Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Questions and answers relating to installing or reinstalling Windows.

Can I burn the I386 folder to a CD and use that as an install CD?

The I386 folder usually contains a copy of the files used to install Windows in the first place. You can often use it to reinstall Windows.

Can I clone everything on my hard drive except the operating system?

Cloning a hard drive, by definition, copies everything on it. There is a better option for upgrading which includes a clean installation of the new operating system.

Can I convert my XP computer to Windows 7?

Many XP machines have enough power to safely run Windows 7, but there is no realistic 'upgrade' or 'conversion' path.

Can I delete old versions of software?

Sometimes old software will not be removed from your machine. You can clean them up but there's always risk. We'll look at how to minimize that risk.

Can I install Windows XP on a machine that comes with Windows 8?

If you can find a copy of XP, and if you can find drivers for the new hardware it's possible that it may work okay.

Can I install Windows XP using one manufacturer's CD on a different pc?

Installing Windows XP using one manufacturer's CD on a different manufacturer's PC might sometimes work but it's not guaranteed at all.

Can I install my copy of Windows 7 into a virtual machine running that same copy?

Can you re-install a copy of Windows 7 into a virtual machine on the same computer? There is only one way to tell.

Can I reinstall Windows XP after installing this non-genuine copy of Windows 7?

You can't remove a Windows operating system, but it is possible (and good practice) to reformat a hard drive and reinstall from scratch.

Can I remove the "ServicePackFiles" folder from my Windows folder?

ServicePackFiles contains the files updated by the Service Packs issues since your install. It can be deleted if you have the files elsewhere.

Can I run Windows XP on my new computer with Windows 7?

Virtual machines allow you to run multiple operating systems on one computer. There are several software packages that will help you get started.

Can I switch from Windows Vista back to XP?

Windows Vista comes preinstalled on most new computers these days. You can typically revert to Windows XP if you like, but not without a little pain.

Can I upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7 by upgrading to Windows Vista first?

There's no direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7, but upgrading to Windows Vista first works, in theory. In practice? It's risky.

Can I use this other Windows XP Setup Disk on a different computer?

It's certainly worth a try, but there are a few possibilities that may cause it to fail.

Can a recovery partition be infected?

A recovery partition is often just another visible area on your hard drive, and is at risk for several types of issues including malware infections.

Do I need to have Windows XP SP1 installed before I install SP2?

There is no need to have Windows XP SP1 before you install SP2.

Do I want 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?

When installing or upgrading to the latest version of Windows, one of the first decisions is 32-bit or 64-bit? I'll look at which you should choose.

Does Windows 7's uninstall have a problem? I can't uninstall AVG.

Windows 7 uninstall works just fine. There may be other issues with that specific program and several troubleshooting steps to try.

Does running Windows in a virtual machine protect me from viruses?

Virtual machines are powerful tools that used properly can provide a safe and secure sandbox - used improperly they're as vulnerable as anything else.

Firefox crashes and I can't uninstall it, how do I get it to work?

Problems with a program that won't install can be tricky. It's important to capture the exact wording of any error messages you are receiving.

Have problems with SP3 been resolved and is it now safe to install XP SP3?

Windows XP SP3, like all service packs, caused problems on a small number of machines. We'll look at where those came from and what to do.

How and where can I get a copy of Windows XP?

Windows XP is no longer being officially sold by Microsoft. There are copies available, but you need to be careful.

How can I get another activation code without paying for another CD?

If you lose your activation code you may get help from the product manufacturer if you can prove you have a legitimate copy. That may not be easy.

How do I 'legalize' my Windows XP Installation?

To 'legalize' your Windows XP Installation, simply install a legal copy over your old copy.

How do I UNinstall a program that's not in the add/remove list?

Any program of even moderate complexity should include an uninstaller. If one does not, uninstalling can range from trivial to downright scary.

How do I avoid re-installing all the Windows updates each time I reinstall Windows?

Windows is constantly being updated, and that means that after you've installed from CD there's a lot to download. We'll look at a few alternatives.

How do I block Windows XP Service Pack 3?

Windows XP Service Pack 3 is relatively stable for most people. If you have issues you may want to block Windows Update from installing SP3.

