Reinstalling Vista on a Toshiba laptop

I own a Toshiba convertible tablet PC: the Toshiba Portégé M400. It’s main claim to fame is that you can use a special pen-shaped stylus as an alternative to a mouse or touch pad. It is thus a laptop you can actually use efficiently on your lap that dates back to the pre-iPad days. It also has a very high resolution display: 1600×1050 pixels given its small size. This means you don’t actually see the individual pixels – which is useful if you are serious about photography: I can run Lightroom on it when traveling. Lightroom needs all the screen space it can get.

[ This posting is incidentally here for 2 reasons:

  1. A comparable posting on installing Windows 7 on an ancient Dell gets more visitors than any other page on this site. These 7+ visitors/day are apparently people searching for solutions to a comparable PC problem.
  2. I may need these notes myself if I ever need to repeat the process. ]

What went wrong

The laptop is quite reliable. In fact, believe it or not, we have owned 3 different Toshiba tablet PCs and they all behaved admirably. But in this case the copy of Windows Vista that came with the machine in December 2007 became ill. The suspect is Microsoft: the machine was running a 50$/year Microsoft anti-virus service (Microsoft Live Onecare) that protected 3 home machines. Recently Microsoft discontinued the Onecare service (after ample warning). Thus Onecare automatically tried to uninstall itself – which is reasonable because it gets the message across that once virus defintions stop coming, you are at significant risk

But this uninstall process never completed – despite reboots, running a Microsoft cleanup tool for Onecare, booting in Safe Mode, reregistering msiexec, etc. And the hung uninstallation slowed down or stopped many applications (Internet Explorer, Windows Live Main, etc). It looked like an inter-process communication service was messed up, and that’s too hard to diagnose and fix. So a reinstall of Windows was needed – if only to be sure the problem was entirely fixed.

RAID driver

The first problem in getting Windows Vista to install from a generic installation DVD was pretty fundamental. A Windows Vista Pro RTM 32-bit DVD couldn’t proceed because it didn’t know how to use the laptop’s hard disk. Apparently this is because the HDD controller depends on a special RAID driver that isn’t (or wasn’t) part of a generic 2006 Vista installation disk. So, I learned from the website of a certain Tim Heuer that I needed to download a RAID driver from Toshiba and tell the Vista installer to load the KR10I driver (from e.g. a USB stick). The driver probably got updated during later steps of the process, but this worked and got Vista running on the machine.

Repeat “install update, reboot, check for updates”

But.. that got me to the level of Vista as it looked like back in November 2006. And it lacked drivers for some of the special Toshiba hardware.

So by now, the stylus, CD/DVD, Ethernet, USB and audio were up and running. But notably not the WLAN, the “Biometric Coprocessor” (fingerprint reader) and a Mass Storage Controller was supposedly still unhappy.

Microsoft Update wanted to install 104 updates at once (including a few massive ones like Microsoft .Net 3.5). This required downloading 250 MBytes. Particularly trying to install 104 different things at once sounded rather ambitious. Indeed 26 of the updates failed. But repeating updating / rebooting / scanning for updates / updates… got the number of updates (temporarily) down to zero.

The main benefit so far was that the Intel-based WLAN now worked. The general tactic, if you want to get the updating over with, is to keep checking for updates until the stream dries up: installation of some updates tends to trigger the need for subsequent updates.

It said: “An important choice to make”

Despite having already installed Internet Explorer (version 7.0.6002.18005), Microsoft asked (at the “request” of the European Union) whether I wanted to download and install an alternative browser. As the dominant browser is currently Firefox, I decided to go with FireFox. Interestingly this got me the latest version of Firefox, although even that caused its own mini-avalance of 2 or 3 updates of its own. FireFox has its own updating tool and methodology.

Optional updates

There were 8 “optional” updates. These were essentially for hardware that Windows recognized, including audio, mass storage, WLAN, graphics, ethernet. Arguably these patches are as least as important as those that Microsoft classifies as “important”.

Vista Service Packs 1 and 2

The next episode was that Windows Update wanted to install Vista Service Pack 1 – meaning another 50 MB of download, installation and reboots. By now my laptop had progressed to the state of the art in February 2008.

This was followed by another 50 MBytes for Vista Service Pack 2 – bringing me to April 2009. Interestingly SP2 stated that it “may take an hour or more”, but it took closer to 10 minutes.

.Net 4

The next big update was 30 Mbytes to bring Microsoft .Net up the level of v4. That brought me to May 2009, or still more than a year in the past. Surprisingly the next 5 patches (30 Mbytes) were mainly fixes to Microsoft .Net version 3.5. This is presumably because .Net (which is, believe it or not, essentially an operating system running on top of Windows) allows older applications to run older versions of shared libraries. This is Microsoft’s famous solution to dilemmas about how to upgrade middleware without breaking compatibility with older software (keyword “DLL Hell”).

At this point, Windows Update no longer has more updates in store. But Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Problems and Solutions indicated that the Bluetooth, SD Flash card and power management hardware of the Toshiba laptop required updates – despite not having crashed.

Activating Vista

Activation was done using the original Product Key on the sticker at the bottom of the machine. After all, at purchase, the machine had included a copy of Windows Vista, so that was the main reason not to install Windows 7 instead. But I am pretty sure installation of Windows 7 would have been a lot faster because it would have required much fewer updates, and would have left the machine cleaner (fewer legacy files that were replaced by newer versions or alternatives).

As a colleague noted, the fact that Microsoft had demonstrably trashed my laptop might be enough to convince them to give me a free upgrade as compensation. After all, the upgrade doesn’t cost them anything.

Essential add-ons

The list of add-ons will ultimately be rather long, but here are the essentials that got installed quickly – along with the reason for the choice:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials – Microsoft’s free virus/malware scanner. It has pretty OK reviews, although there are said to be better solutions available. Onecare (its predecessor) was enough for me, despite its very nasty uninstall surprise.
  • Firefox browser – the current market leader and is actively updated (unlike Internet Explorer). It also has a lot of adjustables. I need to keep Internet Explorer installed to check whether my websites are displaying properly for the main browsers. Users of the other top browsers (Safari, Chrome, Opera) will typically have explicitly chosen to be different – so any glitches are their problem.
    • The Brief feed-reader plugin for viewing RSS feeds. Firefox itself has “Live Bookmarks” that shows the latest news – regardless of whether you have read it before.
  • Windows Live Mail beta – I actually tried out Mozilla’s Thunderbird (the sister of Firefox) but that didn’t support full Hotmail and Gmail functionality. In particular, it couldn’t handle extra folders on the server. So I went back to Windows Live Mail because it is easy to use, the successor to the e-mail client that comes with Windows Vista, integrates better with Hotmail and can send Photo Mail.

Nice to haves

  • Adobe Flash – although Apple is on a crucade to convince the world that this plug-in for browers in unreliable and evil, it is used by a lot of web sites. Notably some of the adminstration plug-ins in WordPress used it for graphs.
  • CCleaner – freeware for removing unused files and registry entries. It also removes browsing history and many cookies. Arguably whether it does any measurable good, but in theory it helps keep your system clean(er).
  • Adobe Reader – for reading PDF files. This kind of functionality should be distributed with operating systems nowadays.

Remaining issues

The driver and software for the fingerprint reader (Protector Suite QL 5.8) didn’t work well. Need to check if that is the latest version. The orignal version did run reliably – although I didn’t really use it much.

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