The other blue screen of death...

It's ME, you steely-eyed fathead !!!2008 has been a banger year wherein every kind of bizarro computer problem has happened – except they’re not really bizarro. Prior adventures included worms, trojans, and other assorted crud that necessitated the complete reinstall of Windows XP, heretofore referred to as Garbage XP.

Other subsequent adventures included replacing bad fans in aging (and not that old) power supplies, replacing power supplies, replacing dying hard drives (2), and networking issues between a handful of machines after another recent ‘issue.’

The track leading towards some unity and stability was more steady this week, and it seemed safe to continue to tackle the slow setup of an editing PC in stages. This week’s plan was to install the essentials prior to getting more RAM and a new hard drive for the new machine.

Easy, right?

Not until the power supply on the main server up and died during a mundane CD burn. The subsequent reboot resulted in a corruption whereby the only login given was for Administrator. Those having already experienced this adventure will know exactly where I’m going here.

If there never was a password, why would Garbage XP ask you for one? And if there was a password, why would Garbage XP disallow it? And if you ARE the Administrator, why would the secure account you set up with de facto Administrator privileges vanish from the login?

More importantly, why is Microsoft so impressively daft in setting up a situation where you, the Administrator, can’t access you own computer after a crash? Shouldn’t there be a workaround? Shouldn’t Garbage XP REMEMBER the password you registered?

Do a Google search for “Administrator Password Windows XP” and you’ll find very similar situations where peoples’ machines have crashed, and there’s no recourse but to reformat because some or several asses at Microsoft felt some default security feature should override what you, the OWNER of the system, shouldn’t be able to access when something critical happens to your PC – either a mundane home machine, an office workstation, or the server for a modest website.

The onus is on the owner to protect the integrity of the system so as any disaster can be confronted with some safety features. Fair enough, but it’s funny when some of them, clearly designed to work, DON’T because those bird-brains never bothered to assume that some business owners want the power and security that Garbage XP offers, but want the blasted thing to be more user friendly when disaster occurs.

One can attempt a system restore using the XP installation disc, but hey, you need that Administrator password again.

One can attempt to roll back to prior restore points, but hey, you still get that Administrator login that still refuses to acknowledge the password you REGISTERED and WAS WORKING prior to the ‘catastrophic’ shutdown.

There are a few tools people have developed, but some come with risks that ain’t worth it: a few allow one to reset the password, but that may also alter the encryption of said account, rendering data access impossible – and you can’t reset the password to its prior state.

There are also some software packages designed for data and assorted recovery, but they don’t always work. That includes even pricey ones like the former ERD Commander 2005, which Microsoft bought but has made available more or less to IT pros, probably because they figure:

a) You? Fix a password issue? You’re the average consumer we need to keep in the dark so we can keep selling flawed software (Garbage Vista) and stay in business.

b) Make the tool available? Why? Self-edification is something we find strange for the average user. Leave it to the pros.

XP is complex, but there’s no reason Microsoft can’t provide built-in tools so average businesses and websites can be self-sufficient in solving problems that, hey, seem to happen quite frequently when hardware and/or software goes bad. This is what happens when 9000 (my cheeky number) companies make all the parts in your laptop, or tower.

As my friend’s dad (an ex-long, longtime IBM man) always said, ‘It’s not if your hard drive will fail, but when.’

In my case, Garbage XP was newly installed on a new HD, and everything was swimmingly fine until the power went poofty-woofty. It’s not If your own power supply will fail, but When. It’s not If that prior Garbage XP update will corrupt, but When. It’s not If that software patch does something wonky upon installation, but When.

Funny fact: some updates between Garbage XP Service Pack 2 and Service Pack 3 suddenly start Adobe Acrobat’s installation engine. Why? Who knows, but a tiny entry at Adobe has a tech supporter more or less saying, ‘Yeah, we know about that one. We’re not sure why, but here’s a likely solution to your problem if you’re using Vista.’

Funnily, I wasn’t (nor have any plans to) use Vista, so a fair guess is the update was part of the virtuous ‘improvements’ Microsoft made for Vista, as well as slowly bringing XP closer to Vista’s wonderful features.

Naturally, this issue isn’t on (or wasn’t at the time) at Microsoft’s support site. It took you, the average user in a What-the-f**k? state, to use Google, and hope the solution lay out there with other bewildered users.

Companies need to understand problems will always happen when there’s so many brains involved in the creation of products that make up our individual and corporate computing systems. ,Providing users with free tools or tools within the framework of an operating system with easy-to-find online manuals in clear, normal English will ensure our time – the hours, days or weeks spent on baffling computer behaviour – isn’t consumed. We don’t get paid to solve these issues, so we pretty much rely on fellow users stuck in the same stinking goo that’s brought whole schedules to a halt.

To the techies and fellow users who post queries and detailed help on the net, free of charge, and free from bullshit ads, pop up windows, default Yahoo toolbars and all that ilk, you’re the best.

