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Got myself in a bit of a pickle at the moment:

I was toying around with hardware and removed most of the addons in my system, then replaced them. XP decided it was no longer authenticated and asked me to redo the process. It's a somewhat customized system with a basic (possibly OEM, not sure) copy of XP that came with it. I've installed that same disc/key on that exact system once or twice (last time was 2-3 years ago) and it hasn't been registered on any other hardware for a good 5 years.

That particular system usually stays on 24/7 and is not connected to the internet, so I didn't do anything for almost a week. The power went out and it restarted, and now I'm logged out and have to authenticate it before I'm able to log in.

Now, for the annoying part: I use TuneUp utilities (for lack of any decent system cleaners) and used that to disable XP's network support some time ago. As the system is offline except for updates every 6 months, it's a non-issue.

Until now. I can't log in until I authenticate it, I can't authenticate without network access, I can't turn network back on without logging in. I can't authenticate in safe mode. I'd rather not call Microsoft, but that is a potential solution.

I have a few other OSes installed on that system (7 and Ubuntu, which I'm using now), so I can do any tweaks/fixes that are possible from those. I already tried restoring the boot.ini to a pre-TuneUp version, but that didn't help. Network is a wired connection to a router (DHCP on) and from there to a cable modem. The XP authent wizard doesn't see connectivity though, on any settings (since Ubuntu is online, it's just an XP thing).

Edit: And for any of the format-happy folks out there, don't even think about it. I'm looking to fix the install, not nuke it over something this tiny.

Edit2: To emphasize: I'd rather not call. I can, and they won't mind, but I'd rather do it over the internet. Calling is a last resort (for when I have 10 minutes to read the numbers again and again and again over the phone).

Also, I tried again and it told me there was an IP conflict with another system. I think, not sure, but it's possible that the TuneUp backup boot entry does boot with LAN enabled, but I know the DHCP service is off in XP itself. I'm playing with the router itself to see if I can get that working.

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If you have an IP conflict would it be possible to temporarily disconnect other systems attached to the same router? –  moberley Aug 29 '10 at 0:12
    
I had disabled all the other systems. The issue, I eventually found out, was the system has some old network settings that were @moberley: conflicting with the router. –  ssube Aug 29 '10 at 1:50
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Why did you put the solution into your question? It should be in the answer and then you can set your own answer as the accepted one. –  moberley Aug 29 '10 at 9:34
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2 Answers

Activation through the phone should be available without internet access.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Product_Activation#Process:

Activation is performed with a utility supplied with Windows.1 It can be performed using one of three ways:

  • Over the Internet1[2]
  • Through a telephone call to a Microsoft agent1[2]
  • Using a modem and creating a connection through the phone line[2]

For activation over the Internet, the utility transmits data using an Internet connection. For activation via a telephone call, a longer telephone activation code must be read to the Microsoft agent who supplies a code to input into the utility to activate Windows. For activation using a modem, the utility sends data to the activation center using a phone line accessed through the modem.

Should look something like this: alt text

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I know I can call and they'll do magical Microsoft stuff, but I'd rather not if possible. Not only do I hate reading the 25-digit codes off 7 times, it's become a challenge to do it now. I have internet access from the system (hardware LAN on the mobo), it's just an XP settings that disables it. –  ssube Aug 28 '10 at 22:45
    
@peachy still, I think this is pretty much the easiest way =P –  BloodPhilia Aug 28 '10 at 22:46
    
@BloodPhilia: if I have to, I'll go that route. Gonna see what else is around first, more fun ;) –  ssube Aug 28 '10 at 22:48
    
@peachy Very well =) How exactly did you make TuneUp disable networking? –  BloodPhilia Aug 28 '10 at 22:50
    
@BloodPhilia: there are options to "optimize startup/shutdown" and an auto-optimize tool. I did most of the stuff manually, but I know the auto-optimizer disabled networking in some way, and I manually shut down most of the sharing/DHCP daemons and services. All set to not start. Seemed like a good idea until XP freaked. :p –  ssube Aug 28 '10 at 22:55
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up vote 0 down vote accepted

The solution is somewhat complicated, but I was able to make this work. Edited details into the question. Should work on most systems, tested on XP Home 32-bit with access to an administrative user and the Administrator account.

  1. Make sure the system is connected to the internet
  2. Start under Safe Mode
  3. Log in as "Administrator". This temporarily suppresses the activation force. Logging in on any other account will trigger a safe mode activation notice and kick you back out. The admin account will give you a full explorer session.
  4. Edit any settings you can. This includes re-enabling services, in my case. Networking stuff is best saved for the next step.
  5. Reboot under standard mode.
  6. Log in to any normal administrator account.
  7. When you get to the activation prompt, select yes and minimize the activation window.
  8. Press Windows+U to open one of the accessibility tools.
  9. A small window will pop up with a few descriptions. Click the internet link located 2/3 of the way down. Your default browser will open.
  10. Use the browser to check any settings, verify internet access, or launch programs/folders you need to view. I used it to launch TuneUp. For Internet Explorer, just type the path in. For Firefox, it will show an index-style page. Save a file, then in the download manager, right click and select open containing folder.
  11. You're now in an explorer session. Explorer will terminate after a few minutes, but you can run programs and fix your settings.
  12. Once the settings are fixed (I ran the network connection wizard and it set things up for me), reboot.
  13. Log back in under an admin account and activate Windows using the window.
  14. It should work perfectly.

Note, nothing above is illegal or even sketchy, everything is included in Windows itself. Not too complicated, either. Worked just fine for me, allowed me to fix the settings that were blocking activation.

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