UPDATE: This article has been updated to show simplified steps to resolving this error. Even better, I’ve added a video at the bottom that will show the error and explain the steps to fix the problem. I’d love it if you’d  watch the video and provide feedback. Thanks!

If you’re here, I’m sorry. You must be wearing quite a frown. The good news is that this error can be resolved, and without much trouble.

While preparing an image you may get an error when you restart Windows that reads, “Windows could not complete the installation. To install Windows on this computer, restart the installation.” It looks like this:

couldnotcomplete

This error tends to pop-up when in Audit Mode and the computer has just been joined to a domain. The error is caused by password requirements added to the local security policy. This typically includes a minimum password length and password complexity. The easiest way to solve this problem is to revert the policies; however, you can also get around the problem by setting a password. Here’s how to do it:

  • At the error screen shown above, press SHIFT+F10 (this should bring up a command prompt)
  • Type secpol.msc to open the Security Policy console
  • Navigate to Account Policies > Password Policy
  • Change “Minimum password length” to 0
  • Change “Password must meet complexity requirements” to Disabled
  • Exit the Security Policy console (File > Exit or just click the X)
  • Click OK on the error message

Once the computer reboots everything should be right back to where it should be.

You can also change the Local Administrator password to get around the issue:

  • At the error screen shown above, press SHIFT+F10 (this should bring up a command prompt)
  • Type compmgmt.msc to open Computer Management
  • Navigate to System Tools > Local Users and Groups > Users
  • Right-click Administrator
  • Click Set Password… (click Proceed when prompted)
  • Set a password and click OK (password needs to meet the minimum requirements)
  • Exit Computer Management (File > Exit or just click the X)
  • Click OK on the error message

When you reboot you should no longer get the setup error; HOWEVER, you’ll get an error stating “The user name or password is incorrect.” This will happen each time you reboot. You’ll need to enter the password that you setup a moment ago.

It’s possible that you may get dumped out of Audit Mode. If so, you’ll need to re-enable it in SysPrep. You can do that like this:

  • Run C:\Windows\System32\sysprep\sysprep.exe
  • Change “System Cleanup Action” to “Enter System Audit Mode”
  • Click OK to reboot

Comments

    1. saniac Article Author

      Hi ed – are you having trouble getting the command window to appear? Or getting the Computer Management tool to open? And are you using Windows 7? -b

  1. Jason

    Thank God there are people who can find solutions like this. I was about to just redo the image.

    Adding the image to the domain was definitely the culprit and — like you said — we do have a minimum password requirement.

    I really wish Microsoft would bug test stuff like this. Windows 7 was released so long ago that you’d think Microsoft would have released a patch by now.

    We normally don’t add pre-Sysprep images to the domain, but we had a bizarre situation where we needed to use a specific DNS server in our pre-Sysprep image, and the DNS server was available only to computers that were part of the domain.

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Microsoft is not interested in patching Sysprep or any other backend tools like it. If it’s broke in RTM, it seems like it’s going to be broke forever. There are so many similar, esoteric bugs in Sysprep.

    1. saniac Article Author

      I’m still a fan of the old XP SysPrep. Maybe not as powerful, but simple and effective.

      Solid feedback – thanks, Jason! -b

  2. Alex

    Hello, so everything works up to the point of finding the local users and groups. I don’t know why. Any advice/help? Thanks.

    1. saniac Article Author

      Hi Alex – what isn’t working about the process? Are you able to get in to the Computer Management console? If you can get that far the rest should be pretty straightforward. -b

      1. Alex

        Sorry, should have been more specific! I can get into computer management perfectly fine, but when I go into system tools, it doesn’t show anything with local users and groups. All the other steps worked perfectly fine. Thank you!

        1. saniac Article Author

          If the Local Users and Groups option is not listed then there might be something more serious going on.

          Computer Management console

          Does it show and it has a red X? What version of Windows?

          -b

          1. Alex

            Windows 7. Do you mean if the local users ans group shows with a red X? Because it doesn’t show at all, and there are no red X’s on anything else.

          2. saniac Article Author

            It sounds like you might be using a version of Windows that doesn’t have this option. You need to have Ultimate, Business or Enterprise (I think).

            If you’re getting the command-line, you could try using the following command: net user user_name new_password

            I haven’t tried this before, so I’m not certain it will work. If you try it let me know if it works; otherwise, I’ll try it later this evening to see what happens.

