Vista Reduced Functionality Mode nightmare…

…or what I learned over the weekend

This entire saga starts Thursday morning. I was able to get about three hours of work in when I felt the need lo reboot my computer.

When my computer came back up, I found myself in “reduced functionality mode.” I didn’t even know what reduced functionality mode was until this happened to me Since I have to expect that you don’t either, I’ll explain.

RFM (not to be confused with RTFM. which I should have done when I got this computer) is a state you can end up in for one of several reasons which I’ll cover next.  You get a blank screen with a couple dialog boxes on them and no explorer interface.  You also get one hour before you are logged out.

The first, and most common reason you may be in RFM, is if you’ve never registered Your copy of Vista. You get 30 days to register anew copy of Vista. If You don’t, you can find yourself in RFM. The next most common reason is that Your hardware has changed significantly enough that Vista thinks You are on a brand new computer. If either of these two situations occur, you will get either 30 days of warning, or 3 days of warning before entering RFM. I have to expect that anyone searching the net and finding this post has already discovered that there are hacks available to get You out of RFM long enough to register vista like You should. of course, You can save yourself a lot of grief by registering right away.

What made my life so difficult is that neither of these reasons are why I landed into RFM. No. I had landed on the third, and most difficult reason. The point of this post is to inform You as to what the reason is, How I think I may have handed in this state and what I plan to do to save myself some time if it ever happens again.

The third reason You may find yourself in reduced functionality mode is the Vista detects that one of its system files has been tampered with.

If you’ve tried allot the other fixes on the net and can’t get out of RFM, this is probably the reason why. But, as a quick check, try this test.

  • Launch the command prompt as the Administrator by using the Start menu “Start” > “All Programs” > “Accessories”.  Right click the “Command Prompt” menu item and select “Run as Administrator”
  • You will now be in the Command Prompt window where you can run commands with Administrator access.
  • Type in:
    slmgr
  • If you get a scripting error “Error0xC004F025 Access Denied: the requested action requires elevated privileges” you are in this third state.

The only way out of this third state is to either rebuild your computer or restore from a system backup from a point when everything was working.  I’ll assume the worse, that you have no backup, and that you’ll need to restore your computer to factory conditions or you need to re-install Windows.  In my case, I was fortunate in that the Gateway restore offers a none destructive restore.  But, you won’t know that until you start the restore and if you need to completely re-install Vista from the beginning, you are going to want to get a backup of your work first.

So, the first thing you want to do is to determine how much of the data on your computer is important.  Fortunately, I do have a way that you’ll be able to get all of your data.

In my case, I figured the hardest thing to get back from a simple backup would be my outlook files.  I have over 3 gig of email and multiple email addresses.  Fortunately, Microsoft has a utility called “Easy Transfer.”  By the way, if you don’t have an external hard drive, now might be a good time to go get one.  You’ll want it for more than this operation anyhow.

To get to Easy Transfer, you’ll need to get to the control panel.  Which is something you can’t do right now because you don’t have an explorer interface.  Here’s how to remedy that.

  • One of the dialogs on your screen is going to have a hyperlink on it to verify your operating system.  I’m sure you’ve already clicked that and it’s giving you an error code.  We don’t really care about that so much.  We just want the browser window to come up. So, click the link and get the browser window.
  • In the address bar of the browser (I’m assuming IE here) type in:
    C:/
    and press enter to go there.
  • You should now have a file explorer window.  Neat trick eh?
  • On the left hand side, you should see the tree view, with “Control Panel” being one of the options.  Click “Control Panel” to see the items under it.
  • Double Click “Backup and Restore Center”
  • In the bottom left corner of the resulting window, you should see “See also” with “Windows Easy Transfer” under it.  Clic “Windows Easy Transfer” to startup easy transfer.  Follow the instructions to export your current setting out to an external medium, like that external hard drive I mentioned earlier.  Copy as much of your system as you can within the one hour period you have to get anything done.  Don’t worry about the data, we have other ways of getting that off.

Now, even if you have to re-install, you can probably do it without being destructive about it.  However, I always like to have a copy of my copies if I can.  And since you have that external drive, you might as well be sure you have all the data, just in case something nasty happens along the way.

The next thing you want to do is to reboot your computer and press the F8 key while it is booting up so that you can get the boot menu.  When it comes up, select, “Repair your computer.”  This will bring up a dialog with one of the options being the ability to run the command prompt window where you can run XCOPY to copy files from your main drive to the external drive.  If you can do a full backup of your files from within the cripled Vista, you should do that instead.  I have 150 gig and it took 8 hours using XCOPY on a firewire external drive.  Even then, I had to babysit the copy process.

Once you have everything backed up, you can go ahead with the restore.

When you have a fresh copy of Vista running, one of the first things you’ll want to do is to run Easy Transfer again to import the settings you exported.  This will get back most of your browser settings and Microsoft office settings (assuming of course you selected that they be transfered) next you’ll need to re-install all your software.

So, the obvious thing we want to do now is come up with a plan that will prevent us from having to go through all of this pain again.  So, here’s my plan.

  • Create a rotating scheduled backup of “Complete PC Backup” which will give me an image of my hard drive at the scheduled points in time.
  • Create daily “delta” backups from the previous full backup.
  • Always keep two copies of the Complete PC Backups so that if the one that just got created is actually a bad copy, I still have the other that I can roll back to.

I might still be obsessive compulsive about backing up all of my data if this happens again, but the restore will probably be a whole lot less painful using the snapshot method.

The good news is that now that I had to go through this process, my computer no longer has visual studio 2005 on it.  I was about to remove it any how and now that it is a choice of installing it or not, “not” sounds like a good option to me since I have Visual Studio 2008 already installed.

Oh, and how do I think I got into this state in the first place?  Well, it may have been a virus, but I’m pretty religious about running virus software.  I think one of two things may have happened here.  My drive may have gotten corrupted, or when I installed my two Christmas presents (new Web Cam and a Watcom Bamboo) I may have installed them incorrectly.  (Or they may have installed themselves incorrectly)  I lean toward the Watcom Bamboo being at fault because now that it is re-installed, I find that I can use my computer as though it were a tablet PC, including using handwriting recognition.  This feature was no where to be seen prior to Thursday morning.

It’s pretty hard to say for sure how I got here.  What’s ironic is that I got a RAID5 drive specifically so that I wouldn’t have to create backups.  I’ve been programming for 20 years now and never needed a backup.  I get a RAID5 as my backup and find that other things can go wrong.  It almost makes the RAID5 pointless.  I mean, if I’m going to have to create backups anyhow, it seems to me it might make more sense to use my drives directly.

See Also:

Reduced Functionality Mode
Extending the Vista Grace Period
Must Reinstall to Activate

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