More windows packaging for vagrant and fixing 1603 errors during MSI installs by Matt Wrock

This post is largely a follow up to my November post In search of a light weight windows vagrant box. If you are interested in some pointers to get your windows install as small as possible and then package it up into a Hyper-V or VirtualBox vagrant box file, I'd encourage you to read it. this post will cover three main topics:

  • Why a windows box (vagrant or otherwise) may suffer from 1603 errors when installing MSIs (this is why i set out to repackage my boxes)
  • New "gotchas" packaging Hyper-V boxes on the Windows 10 technical preview
  • LZMA vs. GZIP compression...a cage match

Caution: This Installation may be fatal!

While error code 1603 is a standard MSI error code, I can assure you it is never good and in fact it is always fatal. 1603 errors are "Fatal errors." First a quick primer in troubleshooting failed MSI installs.

MSI installs may simply fail silently leaving no clue as to what might have happened. That can be common of many installation errors especially if you are performing a silent install. The install will likely emit an erroneous exit code at the least but perhaps nothing else. This is when it is time to use the log file switch and add some verbosity for good measure. This may assist you in tracking down an actionable error message or flood you with more information than you ever wanted or both.

The log file is usually generated by adding:

/lv c:\some\log\file.log

to your MSIEXEC.exe command. If the install fails, give this file a good look over. It may seem overly cryptic and will largely contain info meant to be meaningful only to its authors but more often than not one can find the root cause of a failed install within this file.

In mid August of 2014, microsoft rolled out an update KB 2918614 that caused many machines to raise this error when installing MSIs. An almost universal fix was found and that was to uninstall KB 2918614. But in this age of rolling forward, rolling back is so 2013. Months later a hotfix was issued KB3000988. In short this error can occur if you have patch KB2918614  and are running an install with an admin user that has never logged into the box before. In my case I was installing the chef client to start a Test-Kitchen run on a newly provisioned vagrant box.

I could manually install the chef client just fine if I hit this error because that entailed actually logging into the box. However after doing this several times it gets really old but running through a full vagrant packaging can be a multi night process that I have been avoiding but can do so no longer.

Packaging Hyper-V Vagrant boxes on windows 10

Tl;dr: you can't.

You can call me a "Negative Nancy" but I refuse to wear your labels. 

Hyper-V has changed the format it uses to store metadata about the VM. This has been stored in XML format until now. When you package a vagrant Hyper-V box, you include this file in the .box package file and then when you import it, vagrant reads from it and extracts the vital pieces of metadata like cores, memory, network info, etc in order to correctly create a new VM based on that data. It does NOT simply import that file since it contains some unique identifiers that could possibly conflict with other VMs on your host system.

Windows 10 uses a binary format to store this data with a .vmcx extension. This is supposed to provide better performance and reliability when changing vm settings. However it also renders a vagrant import doomed. Thankfully, one can still import vagrant boxes packaged in the xml format and Hyper-V will migrate them to the new format, but this migration is unidirectional at the moment.

I'm hoping future releases will be able to export machines in XML format or at the least the .vmcx format will be published so that vagrant contributors can add support to these new boxes. For now, I'm just gonna need to find a pre v10 windows host to create an xml based VM export that I can package. (I accept donations). Funny how I have access to thousands of guest VMs but the only physical windows boxes I work with are my personal laptop and my wife and kids with Windows Home edition (no Hyper-V). So on to creating a VirtualBox box file.

Update: I was able to package a Hyper-V box by simply using the same box artifacts I had used in my previous box and replacing the virtual hard drive with my updated one. It just needs to have the same name. This works as long as the vm metadata equally applies to the new drive which was the case for me.

LZMA compression: smaller payload larger compression/decompression overhead

In my November post I discussed the benefits of using the LZMA format to package the box. This format is more efficient but takes significantly longer to complete the compression. My personal opinion is that compression time is not that important compared with download and decompression time since the former is done far less frequently and can be scheduled "out of band" so to speak. Better compression is even more important with windows boxes because they are significantly larger than *nix flavored machines.

Arthur Maltson commented on twitter the other day that he sticks with gzip over lzma because the lzma decompression is also considerably longer. I hadn't noticed this but I also did not measure it closely. So lets have a closer look at 3 key factors: compressed box size, download time and decompression time.

This week I rebuilt my windows box including the  KB3000988 hotfix mentioned above. I created both an lzma .box file and a gzip version for VirtualBox so I could compare the two. Both are identical in content. The gzip box weighs in at 3.6GB and the lzma version is 2.8GB. About a 22% delta. Not bad but also not as large of a delta as my observations in November.

Anyone can do the math on the download time. I get about 13mbps on my home FIOS internet connection. So the .8GB delta should mean the gzip will take about 9 extra minutes to download assuming I am pulling the box from an online source. I keep my boxes in Azure storage. Now here is the kicker: the LZMA compressed box takes about 6 minutes to decompress compared to about 1 minute with the gzip. So overall I'm saving just under 5 minutes with the LZMA box. A five minutes savings is great but in light of a total one hour download and the two to three hours it took to produce the initial compressed box, I'm thinking the gzip is the winner here. There are other benefits too. For instance this means you are better off simply using the vagrant package command for VirtualBox boxes meaning more simplicity.

Furthermore it is important to note that Vagrant downloads and decompresses the package only once and caches it in your .vagrnt.d folder. All "vagrant up" commands simply copy the previously downloaded and decompressed image to a new VM. So any savings yielded from a smaller download is only rewarded one time per box on any one host assuming you do not explicitly delete the box.