            -b

          3. Alex

            So I tried that, and it said it couldn’t be found, and then, ‘more help is available by typing NET HELPMSG 2221. I tried that, and it said the user name could not be found. And I have a windows home premium, so maybe that is why it doesn’t show up?

          4. saniac Article Author

            I tested this on a home edition and it worked without issue. I got the error you mentioned when I typed net use instead of user. -b

          5. Alex

            Hmm. Is there any way to tell if it’s something to do with my hard drive while I’m stuck on this loop? It doesn’t do anything when I try anything like typing in variants of the user and password things, so I’m not sure what else it could be. Is the hard drive a possibility?

          6. saniac Article Author

            Doesn’t seem like a hard drive problem, but you can run a scan from the command-line using chkdsk /F to find and fix bad sectors.

            How did you get stuck in this loop? This normally occurs when joining a computer to a domain while in Audit Mode (during SysPrep), but based on your comments earlier I’m guessing your version of Windows can’t join a domain. Narrowing down the potential causes could help. -b

          7. Alex

            well, it was not letting me update anything, so I factory reset it. I should not be doing these kind of things. I am not good with computers…

          8. saniac Article Author

            Sorry it came to the factory reset, but that’s not all bad. A clean Windows install is good once in a while (as long as you have your data backed-up).

            You helped me learn a couple new things. -b

          9. Alex

            That’s good! Should it be easy to fix then? And I didn’t have any data on it you could say, because it was just old files I wanted gone. Is that maybe why windows won’t install?

          10. saniac Article Author

            Can you also verify that you’re trying to reset the administrator password? The syntax should be something like this:

            net user administrator wR5thesp#

            Also, what is the exact error you’re getting? You can get similar messages when the local admin account is disabled, which is slightly more complicated to fix. -b

  3. Calum Wallbridge

    I am having exactly the same problem as Alex and have tried everything thats been suggested apart from suggestion involving the windows disk as I don’t have one. I too got the exactly the same error after doing a factory reset.

    1. saniac Article Author

      Hi Calum – What version of Windows are you using (including Home, Ultimate, etc.)? And what behavior were you experiencing leading up the the error?

      Also, what part of the process are you getting stuck on? -b

  4. Calum Wallbridge

    I am using Windows 7 Home edition and was doing a factory reset using toshibia’s software which came with the laptop. When it started to begin the windows installation again after a period of time it said ‘setup is starting services’ and then the error “Windows could not complete the installation” came up. I have tried doing what you said in the post and it worked fine openning computer management and navigating to System tools but I couldnt see a Local Users and groups. Thanks for the responce.

    1. saniac Article Author

      The Home version does not have a Local Users and Groups option. Your error might be related the the administrator account being disabled. Use the following steps to see if the account is disabled:

      • At the error press Shift+F10 to open the command prompt
      • Type secpol.msc
      • Navigate to Local Policies > Security Options
      • Verify that “Accounts: Administrator account status” is Enabled
      • If is disabled, double-click and change to Enabled

      Let me know what happens for you… I’ll see if I can get my hands on Windows 7 Home and do some testing on my own. -b

    1. saniac Article Author

      I was able to get my hands on a copy of Windows 7 Home, so I’m trying to replicate the issue. I’ve got a few things in mind to try. I’ll post something once I get a chance to work through it… -b

      1. saniac Article Author

        I was finally able to get Windows 7 Home to fail with this error. I also found a way to resolve the error BUT it’s not pretty. I’m creating a separate article – as well as a YouTube video – to demonstrate the process with a disclaimer that it’s extremely likely that you could mess up your computer even more. But if your only option is running system recovery then it might be worth a shot.

        I’ll post the update as soon as possible, but it may be a day or two. -b

      2. Preston

        Hi Saniac/
        I am having the same problem. I have tried holding down the Shift +F10 but no result or pop off window to type in anything.
        Please help me out. I am desperate for your help. I have home work due on Monday.
        Thank you.
        Preston

        1. saniac Article Author

          Hi Preston – if you’re getting this exact error then you should be able to get the command prompt. If you can’t, then you may be stuck. If you’re on a laptop, make sure the function keys are enabled. On some devices, like the newer Lenovo laptops, you need to hold down the “Fn” key while pressing F10.