How do I check the version of XP Service Pack 2 installed on my PC?

How do I clean up after free software made a mess of my machine?

Occasionally software, particularly free software, will install a lot more than just itself. Cleaning up from such a mess can be quite the undertaking.

How do I create a Windows XP SP3 "slipstream" disc?

I found myself in need of a real Windows XP + SP3 installation CD. I'll walk you through the process to create one from a pre-SP3 installation CD.

How do I create a bootable Windows XP CD using BartPE?

Windows can't just make a bootable CD but BartPE's PE Builder will use your install disc to create a very useful, bootable, Windows utility CD.

How do I delete Windows.old? Can I delete windows.old?

Windows.old is a collection of files preserved from a previous Windows installation when you upgrade. I'll look at how best to deal with Windows.old.

How do I downgrade from Windows 7 Enterprise Edition to the Home Edition?

Downgrading is not as simple as upgrading. You will need to reformat and reinstall from your original disc.

How do I enter my product key if I can't read it from the sticker on my machine?

When the Windows sticker becomes worn it is hard to read the product key. There is software to retrieve it from the installation, but that may not help.

How do I find the product key that was used to install my system or application?

Product keys are used to activate or enable a purchased application. You can often find product keys used on your machine with a special application.

How do I get Windows XP SP3 on CD?

Windows XP SP3 is releasing. If you're on dial-up, or have many machines, you may want to wait for the Network Install or for a CD to be available.

How do I get access to a second-hand PC that's password protected?

Getting into that old computer is probably not a good idea. Better to start from scratch.

How do I get access to system information and other things I can't on this machine I've received?

There are ways to gain administrator access to a used machine, but fully cleaning that computer is still your best bet.

How do I get rid of the accounts created by the store from which I purchased my new machine?

When purchasing a new machine, not only are you entitled to a clean software install, but it's critical for your security.

How do I get the free Windows XP SP3 download to install? And do I really need it?

Windows XP SP3 can occasionally have install problems. I'll look at steps to take to make it work since it'll soon be required for continued support.

How do I get the password for a computer I purchased at a garage sale?

It's not difficult at all to gain access to a used computer running Windows without knowing the password. You just don't want to.

How do I install SP2 if I get "Access Denied" or some other failure when I try?

Installing SP2 can fail for a few different reasons. "Access Denied" might be fixable, or might require more aggressive measures to install SP2.

How do I install programs if I'm not the administrator of the computer?

Many programs require that you be administrator in order to install. If you're not, you have few options. Most boil down to: be the administrator.

How do I know what programs are safe to uninstall?

A look at the add/remove list in Windows Control Panel presents a long list of sometimes confusing entries. I'll look at how to evaluate what's there.

How do I make a Windows XP boot disk?

Unfortunately you can't just "make a boot disk", but there are approaches that will allow you to boot from CD to access the contents of your hard disk.

How do I monitor what changes in my registry?

One part of most program's installation process is modifying and updating the registry. It is possible to see exactly what was touched in the registry.

How do I recover a corrupt system file if my Windows was pre-installed?

Pre-installed copies of Windows often come without an installation CD, which makes some types of recovery difficult, and occasionally even impossible.

How do I reformat and reinstall Windows?

Sometimes the best approach to resolving an issue, be it a virus or simply software rot, is reformat and reinstall. We'll review the steps.

How do I reinstall Windows without a CD drive?

Recovering a laptop with no CD drive or installation media is tricky, but not impossible. I explore several options to get that laptop up and running again.

How do I repair Windows 7 with a re-install?

Windows 7 has no explicit repair option when installing, but if a few criteria are met, there is a way to repair Windows 7.

How do I restore my computer back to Windows XP?

After a series of operating system changes, the your options for a true "restore" are limited, and usually involve a reinstall instead.

How do I tell Windows where my I386 folder has moved?

You can move the I386 folder, but in order to keep Windows File Protection happy, you'll need to update a registry key as well.

How do I uninstall this program from a used machine?

Used machines often bring with them issues like password-protected installations. Unfortunately, that's not the only thing that they might bring.

How do I upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows?

