How (Not) to Install Windows XP in 2012

How (Not) To Install Windows XPI spent nearly all of Wednesday installing Windows XP — yes, Windows XP — to a faster laptop than the one I’m typing this one on for purposes that… well, let’s just say I’m in the process of facilitating my writing process and installing a copy of XP on that laptop is a necessary part of my goal. I doubt anyone wants to know all the dirty details about why I still want to run an operating system that is three generations old and losing its relevancy with each passing hour. Suffice it to say that I spent way too much valuable time installing Windows XP Professional and never want to have to go through the process again. It’s 2012 — XP was released about twelve years ago — and I’m going to tell you what I’d do differently should I ever need to install Windows XP again.

Installing an operating system — particularly an older operating system such as XP — takes a long time if you are installing from an OEM installation disc (which is what I did). Since I no longer have the original restore disc that came with my laptop, I spent a good amount of time digging through the manufacturer’s website and downloading and installing the laptop’s drivers. In addition, I was required to download and install Microsoft’s .NET framework in order to install software that the laptop’s manufacturer recommends in order to keep the machine’s drivers up to date. I’ll admit that that particular piece of software wasn’t a necessary step in the process, but I included it because I wanted to make my laptop operate as it did when I first unpacked the machine a few years ago.

But the main exercise that takes up so much time re-installing Windows XP (in 2012, at least) is the avalanche of security updates you need to install that are necessary for keeping your computer running the way you want it to: capably and securely. This requires a steady monitoring of your system as you install updates and service packs, as every once in awhile Windows will prompt you to restart your system so as to ensure the latest updates get properly installed. Once rebooted, Windows will again check for updates and there will inevitably be another one you’ll need to install, and again your computer will eventually prompt you to reboot. Update and reboot, update and reboot. (Come to think of it now, I could have probably saved a great deal of time by simply downloading Service Pack 3 and going from there. Oh, well.)

Throughout the day I was busy multitasking: taking care of household chores, attending to LockerGnome activities, moving a WordPress blog from one server to another…and returning to the laptop to see if I needed to reboot again. The hours ticked by. At last I found my laptop heavy and satisfied with an installation of Windows XP Professional that no longer beckoned for critical updates. My system was ready for action.

Once my system was fully ready for action I began to consider all the ways I could muck it up. Simply connecting it to the Internet and surfing the wrong website(s) could infect it with a virus, and though many infections might be resolved with a quick virus scan, there are extreme cases where the only way I would be able to return my system to its now-capable and secure state would be to re-install the operating system. That’s right: I would have to do all this over again.

That’s when I realized that I don’t ever want to spend a day installing Windows XP again. Not on this laptop, anyway. Next time I will be better prepared. Next time I’ll install from a disc image.

A disc image (also known by other terms including a cloned image or a ghosted image) is something you make to better prepare yourself for days such as I had on Wednesday. Rather than take the chance that I would quickly infect my computer, I decided I would make a disc image of my system in its now-pristine state so that I would always have the ability to restore the laptop to its end-of-a-long-installation-process status. What imaging does is clone (or image, or take a snapshot of) your entire disk (or a partition on the disk) and save it to another disk (or DVD-ROM, CD-ROM or USB drive) so that you’ll have a backup to restore from in case you should ever require it. No more spending an entire day installing Windows XP from scratch — simply boot from the backup image, start installing to your drive and — voila! — your system is returned to its infancy. (Perhaps adolescence is a better term to use, since you’re restoring your computer to a state in which it is able to walk and talk and perform a few tricks. It’ll still have a lot to learn, however, and you’ll still need to re-install any applications you’ve installed since that initial installation of Windows.)

Thing is, I’m not sure I’ve ever imaged a Windows disk (or partition) before. I’ve used ghosted images at work, and I regularly use an application called SuperDuper! to clone my Mac systems. It’s not a complicated process, once you get the gist of it. Yet when it comes to Windows, I feel like a babe in the woods. Where do I start? Do I use the classic imaging applications I’ve long been aware of, such as Norton Ghost or one of the Acronis solutions? Is storing my image on a virtual server better than doing so on a physical drive? How much would all this cost? Are there reliable free solutions?

Over the weekend I will be using two or three different imaging solutions for Windows XP. Since I’m absolutely driven by economy, I will only be using free and entirely legal software. I’ve already tested one of EaseUS‘s free solutions without success but I’ll be digging around to find out why I’m having problems with the software. I’ve also downloaded the free and open source Clonezilla, which I’ll be burning to disc and attempting to clone my drive or a partition with. I’ll also test out DriveImage XML, which was recommended by one of the Gnomies in the Gnomies TeamSpeak conference room. Regardless of whether it takes me all day or simply a few hours, on Monday you will find out the best way(s) to image Windows XP so that you won’t have to waste a day installing the operating system ever again.

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