Friday, August 14, 2009

Massively Useful Software: nLite and ntfsclone

I recently reinstalled Windows onto my computer, a ritual that I have done for years to keep my operating system running nicely thanks to Windows bit rot. I usually do it about once a year, in this case it's been two so it really needed a fresh install. The problems with regularly reinstalling Windows are downloading and installing all of the updates, which takes forever since my original Windows XP Pro disc is Service Pack 1. Luckily there's software that makes the process easier.

I wish I knew about this program earlier. nLite is an easy to use application that allows you to make a backup copy of your Windows install disc, slipstream the service pack and updates into the Windows install (google for the Windows XP Service Pack 3 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers; it's an EXE file that nLite will ask for to do that), install drivers such as my SATA drivers that I needed to install Windows on something other than my old soon-to-fail IDE hard drive, and then finally burn the new customized Windows install disc as a bootable CD or DVD.

Another useful program is ntfsclone. It's a command-line Linux program that can clone an NTFS partition to a single file as a backup. This is useful because now I have a disk image of a fresh Windows install, so I don't have to reinstall Windows if I want a fresh system. It's also a nice way to make save-states for full system recoveries just in case something bad happens, or if I decide to—um, experiment, and want a way to recover my system if I screw something up.

Speaking of fresh installs, I'm adding a new series to the blog.

Massively ANNOYING Software: Adobe Product Activation


This is the second time I've reinstalled Windows while having CS3 installed on it. Remember how the Adobe license only lets you install the Adobe Suite onto two different computers? Yeah. This was the third time I tried to install CS3, and both times prior I forgot to deactivate the Adobe software before completely wiping my hard drive. It never crossed my mind.

So, add that to your reinstall ritual. When you are making sure that all of your files are backed up, load up any Adobe program, then go to Help > Deactivate before you reinstall Windows. Otherwise be prepared to be on the line with Adobe Customer Support with a good excuse. Luckily I was able to activate over the phone, but boy was that a pain; having to call and ask permission to use my software.

Sadly this is not limited to Adobe. Other software/media that requires online activation to keep track of how many computers you've installed it on may also require you to deactivate it as well. So keep that in mind and tell the folks at Adobe to read this article because seriously, activating and deactivating software is a pain.