When you just gotta go back to Windows…

Sometimes… and it’s a rare case, I know… you just gotta go back to Windows.  It’s an unfortunate state of affairs and it’s never, ever easy, but it just happens.  When such a situation arises, it’s best to just accept it, make it happen, and just move forward.

This week I had to make my little HP laptop run Windows again.  Jackie needed a laptop for school and this little machine has been collecting dust for months.  Granted, I’d just gotten Arch Linux running on it (and what an adventure that was!), but it’s okay – it’s a backup laptop anyway.  FAU’s online learning portals work best in Windows, all the classes require things in MSO formats, blah blah blah… groan.  Long story short, I dug up my old Vista DVD, my Win7 upgrade, and went at it.

The problem arose when I realized that during my foray into Arch, I had converted my hard drive partitions to GPT.  Not sure what GPT is?  It’s a “modern partitioning system.”  Here, read up on it.  Meanwhile, WIndows Vista won’t use GPT-partitioned hard drives for installation.  In fact, apparently this is a common enough problem for people who bounce back and forth between Linux and Windows, so I’m gonna jot down a few notes on how I did it, and maybe it’ll be useful to someone.

So began the process of attempting to convert a GPT hard drive back to MBR.  Here’s an excellent article by Rod Smith about the process of converting a hard drive to or from GPT.  It’s a little confusing, but not too painful.  There’s a lot of information there, it’s good to know, and it may be useful in a broader sense.

That being said, though, while sifting through that article I ran into this article that was absolutely crystal clear on what I was trying to accomplish: converting a GPT hard drive to MBR using gdisk. Gdisk ain’t exactly for the faint of heart, and it doesn’t have a fancy interface or windows or hand-holding or… pretty much anything.  That article is about as clear, concise, and step-by-step as it gets.  Turns out the process is actually pretty darned simple, if you just know the commands and which app to use.  Oh, and I used my Arch Linux USB key to go command-line and gitterdun.  Very nerdy.  Any Linux distro on a USB will do the job though.

Once that was done I looked at my USB key and thought to myself “…but isn’t there a way to install Windows 7 via USB key?” followed by “I have the license, why don’t those bastiches at Micro$oft allow me to download the software?” followed by “I wonder if they do, and I just don’t know it.”  My findings:

  • They don’t allow you to ‘just download’ the software in ISO form.  You gotta buy the software from them, pretty much any way you plan to get it.  That being said, there are… unofficial channels.  Whether they’re legal or not perhaps falls into a ‘grey area’, but like I said: if you have a valid license then it should be all good. Remember that you are, essentially, paying for the license.  And yes, you should, essentially, be allowed to download the software if you have a valid license.  Pretty much every other software developer in the universe does it that way.  Bastiches. Here’s a link to one location where you could download Windows 7 in ISO format.
  • Yes, Windows 7 can indeed be installed via USB key.  You need a Windows machine to set up the USB key and ISO correctly (there’s a little app you can install that comes direct from Micro$oft).  Again, you’ll need a Windows machine to make it work.  Also, a USB key bigger than 4GB which, these days, should almost be a given.

Once you’ve installed the little Windows app, it works similarly (though far more simplistically) to unetbootin or any other USB/ISO app.  Just point it to where you stored the downloaded ISO of Win7 and let it fly.  Takes a little while, so be patient.

At this point, I just inserted the USB key into the laptop, flipped it on, hit the appropriate keys to get it to boot from USB and voila.  Very, very fast installation, incidentally – much faster than the DVD.  I made dinner (a pork tenderloin in mojo marinade and peaches dish… very tasty) and by the end of dinner all was running like a top.  Even most of the drivers were already installed.  I feel like it deserves a Borat-style “Very nice!”