my adventure in upgrading to Windows XP

19 02 2008

This past weekend I decided to upgrade my home computer from Windows 2000 to XP Professional.  I had put this off for a while now (obviously), because I didn’t need it, and I had 2000 customized to be stable and efficient.  But now two of the programs I need to use require XP, and I couldn’t find a way around that (unlike some programs, which claim to need XP but really run fine on 2000, since they are very similar).  This upgrade should have been simple, but there were some unique, unexpected circumstances that made this very complicated.

Before I explain what happened, let me add that I’ve had my own computer for over 15 years, and I’ve been a professional programmer for over 10 years, so I know what I’m doing.  I’ve done quite a few upgrades and fixed a number of things manually before, so it doesn’t scare me to “get under the hood” of an OS (Operating System).  But this latest upgrade really threw me for a loop.  (It also explains why I haven’t posted in a few days.)

Before my upgrade, I backed up the files that were new or modified since my last backup.  (You should always do backups before any major upgrade, and really, backups should be done on a regular basis if you have anything you wouldn’t want to lose.)  So after the backup, I started the upgrade to XP.  I was really hoping to not have to reinstall all my programs, and the XP upgrade suggested that I wouldn’t have to.

The night I started the upgrade, it was stormy outside.  I was aware of this, but not concerned.  The power hasn’t been out for an extended time in the four-plus years I’ve lived here, because our power lines are underground.  Also, I have a nice UPS with AVR, so even if the power blinked, I would be okay.  But as you might have guessed already, the power went out and stayed out for about an hour, and my UPS didn’t last that long.  Also, the install was delayed because of a request for a certain driver for my hard drive.  Here’s my first mini-rant about Microsoft — the RAID/SCSI driver for my SATA hard drive is loaded by the BIOS (when the computer turns on), and obviously XP could read and write to my hard drive, because it was doing the install.  I couldn’t find the disk at first for it, so I skipped it.

After the power came back on, I booted up my computer, wondering what to expect.  The initial chkdsk (check disk) revealed that some files and registry entries needed to be cleaned up, which is something to be concerned about.  The XP upgrade started over, and seemed okay.  Again, it asked for that driver for my hard drive, but I skipped it because I didn’t have it.  Then the upgrade failed on 13 files, saying it couldn’t copy them.  The installation continued and finished successfully (supposedly).  But upon reboot, XP would “blue screen” before getting in, even in safe mode.  It turns out that it requires that driver for my hard drive, even though it installed the upgrade without it.  I finally figured out how to get that loaded without reinstalling the upgrade.

I was concerned about the 13 files that wouldn’t copy, though.  I thought that the power outage had caused some bad sectors on my hard drive (which is less than a year old).  I ran some scans, which didn’t find anything.  So I started applying the security patches.  When I got to Service Pack 2 (SP2), it would load about halfway and then fail, saying, “An error occurred while copying file dataspec.xml”.  Then the next error said, “The filename, directory name, or volume label syntax is incorrect”.  I was afraid this was due to bad sectors, so I ran a full disk scan, using both Windows tools and Western Digital’s Data Lifeguard Diagnostic software.  Neither found any problems.  I tried different methods of running the SP2 patch, but it always failed in this same spot.  So it would uninstall what it had done, then give me a message of “Windows XP has been partially updated and may not work properly”.  That’s really comforting…

I researched the situation online, figuring someone else has had this problem before, but none of the solutions worked.  I happened to notice that one person said the upgrade from Windows 2000 to XP can damage the “Help and Support” tools (and that this can also happen when upgrading to Windows 2003 Server).  Then I realized some of the files that had failed to load were related to that.  Then I learned that the dataspec.xml is related to the “Help and Support” tools, in that it’s stored inside the PCHealth subfolder in the WINNT directory.  Here’s where I see a glimmer of hope in fixing this situation, and simultaneously I grow more frustrated with Microsoft for having such a bug in the XP upgrade (which also prevents SP2 from loading).  You’d think Microsoft would’ve learned of this and documented it.  Maybe they have, but I searched all over their site for info on this and found nothing.

I tried to manually load the PCHealth files (which includes msconfig.exe and HelpCtr.exe), but Windows Explorer couldn’t find the PCHealth folder.  I couldn’t create the folder, because Explorer said it already exists.  But it didn’t show up, even when showing all hidden and system files.  So I went to DOS (Command Prompt), and it was listed there, but if I tried to go into it (using the “cd” command), it said the directory is invalid.  Obviously bad things have happened.  But I was able to delete the directory from the Command Prompt.  (And on a side note, who says knowing DOS commands is obsolete?!?)

After I got the corrupted PCHealth folder deleted, I reinstalled it using the pchealth.inf file and letting it copy the files from the CD.  Then after rebooting to let the registry update and the service start naturally, it worked fine.  Then the SP2 upgrade also worked correctly.

And so I spent many hours thinking my hard drive might have become corrupted or damaged because of the power outage while it was in use, but the reason XP and SP2 weren’t loading correctly was because of a bug in the upgrade process.  But at least my frustration with Microsoft is overshadowed at the moment by the excitement of having figured this out and fixed my computer.

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