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How to Personalize Windows Vista Following a Full System Reinstall

Welcome to the Pecos Buffet! Grab a plate and help yourself.


This is a companion article to the 10 things you should do when reinstalling Windows article at Tech Republic. Please read this article first if you have not already done so.

This article does not have a beginning, middle or end. It does have discussions about Windows Vista reinstallation issues and an appendix full of step by step instructions about how to personalize and configure Vista. Like a buffet, you will find a cornucopia of tasty entrees some of which you will enjoy partaking of and others that you would rather pass by. Don't try and gorge yourself in one sitting. Take a peek at what is on the buffet table and then come back at a later time for more.

Whether you are installing Windows Vista for the first time, reinstalling Vista or ordering a new computer with Vista, you will want to personalize various settings for the way you like to use your computer. Windows Vista has more built-in tools than any other previous version of Windows. Some of these options like Power Settings you may be familiar with. Others like Previous Versions may be new to you.

I hope you brought your appetite with you!

Please Note: While I have been careful to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information in this article, there may be errors in the information provided or it may not be appropriate for your specific system configuration. Use the information at your own risk. If you do find an error, please take the time to report it to me immediately.

Waiter! I want to look at my buffet choices now!

The Need to Reinstall Vista

I had the unpleasant experience recently of finding several Trojan Horses on my computer. This was very disconcerting to me. I take pride in my careful use of the Internet. The first Trojan was the result of a very well known and respected game demo. I don't game much anymore but this was a new demo of a game that I had played years ago. I do not know if this is a Trojan that was downloaded from a legitimate Website, hacked by someone else or misidentified by avast!

The second Trojan is still a mystery although I do have my suspicions. It was only found after a thorough scan using avast! anti-virus. The Trojan was found in a MEMORY.DMP file and you only get that file after a BSOD. After removing the MEMORY.DMP file, it and the Trojan returned after another BSOD. I know what causes the intermittent BSODs, and it is not the Trojan Horse. The Intel 537EP chipset in my modem is not 100% vista compatible and I will very infrequently get BSODs during shutdown.

I believe that I may have found the source of the second Trojan, a freebie music download site. The Trojan was not reported after discontinuing all downloads from the music download site. Since the Trojan is only discovered in a thorough scan and only in the MEMORY.DMP file, I am not convinced that this is a known Trojan. Just to be safe, I decided to reload Vista and I won't be reinstalling the download manager from the free music Website.

The way these free music Websites work is that you can download and listen to MP3 files as long as you remain a member in good standing. To be a member in good standing you must periodically answer a survey and support their advertisers by clicking on their ads. Digital Rights Management is enforced. If you do not reapply, the DRM rights expire and your MP3 files will no longer play. I think this is a great idea. I can listen to new music and download old favorites. What is not such a great idea is what if anything the required download manager is uploading to the mother site. When your anti-virus starts reporting Trojans, a site-specific download manager is the first place you should consider as a possible culprit. The problem is that I just don't know what personal information is being reported by the music download app, if any.

I had a few problems during my latest reinstall. Microsoft has done a good job with the new Vista install utility. Gone are the ugly black DOS-like screens and good riddance. I started the installation but when I got to the product key, I got an invalid product key error. I knew I could leave the product key blank and enter it later once Windows was installed but I decided to cancel the install and get my product key from Windows. I soon learned that it requires a third party app to view the product key. I found a very simple and efficient tool called Product Key Finder at CNET that did what I needed without the bloat. I found the key and copied it down on a piece of paper to keep with the Vista DVD. I also added it to my logins and passwords spreadsheet.

The product key I found was entirely different than the one on the label. I vaguely remember calling Microsoft when I couldn't do an online validation after a reinstall. I used this key during the second install. It too failed. I left the product key blank and selected the right version of Vista - the one I had purchased. To activate my key I will be taking that refreshing pause from my busy day to say 25 letters and numbers into an inanimate object to another inanimate object. That will fail and then I will have the pleasure of repeating the process to a person living on the other side of the planet. Then Microsoft will verify that I do indeed legally own Vista Ultimate and will provide me a new 25 letter and number key that I will once more add to my spreadsheet.

If you are looking for my opinion about the Vista SP1 security issues, it can be found in the Editorial Privilege section.

The Pecos Buffet

My Core Apps
My First Hand Experience Installing SP1 Manually
Partition Imaging with MaxBlast 5

The Buffet Dessert and More from Your Gracious Waiter
Editorial Privilege

Appendix A contains a step-by-step guide for personalizing various features of Vista.

