly. Reverting changes.“… for about an hour. During this entire period, the machine could not be used. A further reboot and another “Configuring Updates” of less then five minutes, and I’m finally back to where I was before on the desktop – in what must now be two hours since it was last usable.

Going back in to Windows Update, the only remaining update – possibly the culprit? – appears to be “Update for Windows Vista (KB55430)“, an ‘Important‘ update. The Knowledge Base article for this update details no problems or fixes, simply that “This update is necessary to successfully install and to remove Windows Vista SP2 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 on all versions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. This update is not necessary to successfully install the service pack if you install the full file version of the service pack.“.

… so, after all of this time, I’ve been waiting for an update which isn’t actually necessary, and which only enables the installation of some as-yet unreleased software, to fail to install!

Update: On re-checking for updates, there are actually 41 updates outstanding totalling another 200Mb of data to download. Update 55430 now seems to have disappeared, and the prominent “Search” box at the top of the window actually searches for ‘Control Panel’ applets rather than for items within the list being displayed. On returning to the Windows Update applet, the “View available updates” button (which is styled to look like a hyperlink) no longer works – it underlines when hovered over, but no amount of clicking elicits a response.

Whilst attempting to fix it by running the “Check for updates” again, a new task-bar button appears. Clicking on it, a requester pops up telling me that Terminal Services has crashed. I choose to “Check online for a solution” and the requester disappears, never to be heard from again. It does not provide any online solutions, nor even open a browser window.

At least after re-loading the Windows Update applet, the “View available updates” button/link now works. Update 55430 is definitely not there. I decide to install the lot anyway, and on clicking “Install” am told that “An unidentified program wants to access your computer“, and that “Windows Update” is from an “Unidentified Publisher“.

I realise that Windows 7 is just around the corner, but has anyone at Microsoft actually tested their current OS from a usability perspective? None of these problems are show-stoppers, and they’re likely one-time installation issues and indeed largely cosmetic… but at the same time, they seem to indicate a general lack of attention – pretty unforgivable in the Business build of the OS.

4 replies on “Windows Vista Installation Experience…”

So it’s now 17:35, almost 4 hours after I published this post. In that time the Windows Update process has run through three times, and failed each time. I tried again without changing anything. I then installed the one remaining update (which succeeded), checked for updates, and tried again. Same result, except this time it says that the system is up to date on reboot before finding forty updates when “Check for updates” is chosen. I then selected fewer updates and tried again.

The problem is that, because Vista rolls back all updates when one fails, it marks all as being unsuccessful – so there’s no way to tell which of these hasn’t worked. Additionally, there’s no way to tell which updates will require a reboot and which won’t.

Because of this, it looks as if the only way to update this machine will be to install every single update individually, rebooting after each if prompted. This way, I’ll eventually hopefully find one update which doesn’t work.


Hang on – Windows Update has by default selected both an IE7 cumulative patch and IE8 to install at the same time, as “Important” updates.

The update system couldn’t possibly be that stupid as to try to install IE8 and then attempt to patch IE7, could it?

Nope – even without the IE7 update, the process fails. I think I’ll give it one last try without IE8, and if that fails I’ll try something else. I wonder if it might work if I let Windows Update run automatically in the background rather than manually accessing Windows Update myself?

(Strangely, after each failed update and roll-back, a different update seems to be listed as the one remaining update required until “Check for updates” is selected. Bug or something that is actually indicative of the problem… who knows?)

The shear amount of time spent rolling back updates take vividly demonstrates how Microsoft urgently need to add snapshot support pervasively throughout the OS – they have a system called Volume Shadow Copies, but don’t appear to be using it. This may be because Shadow Copies work at the device-level rather than the file-level, and so they have no mechanism to split Windows Update changes from user data changes.

(Two solutions to this: Windows supports the mounting of one filesystem upon another: mandate that system, application, and user data are all stored on seperate partitions, and transparently manage snapshots for each automatically. Alternatively, create a snapshot after all user-space applications have terminates but before applying updates)

The other alternative, of course, is that Windows Update is making use of Volume Shadow Copies, and that it is unusably slow… I have Vista on a 30Gb partition with 13.5Gb of space remaining (which does mean that a basic Vista install is over 16Gb in size!), so free space shouldn’t be an issue.

Microsoft state that Volume Shadow Copies are unavailable in Vista Home or Home Premium, but at the same time that “System Restore” makes use of it. Perhaps in the former cases it just isn’t user-accessible?

Well, there we go. After almost exactly 24 hours, this new copy of Vista is finally up-to-date. I eventually got the updates to install by installing the IE7 update, then the System Updates, then the Updates, then the Optional Updates, and finally IE8.

This has, eventually, worked.

But why did it have to be this difficult?

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