          What version of Windows are you using? I haven’t posted a fix for the Home edition yet, but if this is what you’re using I may have a solution to try. You’ll have to get to the command prompt, though… -b

  5. Daniel

    I’ve got the syntax for the reset of the admin password to work giving a varried “NET USER” drop down display of username password and domain options. Not sure what to do in the command prompt from there?

  6. Eustace J. Peabody

    I bought a brand new off the the shelf PC for a huge steal with Windows 10 ‘pre-installed’ the logo comes up and the installation error message occurs as usual, I type in secpol.msc, but it says it is not recognized similar to Mr. Wallbridge above. I watched your videos and tried the solutions but certain options don’t appear such as Local Users and Group Users when typing in compmgmt.msc. It’s only a few days old and I still have my own build and the spare (this one) so there’s no hurry, but I think I’ll just take it back to the store if that’s the only way.

    I don’t know what version of 10 it is the instructions were scant to say the least (basically how to plug it in) and it came with no discs oddly. I won’t poke around in the registry just in case I void the warranty.

    Any ideas?

    Regards,

  7. Sunny

    I am upgrading windows 8 to 8.1 through windows store. i don’t have Local Users and Groups option under system tool. when i type secpol.msc it says it is not recognized as an internalor external command, operable program or batch file. so both options are not working for me. I am in need of desperate help. plz tell me what to do.

  8. Ahmed

    i getting the same error but the issue i have is when i join the domain and make the sysprep and finished then when im in oobe its not tell me to create user and then i get the same message.

    the problem i try this and others but its wont fix.

    if you can help me it will be great.

  9. Justin Goolsby

    What the fix to stop this from happening completely? I have to do this every single time I image a new machine which is, of course, unacceptable

    1. saniac Article Author

      Hi Justin – it really depends on the root issue. If this the fix in this article works for you, then there are a few things you could try:

      * Avoid joining the domain as part of the image creation process
      * Change the local administrator password to meet the minimum requirements of the domain
      * Ensure the computer is in an OU to which the security settings are not applied

      I’ve seen this error happen during the image creation process, but not on each individual machine I image. If this is the case with you, it could be related to the OOBE (a problem I haven’t experienced personally but many have contacted me about). -b

  10. Tom Pappas

    After a installation of windows server 2008 standard and installing a domain controller I wanted to see what will happen if I use sysprep and then restart.
    Failed to login. Just a message that failed with a message something about hardware and then a message Windows could not complete the installation.
    Your method failed. still problem exist.

  11. Lance Cain Jr

    Hey,

    I am able to do both steps listed but I still get the same “Windows could not complete the installation” message. I am installing windows 10 on vmware fusion 8.5. Are there other steps I should be following or things I should look for?

  12. saniac Article Author

    Hi Lance,

    This seems to be a hit and miss solution for people. You can try the following if all else fails:

    – At the error, press SHIFT+F10 to get a command prompt
    – Type cd C:\Windows\System32\oobe
    – Type msoobe.exe
    – Follow the steps to create a user and name the machine
    – When prompted for a password, make sure you use a strong password

    This has been helpful for quite a few people.

    -b

  13. Thimoty

    hi, so im about to have a mental breakdown for first my disc went bad and i bough an ssd and while installing win 10 you have to restart in the end and after restart i got this error so ive tried shift f10 .. nothing then booted cdm from usb (otherwise i dont know how to get to any other cdm) so i oppend that cdm wrote whatever of solution i found and it says this: ( cd C:\Windows\System32\oobe) it says the system cannot find this path and for other solution similar thing happens. now do i open the wrong cdm or am i **** ?

  14. saniac Article Author

    I’ve never seen the command prompt not come up when pressing SHIFT+F10. As long as you’re at this error, it should work. If it’s not working, then there is likely something else going on. Booting to a command prompt from USB probably won’t help since msoobe.exe runs in Windows against the current instance of Windows. I haven’t tried it myself, but I highly suspect that using recovery mode or WinPE, etc. will not be sufficient to fix the problem (unless you’re a heck of a lot handier than me).