Staying "in the know" with podcasts by Matt Wrock

TL;DR: There will be no dog hosted podcasts discussed here but please enjoy this adorable image.

TL;DR: There will be no dog hosted podcasts discussed here but please enjoy this adorable image.

I love podcasts and I credit them, those who produce them and their guests for playing a significant role in developing my career and passions. You can skip to the end of this post to check out the podcasts I listen to today, but allow me to pontificate about podcasts and how  I like to consume them.

I started listening to podcasts (mostly technical) almost ten years ago. Around that time I got interested in ultra marathons (any run longer than 26.2 miles) and they would keep me company on my monthly 50K runs mostly in the dark through the trails of Chino Hills State Park. Back then I had been developing software professionally for several years and had done some truly cool stuff but mostly in a cave of my own making. I am a self-taught coder and what I knew at the time I had learned mostly from books and my own tinkering. I was not at all "plugged in" to any developer community and the actual human developers I knew were limited to those at my place of work. Podcasts changed all of that.

High level awareness over deep mastery

First things first, if you set aside time to listen to a podcast with the hopes of really learning some deep details about a particular topic, you may be disappointed. This is not to say that podcasts lack rich technical content, they simply are not the medium by which one should expect to gain mastery over a given topic.

Most will agree that technology workers like those likely reading this post are constantly inundated with new technologies, tools, and ideas. Sometimes it can feel like we are constantly making decisions as to what NOT to learn because no human being can possibly set out to study and even gain a novice ability to work with all of this information. So its important that the facts we use to decide where to invest our learning efforts are as well informed as possible.

I like the fact that I can casually listen to several podcasts and build an awareness of concepts that may be useful to me and that I can draw from later at a deeper level. There have now been countless times that I have come across a particular problem and recall something I heard in a podcast that I think may be applicable. At that time I can google the topic and either determine that its not worth pursuing or start to dive in and explore.

So many trends and ideas - you need to be aware

There is so much going on in our space and at such a fast pace. Like I mention above, its simply impossible to grasp everything. Its also impossible to simply follow every trending topic. However we all need to maintain some kind of feed to the greater technical community in order to maintain at least a basic awareness of what is current in our space. Its just too easy to live out our careers in isolation, regardless of how smart we are, and miss out on so many of the great ideas in circulation around us.

When I started listening to podcasts, my awareness and exposure to new ideas took off and allowed me to follow new disciplines that truly stretched me. I may not have gained these awarenesses  had I not had this link to the "outside world." 

Some of the significant "life changing" ideas that podcasts introduced me to were: Test Driven Development, Inversion of Control patterns and container implementations, several significant Open Source projects but more importantly, a curiosity to become actively involved in open source.

Making a bigger impact

After listening to several podcasts I began to take stock of my career and realize that while I had accomplished to put out some good technology and gain notoriety within my own work place, that notoriety and overall impact did not reach far beyond that relatively small sphere of influence. Listening to podcasts and being exposed to the guests that appeared on them made me recognize the value of "getting out there" and becoming involved with a broader group. This especially hit home when I decided to change jobs after being with the same employer for nine years.

It was in large part thanks to some of the prolific bloggers I heard interviewed that inspired me to start my own blog. I had listened to tons of open source project contributors talk about the projects they started and maintain and I eventually started my own projects. A couple of these got noticed and I have now been invited to speak on a few podcasts myself. That just seems crazy and tends to strongly invoke my deep seated imposter syndrome, but they were all alot of fun.

I even got to work with a podcaster who I enjoyed listening to for years, David Starr (@elegantcoder),  and had the privilege of sitting right next to him every day. What a treat and I have to say that the real life David lived up to the episodes I enjoyed on my runs years before. If you want to hear someone super smart, I'm talking about David, have a listen to his interview on Hanselminutes.

Podcasts I listen to

So my tastes and the topics I tend to gravitate towards have changed over the past few years. For instance, I listen to more "devopsy" podcasts and less webdev shows than I used to but I still religiously listen to some of the first podcasts I started with. Some I enjoy more for the host than the topics covered.

Here are the podcasts I subscribe to today in alphabetical order:

.Net Rocks!

This may have been the first series I listened to and I still listen now and again. As the name suggests, its focus is on .net technologies. Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell do a great and very professional job producing this podcast.

Arrested Devops

This is a fairly new podcast focusing on devops topics and usually includes not only the hosts, Matt Stratton, Trevor Hess, and Bridget Kromhout but also one or more great guests knowledgeable of devops topics. You will also learn, and I'll just tell you right now, that there is always devops in the banana stand. I did not know that.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Matt on a few occasions at some Chef events. He's a great guy, fun to talk to and passionate about devops in the windows space.

The Cloudcast

Put on by Aaron Delp and Brian Gracely, I just started listening to this one and so far really like it. I work for a cloud so it seems only natural that  listen to such a podcast.

Devops Cafe

Another great podcast focusing on devops topics put on by John Willis and Damon Edwards. The favicon of their website looks like a Minecraft cube. Is there meaning here? I don't know but I like it.

Food Fight Show

Another Devops centered podcast hosted by Nathan Harvey and Brandon Burton. The show often covers topics relevant to the Chef development community. So if you are interested in Chef, I especially recommend this show but its coverage certainly includes much more.


Another show that I have been listening to since the beginning of my podcast listening. Its hosted by Scott Hanselman and I think he has a real knack for interviewing other engineers. Many of the shows cover topics relevant to Microsoft topics but in recent years Scott has been focusing on alot on broad, and I think important, social issues and how they intersect with developer communities. Its really good stuff.

