Thursday, February 08, 2007

held for ransom by Vista

I attended an MSDN event here in Dayton last fall, where I was given a beta CD of Vista. I finally got around to putting it on my Windows partition last month. The install went pretty smoothly - it had an option to upgrade the XP partition, preserving the applications and data already present.

I didn't really play with it long enough to form a firm opinion on Vista, but the experiment ended rather badly. Vista popped up a window telling me that the trial period had expired, and it was time to pay up. I had to go to work at that point, so I shut down the machine, brought it into the office, and booted it up again. Then, the "trial period expired" window and a browser window - supplied so that I could buy a license at the MS site - were the only functionality that Vista would enable.
I couldn't go to my desktop, Windows Explorer, a command prompt, or anything that would enable me to access my hard drive. Files that I had created under my paid-for XP were now inaccessible to me; no way was provided to copy them off before reinstalling XP. My hard disk was, in essence, being held hostage; paying for a Vista licence was the ransom.

I tried to reinstall XP from its CD while preserving the data on the partition, but I got some frightening error messages in the process and aborted before risking the whole partition.

This could have been a serious crisis, but for two things -
  • I do all my real work on the Linux partition, and didn't really have anything to preserve from the Windows side. I just wanted to take a look around to verify that.
  • The Windows NTFS partition was perfectly accessible from Ubuntu, so I copied what I needed that way - didn't even need a thumb drive, just dragged icons onto the Ubuntu desktop. Hooray! I hadn't realized that read-only access to NTFS was so foolproof from Linux.
But what if I hadn't been a Linux freak? This could have been a real sackcloth-and-ashes event.

[If it hadn't been a dual-boot machine, I think I could have accomplished the same thing with an Ubuntu install CD, booting from it and copying the files to a USB drive.]

I don't think MS planned it this way. They just failed to plan a soft landing for their software's trial period ending. I'll remember that next time I play with a demo.


Bill Wagner said...

There is a way to get your data off your disk:

Boot from DVD using the original disk, and enter ErrorRecovery mode. At that point, you can usually enter SafeMode, and you can get at the files on your disk and get everything of the hard drive.

Caveats: I've only tried this using other Vista DVDs, or previous times when I've had very serious OS crashes. I've not tried it for a time bomb issue, but I'd imagine it would work the same.

Justin said...

Oh geez... even the "fix" is complicated. Go Microsoft!