28 June 2008

XP SP3 "Stuck" Activation Dialog

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You may see this failure pattern:

  • Windows XP (SP3) demands activation
  • You get the first dialog of the activation wizard
  • But no matter which option you choose, Next doesn't

Specifically; this is the first dialog page of the activation wizard, from which you choose "activate via Internet", "activate via telephone" or "no, I'll do it later".  When you press the Next button, the button appears to depress fine, but when you let it go, the dialog stays where it is. 

If you were trying to activate by phone, then that means you don't see the list of locations to call, or the key to read to the call center if you do call.  So when you call the activation center, the first thing they ask you to do ("please read me your installation ID"), you can't do, and frustration follows.

Context details

I've seen this once, in the following context.  A PC had suffered hard drive failure, and was also in need of RAM upgrade and software updates.  So I first repaired the hardware by imaging to a good hard drive, added more RAM, replaced the duff CD-ROM drive with a working one. 

Then I did "the prelim"; MemTest86 to verify RAM, Bart CDR boot to verify HD via HD Tune, file system checks OK, formal malware scans OK.

Next, I boot into Windows, and am not too surprised when it tells me I need to activate, as the hardware has "changed too much".  I deferred this, and did what I usually do when updating XP systems this month:

  • get off all networks and Internet
  • uninstall free AVG 7.5
  • uninstall Internet Explorer 7
  • move all $.. folders from OS subtree to another HD volume
  • defrag to consolidate free space
  • apply XP SP3 from offline installer
  • verify firewall is on
  • install free AVG 8
  • connect to Internet so AVG 8 can update
  • upgrade other software; Java, Acrobat Reader, Firefox etc.
  • allow Automatic Update to pick up IE7 and other updates
  • attempt activation before applying OS and IE7 updates

During this process, I restarted Windows several times for various reasons, but the activation dialog would not work.  It only worked after I applied the pending Automatic Updates; then after the restart that followed, activation was fine.

Suspected cause

I suspect that pending updates cause the activation dialog to "stick".  This may apply specifically to XP SP3 or be a general XP issue that I had not encountered until now, as I seldom (if ever) have activation demands and pending updates at the same time. 

That situation can arise in the context of installing XP SP3, because:

  • you want to uninstall IE7 (or IE8 beta) before applying SP3
  • Windows Media Player falls back to old version
  • you can't install Media Player 11 as it won't "validate"
  • you can't install IE7 from pre-downloaded file
  • you can't use the Update web site until you activate

So you rely on Automatic Update to feed in the patches you want, but may feel the need to defer installation of these until you've activated.  This applied in my case, because a lot of the updates were for IE6 which I intended to replace with IE7 anyway - so before applying updates, I wanted to install Media Player 11 and IE7, so that the updates I downloaded and applied would be "after" these.

If my hunch about the cause of this failure pattern is correct, then this combination of circumstances can create a "deadly embrace" of cross-dependencies; can't activate until updates are applied, but user doesn't want to apply updates until the system is activated.

Can't install IE7 on XP SP3?

On "you can't install IE7 from pre-downloaded file"; this seems to be a different XP SP3 issue. 

Usually, I can at least initiate the IE7 install from a pre-downloaded installation executable, though this needs to be online so it can pull down updates to IE7 as part of the installation process.  But this fails after XP SP3 has been applied; instead, one has to induce an IE7 install via Automatic, Windows or Microsoft Update.  Sometimes it's offered as a critical update, other times not?

9 comments:

Dan Weiser said...

Hi Chris. I posted recently in the 98 general newsgroup and would like your feedback for the post. It is recent and why people still use Windows 98. Anyone, I wanted to let you know that I really liked AVG 7.5 free version but AVG 8 has lots of problems. My dad had issues with it and so did I. Next, I tried Avast and it is okay but too worried about everything like how it thought yahoo.com had a vulnerability when it did not. Anyway, I had issues with Windows XP Service Pack 3 on this custom built computer. After installing Windows XP Service Pack 3, I no longer could use Microsoft Windows Update. A Microsoft technician is currently investigating my issues for free but I wanted to let you know about that and this is an Intel chip not an AMD processor with ATI Radeon 9800 graphics chip because I steer clear of NVIDIA ever since they trashed one of my pcs and I wanted the compatibility with 98 Second Edition on my other Fat32 hard drive and the XP Professional one is using NTFS file system.

Chris Quirke said...

Hi Dan!

AVG 8's been OK in my experience, tho (as I did with 7.x) I don't install the email component and disallow daily scan, and I kill the "security toolbar".

AVG 8 doesn't run on old OSs such as any 9x, so Avast's better there. The only practical issue has been that as AVG 8 includes AVG Antispyware, it now alerts on "potentially unwanted software", i.e. software that may be legit, unless installed there without your knowledge (mIRC, "remote admin", etc.)

A "repair install" will break Windows Update, and the fix is well-documented and findable by search - basically, you re-register a number of .DLLs that the update service requires. Maybe I'll blog this sometime, tho as I say, it is covered.