Herding Code

A great show that often, but not necesarily always focuses on web based technologies. These guys - Jon GallowayK. Scott Allen, Kevin Dente, and Scott Koon - ask alot of great questions of their guests and have the ability to dive deep into technical issues.

Ops All the Things

Put on by Steven Murawski and Chris Webber talking about devops related topics. I learned about Steven from his appearances on several other podcasts talking about Microsoft's DSC (Desired State Configuration) and his experiences working with it at Stack Exchange. I've had the privilege of meeting Steven and recently working with him on a working group aimed at bringing Test-Kitchen (an ifrastructure automation testing tool) to Windows.

PowerScripting Podcast

A great show focused on powershell hosted by Jonathan Walz and Hal Rottenberg. If you like or are interested in powershell, you should definitely subscribe to this podcast. They have tons of great guests including at least three episodes with Jeffrey Snover the creator of powershell.

Runas Radio

A weekly interview show with Richard Campbell and an interesting guest focusing on Microsoft IT Professional (Ops) and lately many "devops" related guests and topics.

The Ship Show

Another podcast focused on devops topics hosted by Join J. Paul Reed, Youssuf El-KalayEJ Ciramella, Seth Thomas, Sascha Bates , and Pete Cheslock. These episodes often include great discussion both among the hosts and with some great guests.

Software Defined Talk

Another new show in my feed but this one is special. Its hosted by Michael Coté, Matt Ray, and Brandon Whichard. I find these guys very entertaining and informative. The show tends to focus on general market trends in the software industry but there is something about the three of these guys and their personalities that I find really refreshing. I walk away from all of these episodes with a good chuckle and with several tidbits of industry knowledge I didn't have before.

Software Engineering Radio

Here is another show that I have been listening to since the beginning. One thing I like about this series is that it really has no core technical focus and therefore provides a nice range of topics across, "devops", process management, and engineering covering several different disciplines. I highly recommend a recent episode, Gang of Four – 20 Years Later.

This Developers Life

There hasn't been a new episode in over a year and perhaps there never will be another but each of these episodes are a must listen. If you like the popular This American Life podcast, you should really enjoy this series which shamelessly copies the former but focuses on issues core to development. Scott Hanselman and Rob Connery are true creative genius here.

Windows Weekly

It took me a couple episodes to get into this one but I now look forward to it every week. Hosted by Leo Laporte, Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, it takes a more "end user" view into Microsoft technologies. Now that I no longer work for Microsoft I find it all the more interesting to get some inside scoop on that place where I used to work.

The Goat Farm

I just discovered this and it looks like another good addition to my list. Run by Michael Ducy and Ross Clanton. Just listened to my first episode last night: Taylorism, Hating Agile, and DevOps at CSG.

Adventures in sysprep and the failed quest for disk cleanup on server 2012 R2 by Matt Wrock

A couple months ago I wrote a post about creating light weight windows vagrant boxes. For those unfamiliar with vagrant, a "Vagrant Box" is essentially a VM image and vagrant provides a rich plugin ecosystem that allows one to consume a "box" from different clouds and hypervisors and also use a variety of provisioning technologies to build out the final instance. My post covered how a windows image is prepared for vagrant and also discussed several techniques for making the image as small as possible. Last week I set about updating a windows vmware template using many of those same optimizations but when it came time to sysprep the image, alas it was not a tear free process.

This post will cover:

  • gotchas when it comes to sysprepping windows images
  • Troubleshooting sysprep failures
  • public mourning of the loss of our good friend, cleanmgr.exe, on server 2012 R2

What is sysprep?

Sysprep is a command line tool that prepares a windows instance to be "reconsumed." It can take different command line arguments which will produce different flavors of output. My use of the tool and the one covered by this post is to prepare a base windows image to be deployed from VMWare infrastructure. This often involves the use of the /generalize switch which strips a windows OS of its individuality. It removes things like hostname, IP, user SIDs and even geographical association. You can also provide sysprep a path to an unattend file, also known as an answer file, that can contain all sorts of setup metadata such as administrator credentials, startup script, windows product key and more. Here is an example:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
      <!--This section contains elements for pre-populating user information and personalizing the user experience-->
      <AdminPassword Value="TG33hY" StrongPassword="No" EncryptedPassword="No"/>
      <FullName Value="Cookie Jones" />
      <ProductKey Value="12345-ABCDE-12345-ABCDE-12345" />
      <!--This section contains elements for pre-populating information about disk configuration settings-->
      <Disk ID="0">
         <CreatePartition />
         <!--This section contains elements for selecting regional and language settings for the user interface-->
         <UserInterface Value="12" />

This has the advantage of preparing a fresh install that does not require the user to manually input a bunch of information before logging on and being productive.

You might prep the os with this file by running:

C:\windows\system32\sysprep\sysprep.exe /generalize /oobe /shutdown /unattend:myAnswerFile.xml

