Adventures in Slipstreaming

I had the chance to get fairly geeky back in mid February with the purchase of a new copy of Adobe Creative Suite 4. The issue was that this product was not compatible with the operating system on my Dell Vostro 1500 laptop which comes with Vista Home Basic out of the box. My options were either to downgrade to Windows XP or upgrade to Windows Vista Business. I chose the former and that’s when the ‘fun’ began …

I have a student account that lets me download certain software for free, so I used it to grab a copy of Windows XP. I loaded it on my laptop and found that it just booted from Vista rather than install XP. Keep in mind I have tried to backup my computer before with Macrium Reflect but never figured it out successfully. Faced with the dilemma of apparently not being able to install XP with Vista still on there, I went for broke and started installing XP in the C drive, overwriting the current installation.

The first issue I ran into was the SATA Drivers on my laptop – XP predates this type of hard disk driver so it doesn’t install correctly when it runs into them. I found a solution through googling on my functioning XP desktop. If you press F2 quickly as the computer boots up, it puts the computer into BIOS mode, which is a level lower than the operating system and works even when there is no operating system. If you arrow down you’ll see the option for Drivers and SATA. Hit enter and it lets you change the option from ATA to AHCI. This is compatible with XP.

I went along and got the installation page that looks like Windows XP. That’s when I ran into the i386/asms Access Denied error. This was as far as I got. From here on out it was one denial after another.

I tried to slipstream my Windows Installation CD – this means inserting the drivers that XP needs into the installation itself so it can run the computer. I followed a guide I found online – http://unattended.msfn.org/unattended.xp/. No matter how I tried, either Windows wouldn’t recognize the CD as a proper XP boot CD or it would get back to the same asms Access Denied error.

In the end, I accepted defeat and started contacting my geeky friends. It just so happened that one of them has access to Vista Business DVDs for free at his work, so I got out of having to pay the $200 or so for the OS, plus I got back full use of the laptop. Unfortunately, the data on my laptop was lost and I had to reinstall absolutely everything.

Here’s what I learned

  1. Slipstreaming=customizing an installation CD, usually by inserting necessary drivers
  2. $OEM$ is a folder that needs to include the license for Windows XP. The dollar signs mean it will be copied over to the new computer automatically. You can find a more complete guide to these folders at http://unattended.msfn.org/unattended.xp/view/web/18/
  3. There is a folder structure basic to Windows installations that also contains identifiers for the installation. All these components must be included for it to work.
  4. XP folder structure

Here’s what I did wrong

  1. Overwrote my operating system AND my data
    • I should have done something, anything, to back up my data. Luckily for me I have FTP access to both of my live websites so I was able to get a working copy from there, plus I have a repository for one of them. Still.
    • All my music and pictures were erased because they were stored in the Windows My Documents folders.
    • I have since learned that Macrium Reflect allows you to create a Linux boot CD from a restore point, which would have come in really handy had I not been able to obtain a Vista Business DVD, and it might have saved my data. Restore point=good
    • I should not have wiped Vista at the start. If I had not had another computer to google with and find solutions, I wouldn’t have even had the option to troubleshoot the issue. Lesson being NEVER do this to a primary or g*d forbid a work computer. Check out comment #8 on this forum post for an idea of the process the way it should be done.

  2. Took my chances muddling about with the command line and WOULD’VE tried to figure out the registry key if I could have created a restore point for that.
    • This would have been WAY too advanced in the sense that the only thing wrong with my laptop at this point was there was no operating system. If I had messed up the registry keys that would have been bad.
    • There’s only so much you can do to solve a problem the hard way before you should give up and go with the easy way (in my case, giving up on XP and going with the Vista Business DVD). I know I am the type that wants to figure everything out and learn which is good to a point, but when nine hours go by and you still hit the brick wall, that would be time to stop learning and fix the thing.

  3. I should have read ALL the requirements of Adobe CS4.

I realized after the fact that Adobe CS4 also requires a 1.8 gHz processor at least. My laptop has a 1.4 processor. So in the end I still couldn’t install the software on my laptop and it went on my desktop. This would be the part where I go “doh!”