If you have a 64-bit capable machine, you may want to upgrade from 32-bit Windows to 64. Unfortunately, the upgrade, while quite possible, isn't easy.

How do I use recovery disks on an empty hard drive?

Recovery disks, once you boot from them, are designed to restore your machine to factory-new condition. Whether they can depends on their assumptions.

How do i completely restore my computer?

To completely restore your computer you'll need a good backup, your installation media, and some time. I'll walk you through the restore process .

How many failed product key attempts do I get before I have to call Microsoft to install Windows?

Your product key must be entered when you install Windows, and can be wrong as many times as you like. Activation happens separately and later.

I accidentally deleted all my drivers, now what do I do?

Deleting your drivers is not good! Time to get out that installation media.

I can't activate Windows and I can't access my data. What do I do?

We can (probably) recover those files, but... your data is only in one place and you've run the risk of losing everything for a very long time!

I get a blue screen when setting up Windows XP. What do I do?

Problems installing XP's service pack 3 could be coming from either hardware or software. Getting that machine cleaned up is the first step.

I have no CD - how do I get at Windows XP setup?

If you don't have your Windows installation CD there are still a few things you can do. If you have an image of your CD, you may be able to do more.

I'm having trouble getting access to a second hand machine. What can I do?

There is no way to rename the administrator account. Windows doesn't work that way.

If I move a hard disk from my old machine to my new one, can I just run my old applications from it?

Moving data from an old machine to a new is relatively easy. Moving programs to your new machine typically requires a reinstall of the application.

If I reinstall Windows will I lose Microsoft Office?

A full reinstall wipes everything from the disk and starts the operating system over from scratch. As always, planning ahead will save you a lot of grief!

If I replace my hard drive will I lose my ability to restore to original settings?

Harddrives often contain more than you think. Replacing or losing one may also cause system recovery information to be lost as well.

If deleted files remain in the Recycle Bin has any disk space been freed?

Deleting program files (including games) is not a good way to remove a program from your computer. It needs to be done properly.

If my Windows XP is not genuine, can I download an older version for free?

It's tempting to pirate an older version of Windows to replace an illegal copy of a current version. Unfortunately, it's likely just as illegal.

Is a backup an alternative to having no Windows installation CDs?

If you've received a new machine without installation media, and you can't get installation media, an immediate full backup can be an alternative.

Is there a way to move an .exe file from an old drive?

Your operating system typically requires more than just an .exe file to run a program; it needs to be installed correctly. Installing programs correctly may also provide necessary updates.

Just what service packs do I need?

SP2 or SP3 for Windows XP? SP1 or SP2 for Vista? For now, at least, which one do you need, and will that last? I'll look at the confusing combinations.

My computer logs out immediately on login, what do I do?

If you're logged out as soon as you log in to Windows it's likely that your anti-malware tools removed an infection along with your ability to login.

My computer won't boot and I'm being advised to reformat, but that will erase my data. What do I do?

If you can't boot your computer, that's a problem that may only be resolved by reinstalling the operating system.

Should I Install SP2? (Windows XP Service Pack 2)

You should install Windows Service Pack 2, but there are a few steps to take before you do.

Should I Install Windows XP SP3?

Windows XP SP3 (Service Pack 3) is on the horizon. We look at what we can expect from it, and what you might do when it arrives.

Should I upgrade from Windows 98/Me?

Windows 98 and Me are no longer being supported. If you're having problems it might be time to upgrade. Perhaps even if you're not having problems.

What do I do if my machine didn't include installation or driver disks?

Manufacturers sometimes skimp on including installation or driver discs when a system comes preinstalled. I'll review options, and what you should do.

What do I need to set up using my Windows XP virtual machine software?

Virtual machine software is incredibly powerful, but hard to conceptualize. Viewing a VM as a separate machine can make certain issues clearer.

What does a recovery CD recover?

The term "recovery CD" is somewhat ambiguous as there are several different possibilities. I'll review some of the options.

What happens to my recovery partition when I upgrade Windows?

Recovery partitions are created not by Windows or Microsoft, but by computer manufacturers. As a result they rarely get upgraded when Windows does.

What is "Windows.old" and can I delete it?