Before Reinstalling Windows Vista
Take a Snapshot Image of Your Desktop
Get the dial-up ISP number
Export MS Mail Messages
Export IE Favorites
Export Firefox Bookmarks

Reinstalling Windows Vista
How to Access the 'Installing Windows' Help File
Install Windows in Windows

After Reinstalling Windows Vista - Personalizations
Change Clock Gadget
Change Display Resolution
Change Desktop Background
Change Screen Saver and Power Settings
Personalize Explorer
Classic View in Control Panel
Enable Previous Versions
Block or Prompt for Cookies
Turn Off or Modify the Run Time of Defrag
Indexing Logical Drives
Turning On or Off the User Account Control

Final Chores
Create a "Clean Install' Restore Point
Create and configure a Network connection
Create a Network Connection Desktop Shortcut
Hide Connect Window When Connecting to a Network
Turn Off the AutoDialer
Import MS Mail Messages
Import IE Favorites
Import Firefox Bookmarks
Check for Updates

Resolving Problems
Manually Installing Windows Update Files
Dual and Multiple Boot

Additional Resources

Personalizing Windows Vista

After installing or reinstalling Windows there are a number of changes that I like to make.

I immediately close the Welcome Center. You might find it a helpful way to get started. I don't. After the first reboot I uncheck the 'Run at startup' checkbox so I never have to see it again.

Then I change the clock in the gadgets sidebar to something that doesn't remind me of elementary school.

If you are like me, I have desktop settings that I like to set up immediately. It is difficult to work in an 800x640 desktop when you are used to a higher screen resolution. If you Right Click on the desktop and select 'Personalize' you can bring up a screen with Microsoft's idea of Windows personal settings. To change the screen resolution select 'Display Settings' at the bottom of the list. I then select 'Desktop Background' to change the look of the desktop.

I change the power settings under 'Screen Saver'->'Change power settings' -> 'Change plan settings' so that my monitor is turned off after 15 minutes of idle time and the computer is never put to sleep.

I also like to change the default settings of Explorer.

The first time I start the control panel I select 'Classic View' as my preference.

I used to have IE configured to ask before setting cookies. I am going to now block all cookies by default. The best time to set this is before connecting to the Internet. You can set this by starting Windows Media Player and clicking on the 'Privacy Settings' button. If you won't be using Windows Media Player you can alternatively configure it in IE.

Note: It is best to leave cookies enabled. Blocking cookies will break many Websites, especially online stores. If you do want to block cookies by default you can create exceptions for sites that you want to allow cookies. You will also find yourself wondering why a Website won't load at some time in the near future. Use cookie blocking with this in mind. Cookie blocking can be done successfully once you have the Websites you need to allow cookies for configured as exceptions and if you can remember that the reason a Website won't behave is because of your default cookie blocking rules.

Windows will by default automatically defrag your hard drives weekly. You may want to change the Windows default defrag settings.

I also put Sleep, Shutdown, Restart and Continue icons on my desktop. I was leery about doing this but after more than a year I have found them handy and I am disciplined enough to use them wisely. They aren't for everybody though and you must use them carefully.

Waiter! I want to look at my buffet choices again.

Other Windows Reinstallation Topics

My core apps

Waiter! I want to look at my buffet choices again.

My First Hand Experience Installing SP1 Manually

As mentioned earlier I am using a Hiro dial-up modem based on Intel's 537EP modem chipset. Intel has not released any Vista drivers for it. I am using the XP x64 driver and it works fine until the system shuts down. Then I will occasionally get the dreaded BSOD.

I had originally planned to install Windows, connect to the Internet, get the latest drivers and updates and then Install SP1. I therefore had my 537EP modem drivers loaded when starting the SP1 install. The install went smoothly until the system had to do a restart. The blue screen appeared and I thought that 'Well that's that', thinking that the SP1 install had failed. But the system restarted and the install continued on as if nothing had happened. The install did eventually complete successfully.

If you have Vista incompatible devices in your computer manually installing SP1 will be problematic at best. You can try installing SP1 in Safe Mode or you will have to use an alternative method.

Waiter! I want to look at my buffet choices again.

Partition Imaging with MaxBlast 5

Caution! Before using any software that writes to partitions you should have your personal files backed up. You should understand partition basics. Be careful that you don't format data partitions and double check that you are formatting the correct partition!

I wanted to see if I could image a partition so that it could be used to reinstall Windows at a later date. I personally can see little benefit to imaging the operating system if it can only save a few hours every year. But as I write in the Secure your computer after a Windows install or reinstall Tech Republic article, having a virus free image of Windows with the latest service pack and important updates installed not only saves the time and trouble of having to download and install them but also reduces the security risks inherent in their retrieval.

