Tuesday, May 13, 2008

HowTo: Longhorn WinPE (Windows Preinstallation Environment)

I've seen a lot of new sources pop up recently, so hi there to all the new people reading the blog =)

I'll take a break from the usual and talk about WinPE, the graphical boot environment featured on Longhorn builds starting with M4. In its simplest form, a WinPE is a version of a build of Windows that boots to command-prompt directly from CD, supports networking and other GUI tools. In Longhorn, WinPE launches the setup application which allows you to install the build, but you can easily access the command-line should you want to (Shift-F10 during setup).

With a little creative thinking, one can extract the WinPE of a Longhorn build without much trouble and make a standalone boot CD.

Firstly you'll need a version of ximage compatible with your build unless you're working with M6 or below. For Longhorn M7 builds you will need ximage 4059.0, available with a little searching on the web.

For this example I'll use Longhorn 4029, an M5 build. 

Create a folder structure on your hard disk, 


Copy the "boot" folder from the 4029 CD into this folder. It should be about 150-200Mb in size.

Copy "win51", "win51ip" and "wimbom.ini" from the CD to C:\4029PE

Copy "setupldr.bin" from the C:\4029pe\boot folder and rename it to C:\4029pe\ntldr

You will then need to create a bootable CD of the C:\4029pe folder in the software of your choice. I use Microsoft's cdimage utility from ReflectiaX's longhorn boot fix pack, one can use mkisofs on Linux or Mac, or something like Nero. Specific instructions for this are beyond the scope of the article, but use the following file as your boot image (about 4Kb).


Once you're finished you should have a bootable CD or ISO about 150-200Mb in size. Try it in a virtual machine, it should boot to a command prompt. Simple really =)

With an M7 build, the WinPE part is contained within the "install.wim" file as the first entry. You must extract it using ximage, and then ISO it and make it bootable as described above. Sometimes there are catches, and some builds may require manual tweaking to get right (4085's NTDETECT.COM, an essential file, doesn't work quite right when made into a WinPE like this so it would need to be replaced with a working one, from 4084 for example).

There you have it, a quick'n'dirty guide to creating a bootable WinPE disc.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Around the time of WinHEC 2004 Microsoft realised that in its current form Longhorn was doomed. It was far too complex to reach the next milestone, componentisation (turning it into a fully modular OS). Towards the end of the Milestone 7 period it was decided to strip everything out to try and reach that goal piece by piece. The 408x and 409x builds are a result of that - pretty much everything was stripped out of the OS to get the system down to its bare minimum working configuration, with features being re-added as the OS was componentised.

4084 is one such build - everything, even as far as the wallpaper was stripped out. This was Microsoft's last ditch attempt before they accepted that the only way forward was to start from scratch and componentise before adding anything else to the OS. In the end, that is what Microsoft committed to doing and as a result Vista development was much more managed and doable. Beginning with the Reset, it took Microsoft a little over two years to create Vista.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Longhorn had just hit the milestone 4 stretch, DCE had been mostly implemented, the Sidebar was fully functional and it was time to work on the image-based installs; one of the plans for Longhorn was a 15 minute setup (which was pretty much attained looking at the early 4000 builds). 4002 is exceptional in that it is a professional compile in the 4000 range that still uses an XP (i386) setup routine, eschewing the WIM installation format. 

Unlike later M4 builds, however, 4001 and 4002 both retain the desktop composition engine and effects present in the well-known 3718 build, all easily turned on in the Display control panel. They both include semi-transparent windows, minimize and close animations and full 60fps GPU window compositing - eye candy that would not be seen again publicly until the M6 era.

Friday, May 2, 2008


This is probably the most recent build that I'll document, being one of the last few compiles before Beta 1 (build 5112) was signed off. By this stage, everything was back on track and Microsoft had a great OS that was ready to be tested by the public for the first time. No longer a flawed and unattainable vision, Longhorn had been reborn with new focus - and with the push for Beta 1 Microsoft was able to show off the Aero Glass theme along with the introduction of LDDM video drivers.

5098 is about ten months into the development process, and as you can see it's a huge step from 5001. In just such a short time the Longhorn team had managed to a better state from scratch than two years of development prior to that could. The major concepts were in - a DirectX 9-powered window manager, a new, easier to use version of the system shell, pervasive search throughout the OS including the Start Menu, and a new Games centre to manage the most lucrative of Windows application bases.


Let's take a step back in time from the last post; where it was one of the earliest compiles of Vista, this build below is the very first compile of Vista after the reset. In fact, it is so similar to Server 2003 (because it literally IS the same code) that even the theming service is disabled by default.

There is only one way to tell that this build is a Longhorn build, and that is the EULA as pictured below. Other differences are zero-day activation : you must activate the build before you can log on. This is the earliest possible look at Vista and shows how far they had to go to get back on track once they reset the project.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Well folks, here's a very early look at Windows Vista. This is about a month after the "reset" when they were merely componentizing the Server 2003 code before trying to re-add any of the features built during the "Longhorn" period.

As such, this build is no different from XP, or at least a client compile of Server 2003. The only changes thusfar are the Longhorn wallpaper, and the Longhorn End User License Agreement present in the build. But make no mistakes, this is not XP, it's Vista - and you can clearly see that they started virtually from scratch after the reset.


As my first look at a previously unseen Longhorn build, I chose to document build 4066, a build showcasing many features that were being checked-in for the WinHEC 2004 release, 4074, but were either too buggy or too incomplete to keep. This particular compile was of Standard Server, which speaks more of what was removed from the build as opposed to what was added in. 

4066 includes DWM, and it's possible to turn on without any nasty hacks. Merely hit control-shift-F9 as per the Vista beta builds and the jade/glass theme is enabled if you have compatible hardware. The glass is still the same muddy green as you see in 4074; the actual Aero Glass theme was on restricted access at the time so to test the layout and performance only this version was available to most employees.

We've all heard the buzzwords like Aurora and Phodeo, but this is the first time you're likely to see both actually implemented in a build. On choosing the "3D view" option you are presented with a new filesystem view - a DirectX-drawn view with an animated aurora effect behind the icons.

If you choose "Panorama" as the view, you're kicked into a buggy version of Phodeo; a 3D animated grouping of files allowing you to quickly browse through the different groups to find what you want. This is not the first time it's been seen - 4039 also included Phodeo but without the Aurora background.

This build also includes other niceties, like a special mini version of Windows Media Player and some WMP sidebar tiles. In the run-up to 4074 all the labs were checking in their code to winmain as evidenced by 4066, but some features had to be cut out completely. 4074 completely lacks the 3D file view and with that, the feature was shelved indefinitely.

Will we ever see Phodeo and Aurora return in Explorer? I don't know, but it would be nice if they could pull it off =)