Sysprep without running sysprep

I dont often have the need to directly interact with sysprep.exe. Almost all of my dealings with it have been through VMWare's customization tooling and API which allow me to provision windows machines from ruby code that instruct VMWare how to perform sysprep and assemble the answer file. Here is an example of working with the ruby based vmware API, rbvmomi, to programatically construct the answer file:

def windows_prep_for(options, vm_name)
  cust_runonce =
    :commandList => [
      'winrm set winrm/config/client/auth @{Basic="true"}',
      'winrm set winrm/config/service/auth @{Basic="true"}',
      'winrm set winrm/config/service @{AllowUnencrypted="true"}',
      'shutdown -l'])

  cust_login_password = RbVmomi::VIM::CustomizationPassword(
    :plainText => true,
    :value => options[:password])
  if options.has_key?(:domain)
    cust_domain_password = RbVmomi::VIM::CustomizationPassword(
      :plainText => true,
      :value => options[:domainAdminPassword])
    cust_id =
      :joinDomain => options[:domain],
      :domainAdmin => options[:domainAdmin],
      :domainAdminPassword => cust_domain_password)
    cust_id =
      :joinWorkgroup => 'WORKGROUP')
  cust_gui_unattended =
    :autoLogon => true,
    :autoLogonCount => 1,
    :password => cust_login_password,
    :timeZone => options[:win_time_zone])
  cust_userdata =
    :computerName =>
      :name => options[:hostname]
    :fullName => options[:org_name],
    :orgName => options[:org_name],
    :productId => options[:product_id])
    :guiRunOnce => cust_runonce,
    :identification => cust_id,
    :guiUnattended => cust_gui_unattended,
    :userData => cust_userdata)

VMWare calls sysprep.exe for me on the base vm template image and can pass in a file like the one above to enable winrm, register the product key, setup the local administrator and domain join the final vm. This all works great except for when it doesn't.

When things go wrong either by calling sysprep.exe directly or via VMWare, its not immediately obvious what the error is. In fact I would say that it is immediately very confusing...and even worse sometimes it is not immediate at all. I wrote a post six months ago about how to troubleshoot unattended windows provisioning gone wrong. Here I want to look specifically at issues concerning disk cleanup.

Preparing for sysprep

Often the point of running sysprep is to be able to take a golden image and deploy that for use in many virtual instances.So you want to make sure that the image you are capturing is...well...golden. That might also mean, especially for windows, as small as possible. Since windows images are much larger than their linux counter parts and orders of magnitude larger than containers, its important to me that they be as small as possible at the outset so that an already drawn out provisioning time does not go even longer.

There are a few techniques that can be applied here and which ones will depend on the version of windows you are running. I'm focusing here on the latest released server version 2012 R2. I'd definitely encourage you to read my vagrant post that talks about some of the new features of component cleanup and features on demand that can shave many gigabytes off of your base image. Another tool that many use to purge useless files from their windows os is cleanmgr.exe. Many know this better as the little app that is launched from the "disk cleanup" button when viewing a disk's properties.

Enabling Disk Cleanup on windows server

Windows clients have this feature enabled by default but out of the box it is not present on server SKUs. The way to enable it is by adding the Desktop Experience feature. This would be done in powershell by running:

Add-WindowsFeature Desktop-Experience

The problem with this is that the Desktop-Experience brings alot of baggage with it that you do not typically need or want on a server. In fact, it will automatically enable two additional features:

  • Media Services
  • Ink and Handwriting Services

All around in files and registry size, this makes your OS footprint larger so there are typically two ways to deal with this.

Install, Cleanup, Uninstall

You want to have this be the last step of your image preparation process. Once everything is as it should be, you install the Desktop Experience, perform a required reboot, invoke cleanmgr.exe and dump as much as you can and then uninstall the feature along with the above two features it installed. Then finally, of course, reboot again.

Install cleanmgr.exe ala carte style

You dont need this feature just to run cleanmgr. While this is certainly not obvious, it is buried deep inside your windows folder even when the desktop experience is not enabled. This is even documented on Technet. Search for cleanmgr.exe  and cleanmgr.exe.mui inside of c:\windows\winSXS:

Get-ChildItem -Path c:\windows\winsxs -Recursive -Filter cleanmgr.exe
Get-ChildItem -Path c:\windows\winsxs -Recursive -Filter cleanmgr.exe.mui

This may return two or three versions of the same file. You'll probably want whichever has the highest versions. According to the above referenced Technet article, on server 2008 R2 these will be in:



They can simply be copied to c:\windows\system32 and c:\windows\system32\en-US respectively. While they wont be visible from the disk properties, you can still access them from the command line.

Two steps forward one step back on server 2012 R2

Server 2012 R2 has delivered some major enhancements for reducing the size of a windows os footprint. It provides commands for cleaning out installed updates and you can completely remove unused features from disk. Further, those parts of winSXS that are not in use are compressed. This is all great stuff but the problem is that because cleanmgr.exe is compressed, it cannot simply be copied out and run as is. Further, neither I nor anyone else on the internet can seem to extract it.

Its clearly compressed. While disabled, its about 82k and 213k afterwards. I tried using the compact commandline tool as well as winrar without luck.

One option is to do a mix of the above two approaches: Enable the feature. Once enabled, those two files are both expanded and moved to system32. Then copy them somewhere safe before disabling the feature. Now you could use these files either on this machine or another server 2012 R2 box...or not.

I have tried this and it works in so far as I can get cleanmgr.exe to pop its GUI dialog, but it appears crippled. Only a hand full of the usually available options are present:

Where are the error reports, the setup files, etc?

So what does this have to do with sysprep?

Go ahead and perform a sysprep after disabling the desktop experience feature.

A fatal error...hmm.

Troubleshooting sysprep

When things go wrong during a sysprep cycle, the place to look is:


This file will almost always include a more instructive error as well as information as to what it was doing just before the failure which can help debug the issue. The error we get here is:

Package winstore_1.0.0.0_neutral_neutral_cw5n1h2txyewy was installed for a user, but not provisioned for all users. This package will not function properly in the sysprep image.

Sysprep will attempt to uninstall all windows store apps and here it is complaining that it cannot and one is still installed.

