For Windows, it’s ‘squirrel away time’

It’s that semi-annual time of the year we in AskWoody land call “squirrel away time” — time to make sure you have a copy of the ISO currently installed on your computer in case you need to reinstall it. There are a number of ways to get older versions of Windows by using a trick publicized on the Thurrott.com site. But the easiest way to grab a copy of, say, 20H2 is to go to the software download site, download a copy and store it on a spare hard drive, flash drive or external USB drive.

Even if you aren’t yet on 20H2, once you upgrade to that version you’ll have the proper media to perform a repair install.

Windows 10 repairs and maintenance

Often, I see workstations throwing off unusual error codes and refusing to update. These are the machines that make our lives miserable. Microsoft recommends doing a sfc /scannow or a DISM command — specifically DISM/Online/Cleanup-Image/RestoreHealth — but I often find that this doesn’t help. (Microsoft has internal options to refresh, reset and restore your PC, but these options are too draconian; they rip out too many of my applications.)

I prefer a process called an “in-place repair over the top.” To do this, you need to have an ISO of the exact version of Windows 10 that is installed on your computer. While enterprises with volume licensing agreements can go to the VLSC site for older versions of Windows 10, regular users don’t have that option.

For this repair plan to be successful, the operating system must be bootable and you’ll need to be logged into the administrator account to start the process. Save the ISO either on your hard drive or on an external USB drive. Double click on it so it’s mounted and seen as a virtual drive. Now browse to the setup.exe file location and double click on it. Click “yes” through the UAC prompt and follow the onscreen prompts. When you get to the screen where it asks if you want to keep personal files and apps ensure that you choose to do so. This video shows you the steps.

Once it’s complete, you’ll have your exact Windows 10 with its files and folders intact, fully fixed and able to again get Windows updates without issue.

Side note: I’ve often seen where a manual install of the next feature release can fix an offending computer. If you are on Windows 10 2004, you could use the feature release install for 20H2 to fix misbehaving hardware that suddenly refuses to install updates.

This process also works for IT admins or consultants who patch for others. While many enterprises may just re-image and provide a new desktop, smaller companies often have custom images that have applications set just so. Re-imaging isn’t always the answer. You can also use this repair technique for servers, but I’ve never done it to a server holding the domain controller role; it’s usually easier and faster to just rebuild the offending server. It is concerning that no amount of dism commands will fix such a server when patching gets flakey. Windows Servers typically are on the Long Term Servicing Branch and do not participate in the same feature release process that Windows 10 does.

Office repairs

I find that Office typically does a much better job of handling click-to-run updates. Usually, the main issue of patching Office involves a new feature you don’t want or broken inoperability with something you use. This is one reason I recommend moving away from the current channel of Office 365 and move to the semi-annual channel.  I’ve recommended this process many times; this video details the process.

To move to the semi-annual channel, from an administrative command prompt type in the following commands:

cd C:Program FilesCommon FilesMicrosoft SharedClickToRun

OfficeC2RClient.exe /changesetting Channel=Broad

OfficeC2RClient.exe /update user

You will see it do a “reinstallation” of Office; once done, you should be safely on the more stable version of Office.

To get back to a specific version of click-to-run Office 2016, from an administrative command prompt type in officec2rclient.exe /update user updatetoversion=16.0.xxxx.yyyy and insert the version of Office you wish to run. In this case, “xxxx.yyyy” represents the build number of the version you want to change to. You can find the build numbers for each release provided by Microsoft; the trick is to put 16.0. in front of the build you are trying to install.

If you just want to repair your existing edition of Office, you can’t get to the repair interface in the newer versions of Windows 10 by going through the control panel. You have to go through Start, Settings, then to Apps. Scroll down or search for Office, click on the Office icon, click on Advanced options, scroll down and choose Repair.

Bottom line: I’m not a fan of sfc/ scannow or DISM as the best ways to repair systems. I find that in-place over-the-top installations are much more effective of getting your computer back into good working condition.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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