To the companies who don’t refine their coding, do enough testing and don’t maintain an active dialogue with users to solve problems free of assigning fault, we hate you. The whole lot of us, and may the personal PCs of hack programmers, lazy managers, reckless owners, and boneheads who designed rotten hardware that destroyed our valuable data return the favour ten-fold.

Me? I’m reformatting and reinstalling, but there will be site updates within the next 48 hours.




The reason there's an update is I found some success in (thus far) avoiding a reformat, so perhaps for those in a similar situation, where they can't gain access beyond a stubborn Administrator login, this may work. I've no time to post the results in any forum, but given this blog is well-read and crawled by numerous search engines, my experience ought to pop up in a related Google search.

These are the two scenarios where ERD Commander 2005 were applied:

HARD DRIVE #1: about a month ago the C drive became supremely wonky and crashed. Rebooting as Normal created an endless loop where XP crashed early into the first XP logo that pops onscreen, with the timer bar advancing while XP loads the main files.

I couldn't go any further in Safe Mode with network support, but I could reach the desktop in straight Safe Mode. That at least allowed the movement of files, but there was no hope in getting any further. Picking a prior System Restore point had no effect, and using the installation CD to attempt a recovery yielded a Administrator password request for a password that was "blank" (ENTER was pressed during installation).

I chose to drag out this useless drive as a test to see whether ERD was worth the risk, and to get a feel for the program prior to tackling the main hard drive affected by the power supply burnout.

- efforts to find a dump file and analyze its contents for any hints went nowhere as I couldn't find any dump file, leading one to believe that the problem may rely in a boot register.

- the system files, according to ERD's scan, were still good (which they obviously weren't, since booting into XP as normal was impossible)

- I used the Locksmith feature which allows one to reset the Administrator password. When I did this, it not only didn't work at the Administrator login, but it also made rebooting in Safe mode impossible: I now had to type in an Administrator password - and the one I just reset, again, didn't work.

HARD DRIVE #2: this was the replacement drive for the above, and the same drive that would not recognize my password no prior user account that has Administrator powers.

- ERD's scan file systems showed no ill effects from the crash due to the fried power supply.

- ERD's own version of regedit also showed the user acounts were still present. A right click on the mouse allows one to apparently reset the password of accounts, but I felt that, if the file scan was correct in finding everything stable, then it's best not to touch anything in the registry.

- the decision was made to back up all files on a clean hard drive that also contained a recent image taken by Powerquest; the goal was simple: get all the new data off before copying the older image onto the affected drive.

ERD's interface is very simple. It's a boot disc that allows one to access files, edit registry files, find prior restore points, copy files to existing hard drives, and, among other things, reset the password of the Administrator account, as well as other users.

The danger, as stated before, is maybe rendering that account inaccessible, but since I nabbed the key files onto a clean drive, there was no loss in trying a password change. Now, I noticed in my prior attempts to login as an Administrator that while the password I typed didn't work, XP kinda hung for a while, as if noting some accuracy before giving me a digital raspberry.

I reset the password to what I had retyped before, and rebooted, with the ERD CD removed from the drive. (It has to be removed in order to do a clean boot.)

The Administrator login appeared, I typed in the password, and voila! It allowed entry!

However, if, when you're using XP, you use your own user account (with administrator privileges and all), you notice the desktop image is different. That's because you're logged in as Administrator. My programs were all there, as in my normal account, but I had to do a few quick things to get the machine back to normal.

In Control Panel, I had go to Administrative Tools, then go to Computer Management. Inside there's a folder called Local Users and Groups. In the sub-folder called Users one finds all the allowed accounts. In the General tab for my regular account, I found it was marked as disabled - something XP did when the system went bad during the post-crash boot-up.

After unchecking that option, I simply logged off as Administrator, and when the machine went back to the main XP Welcome login page, there was MY login. I typed in the password, and it worked.

So here seems to be one area where ERD worked brilliantly: if the file structure is still good, it seems one can reset the password, although whether that was due to the reset clarifying what was already there is a mystery. What ERD does help with is in allowing users to move data to a safer location before trying a few things that have the potential to muck things up even further.

With Drive #1, even though the password reset didn't work and now prevented one from using Safe mode, ERD did allow me to go to that program's own desktop and menu and move data to safety.

This is a great tool that apparently isn't widely available to XP users (although variations of its features are in Vista). The new version of ERD under Windows' banner is for IT techs, and I'm grateful to Bob for coming by and supervising the whole restoration nonsense.

Can't say if it will work for someone else without any hazards, so my experience is just a case study (and being a litigious planet, I have to say I'm not responsible for anything blah-blah-blah user's own risk not mine blah-blah-blah do research before attempting anything blappity-blappity-blah always do backups before attempting any restoration work bloopity-blappity-boo).

HOWEVER, my main point is still valid: these restorative tools should be STANDARD on every operating system, and not held by an elite corps.

End of rant.

As you were.



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