Lets just check to see what store apps are currently installed:

PS C:\Users\Administrator.WIN-DKAJ9Q1JK5N> Get-AppxPackage

Name              : winstore
Publisher         : CN=Microsoft Windows, O=Microsoft Corporation, L=Redmond, S=Washington, C=US
Architecture      : Neutral
ResourceId        : neutral
Version           :
PackageFullName   : winstore_1.0.0.0_neutral_neutral_cw5n1h2txyewy
InstallLocation   : C:\Windows\WinStore
IsFramework       : False
PackageFamilyName : winstore_cw5n1h2txyewy
PublisherId       : cw5n1h2txyewy
IsResourcePackage : False
IsBundle          : False
IsDevelopmentMode : False

Name              : windows.immersivecontrolpanel
Publisher         : CN=Microsoft Windows, O=Microsoft Corporation, L=Redmond, S=Washington, C=US
Architecture      : Neutral
ResourceId        : neutral
Version           :
PackageFullName   : windows.immersivecontrolpanel_6.2.0.0_neutral_neutral_cw5n1h2txyewy
InstallLocation   : C:\Windows\ImmersiveControlPanel
IsFramework       : False
PackageFamilyName : windows.immersivecontrolpanel_cw5n1h2txyewy
PublisherId       : cw5n1h2txyewy
IsResourcePackage : False
IsBundle          : False
IsDevelopmentMode : False

Ok. fine. We'll just delete them ourselves.

PS C:\Users\Administrator.WIN-DKAJ9Q1JK5N> Get-AppxPackage | Remove-AppxPackage
Remove-AppxPackage : Deployment failed with HRESULT: 0x80073CFA, Removal failed. Please contact your software vendor.
(Exception from HRESULT: 0x80073CFA)
error 0x80070032: AppX Deployment Remove operation on package winstore_1.0.0.0_neutral_neutral_cw5n1h2txyewy from:
C:\Windows\WinStore failed. This app is part of Windows and cannot be uninstalled on a per-user basis. An
administrator can attempt to remove the app from the computer using Turn Windows Features on or off. However, it may
not be possible to uninstall the app.
NOTE: For additional information, look for [ActivityId] cc6d4139-3ae8-0000-0447-6dcce83ad001 in the Event Log or use
the command line Get-AppxLog -ActivityID cc6d4139-3ae8-0000-0447-6dcce83ad001
At line:1 char:19
+ Get-AppxPackage | Remove-AppxPackage
+                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    + CategoryInfo          : WriteError: (winstore_1.0.0....l_cw5n1h2txyewy:String) [Remove-AppxPackage], IOException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : DeploymentError,Microsoft.Windows.Appx.PackageManager.Commands.RemoveAppxPackageCommand

Remove-AppxPackage : Deployment failed with HRESULT: 0x80073CFA, Removal failed. Please contact your software vendor.
(Exception from HRESULT: 0x80073CFA)
error 0x80070032: AppX Deployment Remove operation on package
windows.immersivecontrolpanel_6.2.0.0_neutral_neutral_cw5n1h2txyewy from: C:\Windows\ImmersiveControlPanel failed.
This app is part of Windows and cannot be uninstalled on a per-user basis. An administrator can attempt to remove the
app from the computer using Turn Windows Features on or off. However, it may not be possible to uninstall the app.
NOTE: For additional information, look for [ActivityId] cc6d4139-3ae8-0000-0f47-6dcce83ad001 in the Event Log or use
the command line Get-AppxLog -ActivityID cc6d4139-3ae8-0000-0f47-6dcce83ad001
At line:1 char:19
+ Get-AppxPackage | Remove-AppxPackage
+                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    + CategoryInfo          : WriteError: (windows.immersi...l_cw5n1h2txyewy:String) [Remove-AppxPackage], IOException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : DeploymentError,Microsoft.Windows.Appx.PackageManager.Commands.RemoveAppxPackageCommand

Ugh. We cant uninstall these? Nope. You cannot. So once you install the desktop experience feature, it cannot be fully uninstalled. The only way to sysprep this machine is to keep the desktop experience feature enabled.

Whether you sysprep via the VMWare tools or directly, you can now no longer run a successful sysprep without the desktop experience unless you start over with a new OS. I have scowered the internet for a work around have not found any. There are lots of folks complaining about this.

Its not as bad as it might seem

The fact of the matter is that I do not see this as being a horrendous show stopper at least not for my use case. By the time I run disk cleanup, there really is not that much to be purged. Far less than a gigabyte. This is because I am preparing a fresh os so there has not been much accumulation of cruft. The vast majority of disposable content I can now purge very thoroughly with the new DISM.exe command:

Dism.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase

Worse case, I manually delete temp files and some of the other random junk lying around. Its unfortunate that we have lost cleanmgr.exe but all is not lost.

Exceeding the 3 sysprep limit

Another issue I hit with sysprep that threw me and prompted a fair amount of research was the limit of 3 sysprep runs from a single os install. It is true that you are limited to three but there is an easy workaround I found here. The limit manifests itself with another fatal error during sysprep and the following message in the log file:

RunExternalDlls:Not running DLLs; either the machine is in an invalid state or we couldn't update the recorded state, dwRet = 0x1f

According to the post mentioned above, the work around is to set the following reg keys:


Then run:

msdtc -uninstall
msdtc -install

and then reboot. I was able to get by by just setting the GeneralizationState property of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Setup\Status\SysprepStatus\GeneralizationState to 7, but your mileage may vary.

