To my loyal, local readers. This entry is quite advanced and for a very specific problem. This will not be for most people, but I wanted to put this out there to help others with this problem.
I had a machine running Vista that would not start up and was in a boot loop after Microsoft Updates. I tried all the tricks, and it just got worse. Windows updates and Vista have become a real problem, and most of the time the problem is repairable.
Not this time. I needed to wipe the hard drive and reinstall Vista. The customer did not have the code from the bottom of the laptop because it wore off and you cannot read it any longer. Very frustrating, not to mention a stupid place to put the code where it gets daily wear and tear.
Important Note for ALL laptop owners, it is a good idea to avoid this problem, write down or type and print out your Windows Certificate of Authenticity 25 character code and keep it in a safe place in case it wears off your laptop, like this one did, and this is the second one I have seen in the past month like this.
If Windows is running, you can run one of the key retrieval programs, but when Vista is not booting, you are pretty much stuck. I have found a process that is advanced but it can be done, if followed step by step.
If you are not familiar with working in the registry, I HIGHLY recommend AGAINST attempting this. Also, I am posting this fix ONLY to recover a legitimate code that a customer already had so they do not have to buy a second copy of Windows due to stupid placement of a sticker on the bottom of a laptop. All of these steps are at your own risk, and again are not for illegally obtaining codes, only for people who actually own the product key code.
There are some cool software programs out there to retrieve codes from your operating system, but the OS needs to be running. It is very hard if the system is not running properly.
How to recover a product key in Microsoft Windows Vista when it will not boot but the hard drive is still accessible. This also works with XP.
This can be done on the machine itself, if you can at least get the Windows Install DVD to start
Put in Vista DVD and start up the Install process. Get to Command Prompt option and choose that.
Run Regedit from the command prompt. (this does not load the registry on the hard drive, but a temp one that is loaded from the DVD)
Click on HKEY Local Machine
Click on File>Load Hive (to load the Hive from the Hard drive)
Browse to the C: Drive directory C:\windows\system32\config
Choose the Software Hive with no .ext or if that does not work, try the Software.sav hive.
When it asks what key name, type in something like BackupSoftware
Open the BackupSoftware Key and drill down to the
Microsoft>NT>Current Version key
Look at the key to the right, DigitalProductID
Double Click the key
Got down to the row under 0030 and note the 15 sets of 2 digit numbers from row 0030 to 0040.
Get those 15 pairs of numbers, and go to this decrypter tool that was made just for this need.
Double check the numbers, and that should be your code for that machine.
Kudos and thanks to Dagon Design for the basic instructions in XP which allowed me to find this fix for Vista. Here is his original post with information and other help.
Even though this is not for my normal readers, I posted this to help out others who might be dealing with the same circumstances that I was. I like to give back as so many like Dagon Design and many others give out help freely.