Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Reset your Windows password

Introduction
Are you suffering from amnesia? Or maybe someone you know? They can't remember their Windows password and therefore cannot access their computer. What to do? You could reinstall Windows but I'm sure you'd prefer a less painful alternative.

There are several free solutions, search for "Windows Password Reset" or similar and you'll find many.  Most are Linux boot disks with utilities specifically for resetting a Windows password. The first I tried was PC Login Now. It was easy to use but unfortunately it didn't work on the Windows XP computer I was using for my test. I tried several of its options including 'Empty password' but it did nothing.

The next I tried worked very well, it's called: 'Offline Windows Password & Registry Editor, Bootdisk / CD' and this worked very well.

Offline Windows Password & Registry Editor
It is very small, just a 4MB download. According to the blurb it supports Windows NT, 2000, XP,Vista, 7 and server editions. There's no mention of Windows 8 yet.

It has a text based interface. This might turn some of you off and it might turn a few of you on! Personally I like this text based approach because it doesn't require anything fancy (graphics drivers) to run it and it's fast to start up. I decided to download it and try it on a Windows XP computer.



Download
Browse to: http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/bootdisk.html

There is an ISO version to burn to a CD or you install it to a USB flash drive - this is an easy option as the software required to do this is included in the download zip file.

Download 'Files for USB install', at the time of writing this (March 2013) there was a file called usb110511.zip


Install to a USB Flash Drive
Of course there are instructions on the Offline Windows Password & Registry Editor website:
http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/bootdisk.html
...but in any case I've written the steps I took here:

You'll need a USB flash drive, any capacity will work, even an old 512MB one for example.

Plug in the USB flash drive.

Make a note of what drive letter the USB flash drive has, perhaps, E:, F:, G:, etc.

In Windows Explorer check that you can access and use the USB flash drive. If there are any files on it you want to keep, copy them somewhere else.

Format the USB flash drive (FAT16 is fine). You can format the USB flash drive by right clicking on it and selecting Format.

Extract the files from the usbXXXXXX.zip file to the USB flash drive.

Open a command window (CMD) - in Windows XP click Start | Run, type CMD [Enter], in Windows 7 click Start and type CMD [Enter] in the search box.

At the C:\> prompt type X: [Enter]
(where X: is the drive letter of your USB flash drive)

Type   SYSLINUX -ma X:  [Enter]

The above command is important, it writes the Linux boot sector to the USB flash drive. Once you've done that, the USB flash drive is ready to be used.


Reset a Windows Password
Take the USB flash drive and plug it into the computer with the Windows password you want to reset.

Restart the computer

On the startup screen you must boot from the USB flash drive. Different computers have different ways of doing this, for example, press F12 if it is a Lenovo computer.

There is a series of on screen menus. You should stop and read each one carefully but in most cases the default option (press Enter) is fine.

I was going to detail the steps I took but there's no need, there is a very good 'walkthrough' already here:
http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/walkthrough.html


Conclusion
'Offline Windows Password & Registry Editor' worked well for me. It was fast to download, install to a USB flash drive and to actually reset the password. It isn't pretty though, the black and white text interface with old fashioned text menus might put some off. Above everything the fact is that this utility works. It should be a part of every IT professional's toolkit.

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