An unrelated update issue applies to MS Office updates, such as Office XP SP3. These require a service called "Office Source Engine" to be running, and by default, it isn't - so a trip to Admin Tools (Manage), Services is in order to start the service and set it to Auto, so it's running after post-install restarts.

Dan said...

Thanks Chris. I was unable to start the uniterruptible power supply service although I do have a battery backup. Does this service require my to install the cd or something else. The battery backup is CyberPower 550VA. Also, I cannot start the Human Interface Device Service because of error 126 that says the specified module cannot be found. Everything else seems good and Microsoft provided me with a tool that automatically registered the dlls. Thanks so much for your help and input.

I still feel the same way about 98 Second Edition and how it was such a shame that such a good safe source code is going to waste because it is the IP of Microsoft and Microsoft does not want to give it up because I think they see that as shooting themselves in the foot but also Microsoft does not want to develop it anymore because of the cost of supporting two lines of code and I think it is a real shame especially with all the security issues consumers have with PC's nowadays. Heck, if Microsoft did restart the 9x source code line they might find many willing buyers and spend less on security support. It is ironic to me at least that Microsoft wants to broaden themselves in so many directions and are not even willing to take a chance with 9x again. You were so right about the safety of 9x compared to the security of NT.

Chris Quirke said...

Hi Dan!

I dunno much about UPSs and how they link to XP. So far it's always been done via rather kludgy bundleware that pops up "DOS windows" and uses ancient RS-232 serial port to connect. Poo!

BTW, if you have a serial modem, the UPS sware can mistake this for a "power outage" state and shut down the PC automatically. You can imagine what fun that was tshoot :-/

I'm not certain how deeply embedded NT's "network client" mindset is within the OS code base, but if that can be torn out, then you could have the same safety in an NT OS that you can in 9x. Various embedded forms of XP etc. suggest it could be made small and agile as well.

Not that there's necessarily a will to do this, mind, but it may be similarly possible as trying to teach Win9x about USB, hard drives over 137G and so forth (i.e. not at all trivial)

As it is, we're about to smash into the RAM addressing wall, and thus need to go 64-bit. So any OS development that will take 3 years to go RTM, has to take that into account.

You may say "save money and buy less RAM", but that's not how it works! Once the testing and factory set up is done, it's prolly as cheap to make a 1G chip as it is to have made a 512M chip a year ago, or a 64k chip a decade or so ago.

So trying to build PCs with (for 2011) artificially small RAM is prolly not going to be cost-effective.

Dan Weiser said...

Hi Chris.

Thanks again for these comments. I am not going to leave 98 Second Edition in the dust until every possible opportunity to be compatible is exhausted since I love the text based DOS interface and old-school gaming of course. BTW, I decided to see how quickly XP SP3 would be compromised by connecting directly to the Internet and having remote access connected. It took less than 3 minutes. The foolish hacker put 2 additional shortcuts to Internet Explorer and I unplugged the connection. It amuses me to see amateurs working.

I hope to one day be able to work for the Defense Network in the States and identify all kinds of threats and see if the port scanning attempts that apparently come from China to the U.S.A. are really from China or if the hacker(s) are using China as a foil to try and upset China and American relations. Life is Good.

Information Hacking Attempts remind me of a very amusing and challenging game like the movie the Game with either Micheal or Kirk Douglas and the old eighties movie Sneakers. You are such a cool and awesome guy for helping PC Users. I hope your life is filled with all goodness and abundance forevermore since you stuck with me when I was having all my health issues with my thyroid when all others seemed to abandon me. I now take thyroid medicine which is constantly monitored and adjusted.

Chris Quirke said...

If you're into the Win98 command line and especially batch language, then you may like the NT family's extensions to that language - If ( ) Then ( ) Else, string slicing, return size, date, path, short name, long name etc. for files and more.

Broken updates can be fixed by registering a set of .DLLs, if that's the cause of your woe. That failure pattern is more often seen after a "repair install" over the last few months (full repro), whereas I haven't seen updates break after SP1, SP2 or SP3 over previous SP levels.

The Update web sites may foist new ActiveX and WGA first, before letting yo get on with it, but that's another matter. Even without WGA or activation, Automatic Updates have worked for me, after applying SPs (but as mentioned, not after doing a "repair install").

Dan Weiser said...

Where can I study up on batch language and learn more about it since my skills with batch language are limited.

Chris Quirke said...

Hi Dan!

I found useful batch reference via search a while ago, if you want to read up on it; I'll look for those links just now.

OTOH if you're in the middle of writing something and need help with CLI parameters, try the troublesome command followed by /?.

I usually have to do that every time I use the For command :-)

http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/windows/xp/all/proddocs/en-us/ntcmds_shelloverview.mspx

http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/windows/xp/all/proddocs/en-us/ntcmds.mspx

http://www.ss64.com/nt/

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;100843

The above links were the ones I found the most useful.

Dan W. said...

Thanks Chris.