I was recently assisting someone with a problem with their laptop — an HP Envy, several years old but still running Windows well enough. It would install updates, receive feature releases and get Office 365 click-to-run updates. But it had one foundational problem: Google’s Chrome browser wouldn’t install.
We needed Chrome to access some projects that demanded the Google platform. Easy, right? Not so much on this laptop. Let me walk you through the sleuthing and tactics I needed to get Chrome installed a process that offers lessons for other users when seemingly good installs go bad.
I downloaded both the stub installer and the enterprise installer and the installers would flash a window up, then close down and not install. (The event viewer indicated that the installation was failing, but gave no clue about why.)
In reviewing what files were installed on the machine I found something called “Fast Browser” residing in the registry in place of the Chrome browser. I tried to uninstall it. No dice. Next, I tried Revo uninstaller in a vain attempt to uninstall both Fast Browser and the remnants of Chrome. That’s when I located evidence of a past program whose goal was to disable Microsoft Defender. I hoped to avoid doing a total reinstall, so I kept trying to clean up this clearly damaged operating system. Since the Revo uninstaller couldn’t find a past Chrome install — even though the registry keys indicated that the operating system once thought Chrome was there — I scanned the registry. It turns out that Chrome registry keys had been left behind.
None of the usual recommended troubleshooting techniques to get Chrome to install worked. One recommendation was to uninstall the antivirus software. But since Defender was installed, there was no third-party antivirus to remove. (I did see that the Background Intelligent Transfer Service was set to manual so I set the service to automatic and tried again.
I checked to see whether the network driver on the HP Envy was up to date. It was. Reminder: only go to a vendor’s site or Microsoft to update drivers. Using third-party driver installation tools is often fraught with risk.
Next, I used the registry editor to scan for all locations of Chrome in the registry. I then tried to delete Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Google and Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Google in Registry Editor. Here’s where things got interesting: I couldn’t delete the registry keys. I got an error message that I did not have permissions to edit these registry keys. I kept trying other suggestions and used the Microsoft troubleshooting tool to see if that would find the Google chrome installation and remove it. (It found notning to uninstall.) UAC or User Account Control was already enabled, so there was nothing for me to do.
Moving on, I checked the system startup to look for anything installing on boot that might cause this issue. Here, things got interesting: msconfig showed that the system was set to do a selective startup, and nothing I tried would allow it to change to normal startup.
I could have used such tools to try to take control of registry keys, but by now I’d decided I could no longer trust this hard drive. Even if I found a way to reset permissions or redo the operating system, I no longer considered it a safe operating system. So I used the opportunity to not only fix the laptop, but upgrade it, too.
The Envy had come with a traditional IDE hard drive; I opted to upgrade the system with an SSD drive. Once that was done, I put in a flash drive with an image of the Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft’s download site. The HP laptop found the flash drive immediately and started installing the operating system. Due to the digital Windows 10 license tied to the laptop’s motherboard, the system automatically reactivated Windows 10 without me having to provide a product key.
Then I reinstalled documents, pictures, and various items from the original drive (after first scanning it for security issues). I placed the old drive in an external USB enclosure. Then I took ownership of the old user folder so I could copy the data back to the SSD. (I’m a fan of adding a “take ownership“ option in my right-mouse click properties menu since it lets me copy files easily to a new drive.)
Finally ,I started looking for other files to make the transition easier. If you couldn’t find anything without your browser favorites, depending on your browser preference, you’ll need to find and re-copy them to the new drive. In the case of Firefox, you can find a backup bookmark folder in the original user profile and restore that.
I prefer using a password manager rather than saving passwords in your browser, but if you do the latter, you can export and import them (after you adjust the browser to expose this ability.) Once you get your rebuilt machine back, remember to take a full image backup of your system.
Because I didn’t have a trusted backup to restore from, I had to rebuild this laptop from scratch. And while the Envy was better than before because of the SSD upgrade, moving to a new computer has always been disruptive to me. It takes time to get a system back “just so.” There are often little programs, apps or bits of data that I forget I need. I recommend you keep an old hard drive around in a USB enclosure in case you accidentally forget a file.
The bottom line is this: when your Windows computer won’t let you “fix” it, it’s time to rebuild from scratch. So it’s important to plan ahead and always have on hand (or know where you can quickly get) an external hard drive enclosure, a spare SSD, and a flash drive (with at least 8GB of space) to build a bootable Windows 10 ISO.
So how would you have approached this misbehaving computer? What other tools or tricks would you have used? Join the discussion over on Askwoody.com