So you just installed a shiny, new, & legal, copy of Windows Vista. Somewhere along the way, you realized that your XP Partition wasn’t there anymore, and that you’ve lost every single program you’d installed over the past 6 years – gone! All just because you didn’t realize that you were installing Windows Vista to the XP partition.
Don’t worry, NeoSmart is here with the answer yet again. Don’t despair just yet! There’s much in terms of hope, and with this guide, you can get your XP back, with all it’s programs, registry, settings, and more – as if Vista was never there, and no one (*cough* the wife *cough*) needs to know you overwrote your XP – ever!
This guide was born out of a in-depth forum discussion over how to do just this, but with a lot of detours and road constructions along the way. This guide can be used to recover XP only in one case: While doing a clean install of Vista, you accidentally selected the wrong partition to install to, and as such, you wrote Vista to the same drive as XP. It won’t recover an upgrade from XP to Vista, nor will it help you “unformat” your partition if that’s what you did.
- The first thing to check for is the existence of a folder called “Windows.old” in the root (X:\) folder of the drive you installed Vista to. If this folder exists, we can get your XP back. If it doesn’t, you’re out of luck.
- Assuming it exists, following the remainder of these steps will completely remove Vista from your system, it will be as if you went back in time and never installed Vista at all. Of course the normal disclaimers apply: You can’t hold me, Computer Guru, and/or NeoSmart Technologies responsible for any damages incurred by following these steps. We can’t guarantee they’ll work for everyone, but we do promise that they work, as can be seen here.
- The first thing that needs to be done is to copy the files required to boot into XP from another computer or from the Vista partition itself to the Windows.old directory we talked about earlier. In order to do this, you will need to enable the viewing of both hidden and OS-protected system files and folders in the Folders | Options menu. These files are:
6. \boot.ini (if available)
- Once you’ve copied those files over, we need to delete the Vista bootloader from the bootsector. There are two ways to do this, one is to use EasyBCD, the ultimate Vista Bootloader Modification Tool that NeoSmart Technologies published, and the other is to use a program that comes with Vista, called “bootsect.exe.” Since this guide uses no external resources, here’s how to do it with bootsect.
- You’ll need to burn Vista to a DVD (well, ATM you can just mount or extract it, but later on in these steps you’re going to need to burn it, so might as well do it now) with your favorite ISO burning program (Nero, Roxio, DT, Alcohol, you name it).
- Browse to the \Boot\ folder on the DVD, and grab “bootsect.exe” and copy it to your drive C:\ in the root folder.
- Press winkey+r to open a run prompt, type in “CMD” without the quotes, and press enter.
- Once the command prompt window is open, type the following (after each line, press enter):
bootsect.exe /nt52 all /force
- Make sure your Vista DVD is in the drive, and restart your computer.
- Making sure that your BIOS is set to boot from CD/DVD (either by pressing F12 for a boot menu or entering the BIOS setup and giving the DVD Drive priority over the HDD, boot into the Vista DVD by pressing something on the keyboard when prompted.
- When you’re presented the screen with “Install Now” button in blue, don’t click it, rather click a tiny link in the bottom-left corner that will take you to an advanced options screen.
- From the advanced options screen select the drive with Vista on it, and then proceed to open a command prompt Window.
- Once the command prompt window is open, type the following in, exactly as I wrote it, but substituting C: for whatever letter your Vista partition is.
ren boot boot.vista
ren Windows Windows.vista
ren Users Users.vista
ren "Program Files" "Program Files.vista"
ren "Config.Msi" "Config.Msi.vista"
ren "Documents and Settings" "Documents and Settings.vista"
ren MSOCache MSOCache.vista
ren ProgramData ProgramData.vista
ren Recycled Recycled.vista
ren * *.vista
xcopy Windows.old\* c:\ /E /C /I /G /H /R /K /Y
ren Windows.old Windows.old.vista
- With that, all Vista-related files have been given a .vista extension, so they don’t get in our way and conflict with XP, and so you can recover them later on if you realize you forgot something. Please note that the third-to-last step will take a long time; that’s perfectly normal. Whatever you do, don’t stop it!
- Close the Advanced Options screen and exit windows setup.
- Reboot your PC.
- If all went well, you should be back in XP, shocked at the relative ease of getting back, and ready to install Vista again – after properly backing up all your data of course!
- Optional: Open drive C: and delete all .vista files and folders if you want to reclaim some 8 to 10 GB of space – or more depending on your installl!
These steps will stop you from booting into any other Vista installs you might have had – if you want to still boot Vista you’ll have to not rename the folder \Boot\ and not carry out the bootsect-related steps. Then after all that is done, you have to install and use VistaBootPRO to add XP to the Vista boot menu. Remember, more help can be had on the forums, and please, the blog is not support central, don’t abuse it by asking for help here! Good Luck!