A funny experience with Windows 7, Sysprep and View 4.5

Weird error pops up when trying to create new Window 7 desktops.

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I had a funny experience this week. Earlier I completed my upgrade to vSphere4.1 (I think the change is not related, but not 100% sure). I was inspired to get back to work on my guide on View 4.5. But when I started to create new Window 7 desktops I got a weird error which looked like this:

This error happened even when I ran the sysprep manually. So I felt I couldn’t really blame the upgrade of vSphere4.1 for this one. The bizarre thing is that I’ve cloned Windows 2008 and Windows 7 countless times without getting an error so I was a bit confused  as to why I suddenly was having problems.

During the Guest Customization process… Windows would power on after cloning, and arrive at the Ctrl+Alt+Del screen. It would then power down. But when it came back up it would come back with Windows Error Recovery, and default to “Start Windows Normally”…

After this, Windows then boots back to the Ctrl+Alt+Delete splash screen and then sits there for sometime. I mean quite a long time. The Windows reboots another time… This time it boots to the “VMware Imaging Process message”

Then a Windows Services starting splash screen appears, followed by ANOTHER reboot to the Windows Error Recovery screen. It’s at this point that the deployment process just hangs – and I was left with the hard-error on the console.  Confirming this error message just forces the system to reboot and try again – creating a loop. Clicking the OK dialog box didn’t help. Power off and Power On didn’t help.

My first instinct was to think that somehow my templates had become corrupted, especially when I saw this happen on Windows 2008 R2 64-bit. Anyway, I decided to totally rebuild my templates from scratch. It wasn’t difficult because my templates are more or less standard next-next installations of Windows, I don’t do much in the way of customization. Incidentally, that was an interesting process too – with me seeing at least 2-3 times the install of VMware Tools cause random and unexplained reboots of the VM.

A mess right?  A gazillion reboots. Error messages. A lot of waiting around for reboots to happen, which lead to infinite loops, which required me to power off, and delete the VM…

Anyway, even after doing all this rebuilding of my templates – I found I still had the problem. What I didn’t realize was that the sysprep process was happening, but I had to keep on interacting with the installer, and stopping Windows repair itself at every possibility. In fact if I hadn’t been monitoring the cloning process I might never have noticed!

I was starting to get frustrated, and, fortunately, Kenny Coleman came to the rescue by pointing me to this blogpost on VMware Info:

http://www.vmwareinfo.com/2010/07/windows-2008-sysprep-error-applying.html

Now although the error message is different I found if I DON’T include a license key in the sysprep process it goes absolutely bonkers. With many kinds of reboots, repairs and error messages – as soon as I enter a valid license key this weirdness goes away. I guess you might sensibly ask why I don’t have a valid Windows 7 license key. Well, I do. I have a limited TechNet MSDN Subscription that only allows for so many activations until the key is locked. So I’m very careful about when I use these keys because they are in short supply. So I generally reserve them for important long term stuff like my AD, SQL and vCenter boxes. I wouldn’t want to go wasting them on Windows 7 desktops that might not live for a day.

Interestingly, once Windows 7/Vista/W2K8 gets a valid key, Windows defaults to activating itself within 3-days. Even though you actually get 30-days of evaluation with Microsoft. So I changed my guest customization in VMware to include a valid Window 7 license key. And then went looking for a method to stop this automatic activation. I found this:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/vista-hands-on-8-delay-activation/222

This refers to Windows Vista, but with some delving I managed to find the right path for Windows 7.

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\SoftwareProtectionPlatform\Activation. In the right-hand pane, I double-clicked the Manual value and change it from 0 to 1. This stops the automatic 3-days activation, and instead says I have 30-days of use. Of course without activation, I will only get 30-days use from my desktops – without running the slmgr.vbs -rearm option. If you don’t know, you only get 3 chances to do this before that stops. You can still use Windows beyond this – but you will get a hard-console error telling you to activate, with the standard “Genuine Windows Advantage” warnings.

Even with the correct license key and these changes – it’s still a convoluted process…

Well. We’re a long way from “Corp Keys” available online aren’t we?

I don’t have any of these woes with Windows XP. It’s hard to wonder with these woes, why people would want to select Windows 7 as the basis of their virtual desktop roll-out.

This was first published in July 2010

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