Safely running windows automation operations that fail inside winrm or powershell remoting by Matt Wrock

Me and a couple colleagues engaging in our ceremonial preparation for running scheduled tasks. The robes chafe but not as bad as the tasks.

Me and a couple colleagues engaging in our ceremonial preparation for running scheduled tasks. The robes chafe but not as bad as the tasks.

In many ways I like windows powershell more than bash and even powershell remoting over SSH. Please don't hate me. However, in spite of some of the clever things you can do with treating remote sessions as objects and manipulating them as such in powershell, its all fun and games until you start getting HResults thrown in your face trying to do something you'd think was the poster child use case for remoting like installing windows updates on a remote machine.

In this post I'm going to discuss:

  • Some common operations, that I am aware of, that can cause one to get into trouble automating remotely on windows
  • Approaches for working around these issues
  • Using a tool like Boxstarter on  100% windows automation or the Boxstarter cookbook in chef runs on Test-KitchenChef Provisioning or Vagrant provisioning where WinRM is the transport mechanism

To be clear 95% of all things local can be done remotely without incident on windows if not more. This post gives voice to the remaining 5%.

Things that don't work

This may come as a surprise to those used to working over ssh where things pretty much behave just as they do locally, but in the world of remote shells on windows, there are a few gotchas that you should be aware of. Quickly here are the big ones:

  • Working with the windows update interfaces simply don't work
  • Accessing network resources like network shares, databases or web sites that normally leverage your current windows logon context will fail unless using the correct authentication protocol
  • Installing MSIs or other installers that depend on either of the above resources (SQL Server, most .Net Framework installers) will not install successfully
  • Accessing winrm client configuration information like max commands per shell and user, max memory per shell, etc. on windows OS versions below win 8/2012 result in Access Denied errors.

What does failure look like?

I can say this much. Its not pretty.

Windows update called in an installer

Lets try to install the .net framework v 4.5.2. I'm going to do this via a normal powershell remoting session on windows v 8.1 that ships with .net v 4.5.1 but if you are not on a windows box, you can certainly follow along by running this through the WinRM ruby gem or embedding it in a Chef recipe:

function Get-HttpToFile ($url, $file){
    Write-Verbose "Downloading $url to $file"
    if(Test-Path $file){Remove-Item $file -Force}
    $downloader=new-object net.webclient
    try {
        $downloader.DownloadFile($url, $file)
        if($VerbosePreference -eq "Continue"){
            Write-Error $($_.Exception | fl * -Force | Out-String)
        throw $_

Write-Host "Downloading .net 4.5.2.."
Get-HttpToFile `
Write-Host "Installing .net 4.5.2.."
$proc = Start-Process "$env:temp\net45.exe" `
  -verb runas -argumentList "/quiet /norestart /log $env:temp\net45.log"`
while(!$proc.HasExited){ sleep -Seconds 1 }

This should fail fairly quickly. A look at the log file - the one specified in the installer call (note that this will be output in html format and given an html extension) reveals the actual error:

Final Result:
Installation failed with error code: (0x00000005), "Access is denied."

If you investigate the log further you will find:

WU Service: EnsureWUServiceIsNotDisabled succeeded
Action: Performing Action on Exe at C:\b723fe7b9859fe238dad088d0d921179\x64-Windows8.1-KB2934520-x64.msu
Launching CreateProcess with command line = wusa.exe "C:\b723fe7b9859fe238dad088d0d921179\x64-Windows8.1-KB2934520-x64.msu" /quiet /norestart

Its trying to download installation bits using the Windows Update service. This not only occurs in the "web installer" used here but also the full offline installer as well. Note that this script should run without incident locally on the box. So quit your crying and just logon to your 200 web nodes and run this. What's the freaking problem?

So its likely that the .net version you plan to run is pre baked in your base images already, but what this illustrates is that regardless of what you are trying to do, there is no guarantee that things are going to work or even fail in a comprehensible manner. Even if everyone knows what wusa.exe is and what an exit code of 0x5 signifies.

No access to network resources

To quickly demonstrate this, I'll list the C:\ drive of my host computer from a local session using a Hyper-V console:

PS C:\Windows\system32> ls \\ultrawrock\c$

    Directory: \\ultrawrock\c$

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
d----         1/15/2015   9:32 AM            chef
d----        12/12/2014  12:51 AM            dev
d----         9/10/2014   3:44 PM            Go
d----         11/5/2014   7:24 PM            HashiCorp
d----        12/10/2014  12:13 AM            Intel
d----        11/16/2014  11:10 AM            opscode
d----         11/4/2014   5:23 AM            PerfLogs
d-r--         1/10/2015   4:30 PM            Program Files
d-r--         1/17/2015   1:11 PM            Program Files (x86)
d----        12/11/2014  12:33 AM            RecoveryImage
d----        11/16/2014  11:40 AM            Ruby21-x64
d----        12/11/2014  10:26 PM            tools
d-r--        12/11/2014  12:31 AM            Users
d----        12/26/2014   5:24 PM            Windows

Now I'll run this exact same command in my remote powershell session:

[]: PS C:\Users\Matt\Documents> ls \\ultrawrock\c$
ls : Access is denied
    + CategoryInfo          : PermissionDenied: (\\ultrawrock\c$:String) [Get-ChildItem], UnauthorizedAccessException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId :
 ItemExistsUnauthorizedAccessError, Microsoft.PowerShell.Commands.GetChildItemCommand

ls : Cannot find path '\\ultrawrock\c$' because it does not exist.
    + CategoryInfo          : ObjectNotFound: (\\ultrawrock\c$:String) [Get-ChildItem], ItemNotFoundException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : PathNotFound,Microsoft.PowerShell.Commands.GetChildItemCommand

Note that I am logged into both the local console and the remote session using the exact same credentials.

