Windows Woes

So I needed to use Windows for some of my classes this semester

I haven't regularly used Windows since 2016. Here and there I would spin up a VM to run a piece of software, or struggle to get something semi-functional in WINE, but for the most part I have been able to keep the OS off any of my computers, using open source software to do pretty much everything I needed or finding workarounds wherever possible. However, that changed this semester; for one of my programming classes a professor is using his own graphics API which I couldn't get working on Linux for the life of me and settled for doing it in a VM, which, although clunky and slow, got the job done. This solution was short lived, with my Biology class requiring us to use Respondus Lockdown Browser for our exams, which doesn't have a Linux build, excluding Chrome OS.

The worst part is that the exams are in person, making the requirement nearly pointless. It's all multiple choice, so someone typing away at a search would stick out like a sore thumb. Lockdown Browsers are easily the most idiotic solution to the problem of cheating, since a second device easily curtails any of the attempts of thwarting academic dishonesty and smartphones are ubiquitous. My prior solution of running it in VM wouldn't suffice, since the browser checks for that. As the first exam date crept ever closer I began searching for a solution.

First I tried renting a computer from the school, thinking it was going to be an easy process of going to the IT desk and checking one out. It turns out you have to get a professor to Email them first or can only rent it out for four hours at a time from the library, and I didn't want interact with this professor (who I particularly dislike) for any more than the bare minimum and the library opens at the same time the class starts, disqualifying that option. Not to mention the mountain of spare laptops I have and the desire not to take a laptop from someone who actually needs one for daily use.

So I scoured for that old Windows 10 install ISO I had lying around in a long forgotten ISOs folder I had on an old hard drive, burned it to a USB and plugged it into the laptop I intended to use, only for it to respond "No bootable medium found, please insert a disk and try again".

Reboot into BIOS, enable legacy boot

No bootable medium found, please insert a disk and try again

Remove USB and plug it into a USB 2.0 Port (I've heard computers of this generation sometimes only boot from USB 2.0)

No bootable medium found, please insert a disk and try again

Re-burn disk on a different computer, plug it back into the USB 2.0 port

No bootable medium found, please insert a disk and try again

Re-burn disk on a different drive, plug it back into the USB 2.0 port

No bootable medium found, please insert a disk and try again

Rinse and repeat what felt like 100 times with various other combinations

I wanted to verify it booted on my daily laptop and sure enough it started without issue, so I plugged in my USB to sata and tried installing it that way, only to find out Windows won't let you install to a USB! WHY?!?! Please Microsoft! Then I remembered a number of years ago I was able to create a Windows USB using a Rufus, problem was the software is only available on Windows. So I tried starting it in WINE, where it couldn't see any of the drives. Then I found out I accidentally deleted the Windows VM I had made the week prior for the programming class so I needed to make another one. Finally after what had been about three hours, I had a disk with Windows installed. I plugged it into the spare laptop and after 30 minutes of loading screens, I was staring at a years-out-of-date bare Windows desktop. I go to connect to the internet only to find the wifi card drivers weren't installed, nor the ethernet. I copied over one driver after another using yet another USB drive, with no luck. So I finally caved and plugged it into my daily. Finally wifi!

I ran the updates while I was at work and installed Respondus when I got home. I ran it and crossed my fingers only for it to notify me I couldn't start it because Skype was running in the background. Why Skype is an autostarted program in a bare Windows install escapes me, but after I closed it I finally got it started and called it a day.

That takes us to today, where about a fifth of the class, running their computers on the OS that was shipped with them, were unable to start Lockdown Browser and have to take it at a later date. This is why you don't require overly paranoid cheating counter-measures, it stops people from actually completing the task at hand, but that would be too reasonable for Professor I. I pray this issue discourages her from using it in future exams.

But I know that's not going to be the case

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