I have a Windows Server 2003 (R2 Enterprise with SP2) VM, originally installed with a trial license. We forgot about the server, and now more than 120 days has passed, and I can't do anything with the server.

I seem to be at a dead end with the existing installation. When I log in, I get:

The evaluation period for this copy of Windows has ended. Windows cannot start. To continue using Windows, please purchase and install a retail copy of the product.

Fine. I'll do that with my MSDN media. I should add that safe mode works, but there isn't anything obvious that I found to help me there

Next up, I tried repairing my installation: Boot from Server 2003 R2 Enterprise with SP2 media, tell it I want to install (as opposed to recovery console), then let it repair the existing install. Once that completes and reboots I log in:

This copy of Windows must be activated with Microsoft before you can continue. You cannot log on until you activate Windows.

Do you want to activate Windows now?

To shut down the computer, click Cancel.

Great! I click "Yes" and am left with a big blue screen. Not a blue screen of death, just a blue screen (i.e. the default windows desktop background color). No Ctrl+Alt+Del. All I can do is power cycle.

I have some complex third-party software on there that I can't reinstall, which is why I haven't already built a fresh Windows VM and copied everything over.

I have a backup of the VM from after trial period expired but before I installed anything.



Re-installing a Retail (or MSDN) copy of Windows over the existing copy turned out to be the correct thing. But it wasn't enough. The old copy of Windows had Internet Explorer 8 installed, whereas the reinstall had tried to put IE6 on.

The solution was to log in under Safe Mode and uninstall IE8. Even in Safe Mode, Internet Explorer (8) wouldn't load (the process would briefly appear in the Task Manager then quickly vanish), which was a good sign that something wasn't right with IE. Once IE8 was removed, I rebooted and Activation worked normally.

To uninstall IE8: Run C:\WINDOWS\ie8\spuninst\spuninst.exe and follow the instructions.

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