I have two Maxtor hard drives running RAID 0 striping and RAID 1 mirroring. I downloaded and installed the 'free for Maxtor owners' MaxBlast 5 and began exploring the options.

Upon starting MaxBlast 5 the first thing I discovered is that you can image an entire disk or a partition but you need the retail version if you want to image the system only or a specific folder.

I selected the partition that Vista x64 was installed on. I then selected my optical drive for the destination of the image file. A message said that I would need four DVDs and 3 hours to create the image.

I nixed that idea and selected a different non-system partition instead. The file was written very quickly in less than 10 minutes. I found that the expected file size and estimated time was higher than the actual file size and the actual time to create the image.

A bootable CD with the full version of MaxBlast 5 can be created by starting MaxBlast 5 in Windows and creating a 'rescue disc'. To do this, Left Click on the 'Create Bootable Media' option. I did this, put the rescue CD in the Writemaster optical drive and restarted my computer.

MaxBlast 5 started but the cursor couldn't be moved using the mouse in the first Window. I used the [UP_ARROW] key to select Maxtor MaxBlast (Full version). I then received an 'E000101F4 Maxtor MaxBlast has detected unsupported hard disc drives. MaxBlast does not support Windows Dynamic Discs, EZ-Drives, etc.' error. I presume I got this error because MaxBlast couldn't recognize my RAID volumes and there is no way to load the RAID drivers.

I'm disappointed that I can't restore my partition image from a rescue CD. In case you are wondering, the Home version of Acronis True Image won't recognize hardware or software RAID volumes either.

If you have a Maxtor or Seagate drive and don't have a RAID setup you might want to download MaxBlast 5 or DiscWizard and try it for yourself. If you do, read the manual first to understand the process and risks involved.

I realized that I might be able to restore the image from within Windows Vista because the RAID drivers would be loaded. I formatted a partition and, sure enough, I was able to restore the image but only from a non-boot partition. Total restore time 14 minutes and 30 seconds. I then had to run VistaBootPRO to add a new item to the boot list.

So, even if you have a RAID setup you can create and restore a partition image from within Windows. The instructions below were tested using MaxBlast 5 in Vista Ultimate x64 with SP1 to create a full partition image. I was not able to test running MaxBlast 5 from the rescue CD. If you are trying to create or restore a partition image using the rescue CD the procedure may be different than the one listed below.

A Note About System Imaging

Imaging your system can be problematic if you are imaging Windows with any apps installed. The following scenario is an example of how imaging your system partition with installed apps can lead to problems when restoring the image.

During a Windows reinstall I manually installed SP1. I had installed Comodo Firewall Pro version x64 and created network rules to lock out all apps but the Windows Update app. I downloaded all of the important updates and imaged the system partition. I later wanted to restore the image. Since the original image creation, a new version of Comodo Firewall Pro was available, version 3.5.54375.427 and I had downloaded it and installed it. It was a major release and the name was changed to Comodo Internet Security (CIS). I restored the system image but when I tried to install the new 3.5 version of Comodo, a message box warned me that an existing version existed and needed to be uninstalled. A message asked if I wanted to uninstall the old version. I clicked the 'Yes' button but the uninstall failed because the program files contained on a separate data drive were not the ones that matched the registry settings.

I created another image after another Windows reinstall but this time I uninstalled CIS before creating the image. Bottom line - imaging your system with apps installed will be subject to image aging and can lead to version discrepancy issues.

How to Image a Partition Using MaxBlast 5

Download and install MaxBlast 5. The latest version works in both 32 and 64 bit Vista. Install using the 'Custom' option to select a non-system logical drive.


These instructions are for computer owners using RAID. If you are not running software or hardware RAID, create a rescue disc in Windows with the full version of MaxBlast 5. Insert the rescue CD into your optical drive and restart the computer to start MaxBlast 5 from the CD. Use this method instead of the instructions to open MaxBlast 5 in Windows.

Open MaxBlast 5 in Windows

Total time with compression set to 'High' and priority set to 'High' - a very fast ten minutes. The image was read from a RAID striped volume and written to a mirrored RAID volume. Your performance will vary.

Now it's time to go through the restore image process. Since I am using RAID I have to restore the image in Windows and it has to be done from a non-boot partition. I have a newly formatted 48.7 GB partition that I will be restoring the image on. These steps were tested using MaxBlast 5 in Vista Ultimate x64 with SP1 to restore a full partition image. Please note that if you are restoring a partition image by running MaxBlast 5 from the rescue CD the procedure may be different than detailed below.

How to Restore a Partition Image Using MaxBlast 5

Open MaxBlast 5 in Windows

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