It should be pretty easy to see how this could happen in many remoting scenarios.

Working around these limitations

To be clear, you can install .net, install windows updates and access network shares remotely on windows. Its just kind of like Japanese Tea Ceremony meets automation but stripped of beauty and cultural profundity. You are gonna have to pump out a bunch of boiler plate code to accomplish what you need.

What?...I'm not bitter.

Solving the double hop with CredSSP

This solution is not so bad but will only work for 100% windows scenarios using powershell remoting (as far as I know). That may likely work for most but breaks if you are managing windows infrastructure from linux (read on if you are).

You need to create your remote powershell session using CredSSP authentication:

Enter-PSSession -ComputerName MyComputer `
                -Credential $(Get-Credential user) `
                -Authentication CredSSP

This also requires CredSSP to be enabled on both the host (client) and guest (server):


Enable-WSManCredSSP -Role Client -DelegateComputer * -Force

This states I can delegate my credential via any server. I could also provide an array of hosts to allow.


Enable-WSManCredSSP -Role Server -Force

If you are not in a windows domain, you must also edit the local Group Policy (gpedit from any command line) on the host and allow delegating fresh credentials:

After invoking the Group Policy Editor with gpedit.msc, navigate to Local Computer Policy/Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/System/Credential Delegation. Then select Allow delegating fresh credentials in the right pane. In the following window, make sure this policy is enabled and specify the servers to authorize in the form of "wsman/{host or IP}". The hosts can be wild carded using domain dot notation. So * would effectively allow any host in that domain.

In case you want to automate the clicking and pointing, see this script I wrote that does just that.

Now here is a kicker: you cant use the Enable-WSManCredSSP cmdlet in a remote session. The server needs to be enabled locally. Thats ok. You could use the next work around to get around that.

Run locally with Scheduled Tasks

This is a fairly well known and somewhat frequent work around to get by this whole dilemma. I'll be honest here, I think the fact that one has to do this to accomplish such routine things as installing updates is ludicrous and I just don't understand why Microsoft does not remove this limitation. Unfortunately there is no way for me to send a pull request for this.

As we get into this, I think you will see why I say this. Its a total hack and a general pain in the butt to implement.

A scheduled task is essentialy a bit of code you can schedule to run in a separate process at a single time or interval. You can invoke them to run immediately or upon certain events like logon. You can provide a specific identity under which the task should run and the task will run as if that identity is logged on locally. There is full GUI interface for maintaining and creating them as well as a command line interface (schtasks) and also a set of powershell cmdlets in powershel v3.0 forward.

To demonstrate how to create, run and remove a task, I'll be pulling code from Boxstarter, an OSS project I started to address windows environment installs. Boxstarter uses the schtasks executable to support earlier powerhell versions (pre 3.0) before the cmdlets were created.

Creating a scheduled task

schtasks /CREATE /TN 'Temp Boxstarter Task' /SC WEEKLY /RL HIGHEST `
         /RU "$($Credential.UserName)" /IT `
         /RP $Credential.GetNetworkCredential().Password `
         /TR "powershell -noprofile -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -File $env:temp\Task.ps1" `

#Give task a normal priority
$taskFile = Join-Path $env:TEMP RemotingTask.txt
Remove-Item $taskFile -Force -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue
[xml]$xml = schtasks /QUERY /TN 'Temp Boxstarter Task' /XML

schtasks /CREATE /TN 'Boxstarter Task' /RU "$($Credential.UserName)" `
         /IT /RP $Credential.GetNetworkCredential().Password `
         /XML "$taskFile" /F | Out-Null
schtasks /DELETE /TN 'Temp Boxstarter Task' /F | Out-Null

This might look a little strange so let me explain what this does (see here for original and complete script). First it uses the CREATE command to create a task that runs under the given identity to run whatever script is in Task.ps1. One important parameter here is /RL, the Run Level. This can be set to Highest or Limited. We want to run with highest privileges. Finally, note the use of /IT - interactive. This is great for debugging. If the identity specified just so happens to be logged into a interactive session when this task runs, any GUI elements will be seen by that user.

Now for some reason the schtasks CLI does not expose the priority to run the task with. However you can serialize any task to XML and then manipulate it directly. I found that this was important for Boxstarter which often invoked immediately after a fresh OS install. Things like Windows Updates or SCCM installs quickly take over and Boxstarter may get significantly delayed waiting for its turn so it at least asks to run with a normal priority.

After we save this file, that's not enough to simply change the priority. We now have to recreate a new task based on that XML using schtasks otherwise our identity is lost. Boxstarter will create this task once and then reuse it for any command it needs local rights for. It then deletes it in a finally block when it is done.

Running the Scheduled Task

I'm not going to cover all of the event driven mechanics or interval syntax since I am really referring to the running of ad hoc tasks. To actually cause the above task to run is simple:

$taskResult = schtasks /RUN /I /TN 'Boxstarter Task'
if($LastExitCode -gt 0){
    throw "Unable to run scheduled task. Message from task was $taskResult"

Since schtasks is a normal executable, we check the exit code to determine if it was successful. Note that this does not indicate if the script that the task runs is successful, it simply indicates that the task was able to be launched. For all we know the script inside the task fails horribly. The /I argument informs RUN to run immediately.

I'm going to spare all the code details for another post, but boxstarter does much more than just this when running the task. At the least you'd want to know when the task ends and have access to output and error streams of that task. Boxstarter finds the process, pumps its streams to a file and interactively reads from those streams back to the console. It also includes hang detection logic in the event that the task gets "stuck" like with a dialog box and is able to kill the task along with all child processes. You can see that code here in its Invoke-FromTask command.

An example usage of that function is when Boxstarter installs .net 4.5 on a box that does not already have it:

if(Get-IsRemote) {
  Invoke-FromTask @"
    Start-Process "$env:temp\net45.exe" -verb runas -wait `
      -argumentList "/quiet /norestart /log $env:temp\net45.log"

This will block until the task completes and ensure stdout is streamed to the console and stderr is captured and bubbled back to the caller.

The Boxstarter cookbook for x-plat use

I developed Boxstarter with a 100% windows world in mind. That was my world then but my world is now mixed. I wanted to leverage some of the functionality in boxstarter for my chef runs without rewriting it (yet). So I created a Chef Boxstarter Cookbook that could install the powershell modules on a converging chef node and convert any block of powershell in a recipe into a Boxstarter "package" (a chocolatey flavored package) that can run inside of a boxstarter context within a chef client run. This can be placed inside a client run launched from Test-Kitchen or Chef-Provisioning both which can run via WinRM on a remote node. One could also use it to provision vagrant boxes with the chef zero provisioner plugin.

Here is an example recipe usage:

include_recipe 'boxstarter'
default['boxstarter']['version'] = "2.4.159"

boxstarter "boxstarter run" do
  password default['my_box_cookbook']['my_secret_password']
  disable_reboots false
  code <<-EOH
    cinst console2
    cinst fiddler4
    cinst git-credential-winstore
    cinst poshgit
    cinst dotpeek

    Install-WindowsUpdate -acceptEula

You can learn more about boxstarter scripts at but they can contain ANY powershell and have the chocolatey modules loaded so all chocolatey commands exist and also expose some custom boxstarter commands for customizing windows settings (note the first two commands) or installing updates. Boxstarter will detect pending reboots and unless asked otherwise, it will reboot upon detecting a pending reboot - bad for production nodes but great for a personal dev environment.

A proof of concept and a bit rough

The boxstarter cookbook is still rough around the edges. It does what I need it to do and I have not invested much time in it. The output handling over WinRM is terrible and it needs more work making sure errors are properly bubbled up.

At any rate, this post is not intended to be a plug for boxstarter but it demonstrates how to get around the potential perils one may encounter inside of a remote windows session either in powershell directly or from raw WinRM from linux.

Installing user gems using chef by Matt Wrock

In my experience installing server infrastructure using Chef, I usually use the chef_gem resource to install a gem that's needed in order to orchestrate the setup process. These are gems that are consumed by chef, or a chef resource to converge a node. However last night I was editing a chef recipe that's included in a chef_workstation cookbook that my team at CenturyLink Cloud uses for provisioning developer vagrant boxes and our TeamCity build agents. I have bloged about that in more detail here. The recipe I was working on is responsible for installing all of the gems we use in our chef dev process. They include both publicly available knife plugins and internally authored tools as well. These gems are consumed by the user of the vagrant box and not chef directly.

The bash force approach

This was one of the first cookbooks we created when we had limited knowledge of chef, ruby and how gems worked in general - alas our knowledge still has limits but they are much less restrictive. So this recipe looked something like this:

bash "install chef gems" do
  code <<-EOS
    su - #{node["chef_workstation"]["user"]} -c "chef gem install my-gem-1"
    su - #{node["chef_workstation"]["user"]} -c "chef gem install my-gem-2"
    su - #{node["chef_workstation"]["user"]} -c "chef gem install my-gem-3"

As you can see we were just running this via bash. Really this is fine and it worked. There is alot to be said for something that works. When we were putting this cookbook together we found that using chef_gem or gem_package installed the gems into the root user's directory making them inaccesible to the vagrant user. So using su was our workaround.

Recently we started using Nexus as an internal gem repository that seems to have slightly different install behavior from rubygems or artifactory. The former repositories would always install the latest gem assuming we had no constraints. Nexus would not install anything if any version of the requested gem was already installed. This did not work well for our internal gem workflow where we expect a vagrant provision to always install the latest gem.

Using gem_package

My first thought was to use the raw ruby gem modules to check for updates, install if the gem was missing or run an update if there was a newer version. That could have worked but it just seemed like I must be reinventing a wheel so I revisited the gem_package docs. Not sure why, but I didn't find anything meeting my needs on StackOverflow or the other google results I was turning up.

After reviewing the docs and a couple of initial failed attempts I landed on the right attribute values that yielded what worked:

%w[clc-gem1 clc-gem2 clc_gem-amazing].each do |gem|
  gem_package gem do
    source node["clc_nexus"]["repo"]["localgems"]
    gem_binary "/opt/chefdk/embedded/bin/gem"
    options "--no-user-install"
    action :upgrade

The key attributes here are gem_binary and options. Because I lean toward the idiot side of the intelligence spectrum, I had initially written off the gem_binary attribute thinking it was pointing to where to install binary gems. Nope, its intended to point to the location of the gem bin you want to use. Handy when you have multiple ruby installs. We use the chefdk on our vagrant boxes so that's where I point the gem_binary attribute.

The other not so obvious thing to add is the --no-user-install option. Since chef is running as root, if this is not specified, the gems are installed in /home/root. By specifying --no-user-install, the gems are installed in the shared ruby gems location. This may not be ideal and I'm sure there must be a way to get it in the vagrant user directory, but for the purposes of our vagrant environments, this works well.