Windows Setup may leave the prior installation of Windows on your hard disk as a backup safety measure. I'll discuss and then delete it.

What is Windows 7's "Windows XP Mode"? (And can I use it to get Outlook Express back?)

Windows 7 Professional and above include "Windows XP" mode. If you have programs that don't work or aren't available in Windows 7, XP Mode may help.

What is the .NET Framework, and do I need all these versions?

.NET framework is an important support library for many programs. Unfortunately, its versioning and updating leave a lot to be desired.

What is the Recovery Console, and how do I get at it?

The Windows Recovery Console is an advanced repair tool that can in some cases help you to repair and recover from certain types of system problems.

What should I back up before reformatting?

Reformatting a machine is a major operation that starts by erasing everything. Having a good backup is critical to preserving your data.

What software should I install first?

When setting up a new computer, there are a few things that everyone should do and install first. I'll review my fairly short list.

What's my upgrade path for a machine running Windows 2000?

It's not so much the operating system version that you're running that matters in this kind of an upgrade. It really depends on the power of the hardware that operating system is running on.

What's on your machine?

A rundown on the software that I installed and the order in which I installed it in the first month of using a new laptop.

What's the best way to clear my hard drive of everything but the operating system?

It's impractical to try and erase everything on a hard drive except the operating system. Fortunately, there is an better solution.

What's the best way to revert from Windows Vista to run applications that don't work?

Windows Vista can have trouble running some applications. There are several options for running Windows XP, from a re-install to virtual machines.

What's the difference between a recovery disk and an installation disk?

Computers with pre-installed operating systems often include a recovery disk. Unfortunately, you might find out too late that's not what you need.

What's the difference between an upgrade and an upgrade?

With all the different versions of Windows it's easy to get confused, particularly when the term "upgrade" can actually mean two different things.

Where can I download Windows XP?

Windows XP can probably be downloaded from illegal file sharing sites, but a) that's illegal and b) there's no product key. There's one alternative.

Where can I find a missing Windows file?

It is often possible to locate missing Windows files elsewhere on your hard disk, but when all else fails they can be found on your installation media.

Why are reboots required on some system updates?

When Windows updates itself it's subject to many of the same rules other software is. One rule: you can't make changes to running software.

Why do some programs show up on the Add/Remove Programs list and not others?

Add/Remove programs is a database entry that should be completed when a program is installed on your computer. If not, you need another way to uninstall.

Why does installing from scratch take so long? Isn't there a better way?

Installing Windows from scratch, particularly an older version, can take some time. I'll look at why it's fairly inevitable, and one trick you might use.

Why isn't my product key from one machine recognized using the installation CD from another?

If you've lost your original product installation product key for Windows XP you may be out of luck. There are a few work-arounds you might try

Why would I lose all the data on my hard drive after a Windows reinstallation?

Reformatting and reinstalling an operating system will, by the very nature of "reformat," erase all the data on your computer. Yes, everything will be erased. You will need to backup.

Will I need to install drivers after reinstalling Windows?

Windows comes complete with an extensive set of drivers that will get your machine running, but you may need more to enable your hardware's features.

Will SP2 Crash my machine?

The chances of SP2 crashing your machine is low, but here are a few precautions to take before installing that will help you avoid a potential crash.

Will agreeing to this uninstall error break my computer?

Sometimes, it's difficult to tell what kind of components are shared by installed programs, so it is wise to be cautious.

Will installing SP2 report an illegal Windows installation?

Installing SP2 won't necessarily report an illegal Windows installation.

Will my backup work if I replace my motherboard?

Replacing a motherboard may require a reinstall, a repair install, or you might get lucky and it'll just work.

Will my machine stop working if it's determined to be an illegal copy of Windows?

It is critical that Windows is able to keep itself updated, even if that means verifying your installation with Microsoft.

Will reinstalling Windows too often trip up Windows Product Activation?

Windows Product Activation, or WPA, is an anti-piracy measure that tries to ensure a product is only installed legitimately. But what does that mean?

Windows XP SP3 is releasing, should I install it?

Windows XP SP3 is about to be released. Should you jump on the bandwagon immediately and install it? That depends on your tolerance for risk.