    I can’t guess why SHIFT+F10 isn’t working for you. This could mean the problem is more serious…

    -b

    1. Thimothy

      Hhahahahah got it working sorry if i was salty but ive lost a lot of progress on old disc but i did a simple complite reinstalation twice and now it miraculasly works but thanks for reply anway ! Good quality content and fast replys (its two in morning here so sorry for all the miss spelling im just tired and high on coffe)

  15. Andy Mumm

    I was having this same issue in Windows 10 when trying to enter audit mode. All I had to do is connect to the wireless and then do the Ctrl+Shift+F3. The computer rebooted and it now works.

  16. sree

    I have done all the thing above mention. But again I am getting the same error . I am using windows server 2008 enterprise edition. Any one have any idea to fix this

  17. Chance

    None of these options have worked for me so far. Shift+f10 does nothing, neither does fn+shift+f10, or any other similar combination. The spinning wheel of death is going on in the background, so I don’t know if it just locks up at this point. I tried going to repair, pulling up a command prompt and running commands from there, but that’s a no go. It doesn’t even look like C:\ exists. It brings me to X:\, but I’m guessing that’s the USB drive. I have tried this a dozen times with different methods, different media, and any other variation I could think of. I eventually had to blow away the whole hard drive, because when I originally tried to update from windows 8 it said that it couldn’t update and would roll back. For the love of all that is holy please help!

    1. Chance

      I forgot to mention that I also tried resetting the administrator password via the NT offline password recovery tool. I tried once by clearing it and when that didn’t work I changed it to something that normally fits password requirements, but still nothing!

  18. Abigail

    Hi, I am trying to install Windows 10 Education via bootable USB onto a computer I just built, so it has no OS currently. I got this “Windows could not complete the installation” screen and now my keyboard/mouse don’t work. They were working fine up until this point. Well, the mouse kind of works… I can’t see the cursor, but if I move it around long enough I’ll eventually find the X and click it, but then it just reboots and brings me back to the same screen. Because the keyboard won’t work, I can’t hit SHIFT+F10 to open the command prompt. I have made sure the keyboard/mouse are in USB 2.0, so that’s not the problem.

    Does anyone know what else I can try? I read somewhere that using a wireless keyboard/mouse might help, but I don’t have either and would rather not have to buy them if there is another work around.

    Thank you!

  19. Henry

    Thanks so much for your help!

    I had a dell laptop whose hard drive failed. Dell sent me a replacement hard drive but I kept getting the “Windows could not complete the installation” error that required me to restart the process. It was stuck in a loop.

    I had similar problems as some of the other responders reported in that I couldn’t find the local users or group option in compmgmt. However, I used the last option that OP suggested and ran sysprep, with a cleanup and reboot.

    It just worked!

    Thanks so much for your help! I had been pulling my hair out for the last hour.

  20. samyak

    hi i am using windows 10 and i am facing a problem in the first step only, my command propmt is not appearing even on pressing shift+ F10. Can you pls tell what to do now

  21. Dan

    Hi,

    I’m not sure if you’ll be able to give an input to this but yours is the only site with any information on this error message at all.

    I deploy Windows on Mac computers with a syspreped image which runs scripts in Audit Mode. It runs the first script, installs from drivers and reboots – then it runs the second script which sets the boot drive (and it has to reboot for this to work) and then cleans up some mess before Sysprepping again with OOBE for the end user.

    I started seeing this error message sporadically when deploying on certain models, i’d redeploy and often it wouldn’t appear the second time. Now on another hardware refresh it’s happening every single time on the reboot.

    The systems don’t connect to a domain and are not part of any group so I don’t know what is triggering it here. I can press CTRL+ALT+DEL end the “Run Once” task which gets me into the desktop then run the final script manually by double clicking on it and the system will deploy ok, but of course that takes all the automation anyway and is quite annoying and means I have to be at the system to intervene.

    I can’t find anything in the log files in the Panther folder to suggest any other reason why it might pop up, can you think of any suggestions?

  22. Ade

    My goodness, this is the most helpful site I have visited in my entire life!!!
    Never thought administrator was responsible for this error message all these years.
    I have had to re-image each time which is painstaking.
    Thanks Saniac.

  23. bakunawa

    for those who are used the method 1 and 2, try the last part
    type in CMD

    C:\Windows\System32\sysprep\sysprep.exe

    Change “System Cleanup Action” to “Enter System Audit Mode”

    Click OK to reboot

    the go chage your password via advance option where you can access thru holding the SHIFT and clicking restart. hope it helps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *