Question Moving a retail license to a different machine

jhsachs

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In another thread I confirmed that deeply discounted copies of Windows are rarely legitimate, and it's difficult to identify the ones that are. On that basis I'm going to look for the best deal I can find in the retail channel - probably about $120. That leads to another question.

I need to run Windows 10 on two machines. They are located about 140 miles apart and no one else will use them, so there is no possibility that they could run at the same time. In theory, I can buy one retail license and activate it on each machine in turn. Whenever I switch locations (normally once a week) I'll deactivate Windows at one location, then activate it at the other.

My question: Is this feasible, or preposterous? I know it's not what Microsoft has in mind when it says I can move a retail license from one machine to another. I'm concerned that Microsoft will decide I'm doing something fishy after a few months, and pull the license. Or the reactivation process will fail one time in ten and I'll need an act of Congress to fix it.
 

Colif

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Microsoft probably expect you to have 2 licences as they are 2 different PC, even though you are right, you can move win 10 to another PC with retail, I am not 100% sure how many times you can do it. Its possible it would not count each new install as a different one, since its only 2 machines, or it could see every install as another new one and eventually your licence would stop working..

Do you have to be activated? Why not install 10 on both PC but only activate one, Win 10 happily run without a license, there are only a few signs you don't have it, but it mostly works fine. Beats messing with a license. I would at least buy 1 license just in case.

follow this guide: https://forums.tomshardware.com/faq/how-to-do-a-clean-installation-of-windows-10.3170366/

when you reach the screen asking for licence, click "I don't have a key" and win 10 will continue to install and pc would activate here, but it won't. Itr will put a watermark on desktop saying its deactivated but for most part it works.
 
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britechguy

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Personal opinion: preposterous. And I say that because of the juggling involved as well as it very likely being a violation of the license. I would have to have the license document in front of me, but I do not think that "transferrable" is meant to apply to two machines, both fully active (not running, but not junked, sold, etc.) at the same time, owned by the same entity, to hip-hop one license between them.

One thing that's new with Windows 10, which was news to me but that has been reported enough by individuals who's veracity can't and shouldn't be questioned, is that it will run for an as yet indefinite period of time unactivated. If Microsoft allows extended use of unactivated Windows 10, then it's permissible.

I'd either bite the bullet and buy two licenses or allow one to run unactivated and see if your needs are being met before deciding whether to activate or not.
 

Colif

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USAFRet has a machine he has installed Win 10 on several years ago without activating it, still works as normal.

Here is the list of limitations you will face in this situation:

  1. A watermark will remain at the lower right-hand corner saying Activate Windows.
  2. Windows will send out notifications asking you to activate Windows. I am not sure how frequent it will be, but you will notice it every day.
  3. There will be a ‘Windows isn’t activated, Activate Windows now‘ notification in Settings.
  4. You will not be able to change the wallpaper, accent colors, themes, lock screen, and so on. Anything related to Personalization will be grayed out or not accessible.
  5. Some apps and features will stop working
  6. Although currently, you may still get Updates, Microsoft is likely to change its policy in the future.
https://www.thewindowsclub.com/how-long-can-you-use-windows-10-without-activation

I generally suggest buying 2 licences but this is different, he isn't using 2 PC at same time. Since win 10 runs fine without a licence, why not use that ability until Microsoft change their mind about it. As I said here 2 years ago - https://forums.tomshardware.com/threads/downsides-of-running-un-activated-windows-10.2912628/
 
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britechguy

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Colif, I think we're saying precisely the same thing.

I was making indirect reference to the testimony of USAFRet in my prior post.

But I'll stand by my advice that the OP either just buy two licenses at the outset, or buy one and leave the second machine unactivated if that meets the need. Trying to "bouncing ball" the same license key between two machines, even if those never run simultaneously, is not only a practical nightmare (or is to me, anyway) but is almost certainly a violation of the contract definition of "transferrable" [though, to be absolutely certain, one would have to review the actual contract].
 

jhsachs

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Why not install 10 on both PC but only activate one, Win 10 happily run without a license, there are only a few signs you don't have it, but it mostly works fine. Beats messing with a license. I would at least buy 1 license just in case.
Several people have suggested running unlicensed. I haven't tried it yet (DVD burning issues last night), but I will soon.

But I read Microsoft's license and it pretty clearly says that running without a license is not OK. I'm undecided whether to buy the best licenses I can afford and risk having them canceled (about $70), or not even try ($0).

I can't see running one system with a license and one without. If I'm going to ignore the license once, I might as well ignore it twice.
 

Colif

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I would buy 1 retail licence like you planned as it won't be cancelled and run the other unactivated. It is up to you at a later time if you buy a cheaper licence for the one not running the Retail licence, as that is what the unactivated feature is for, people who can't afford a licence right away.
 

USAFRet

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Yes, MS says its 'not OK'.
But it does run just fine.

My test install of this was stood up on Dec 8 2016. Still runs just fine.
It would be trivially easy for MS to turn this off. They haven't yet done so.

Bouncing a single license between the two systems will eventually invalidate that license. There is no specific 'number of times' that I've seen (and I've looked), but the same license on 2 different systems will eventually trigger "You can't do this anymore".
 

jhsachs

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I tried installing Windows 10 on the available machine tonight, without a license, to confirm that I could. I had a couple of problems.

I started the installer from a flash drive and attended to other business while it churned. After a while the computer rebooted. I'm used to Windows rebooting at least once during an installation, so I was pleased until the installer launched into the same series of questions it asked me the first time. It had rebooted from the flash drive and started over rather than continue where it left off.

This time I watched it and yanked the flash drive as soon as it started to reboot. It booted from the HDD and proceeded. So, Windows makes me remove the installer boot medium when it reboots, but doesn't tell me or wait for me to do so. I'm not impressed by Microsoft's engineering there. (Full disclosure: I've never been very impressed by Microsoft's engineering.)

The installation appears to work except that Windows is running its generic display driver. That may be because it needed to get my graphics card's driver from the installer medium, or from the Web. (The machine currently has no internet access. I can fix that, but maybe not immediately.) I'll see if I have better luck when I do.
 

Colif

Win 10 Master
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the restart process is dependant on how you set bios up.

some bios now have a feature called priority boot where it boots from a device for one boot only and the next boot it goes back to normal
on these motherboards,
you boot into bios
you put USB in PC
you set the ssd/hdd you want windows on as 1st in boot order
and on the Save & Exit screen, you choose Priority Boot and choose USB from list
click save and restart
PC will boot from USB 1 time and then every other time from drive that windows is installed on.

Yes, you have to get drivers from web in most cases, run windows update, it might find it from there.
 

britechguy

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Yes, big WARNING HERE: What you experienced on that reboot is not, in any way, unusual if you set your BIOS to boot from the USB drive in the permanent boot list rather than the "boot once" list. Most UEFI/BIOS support a switching of boot device for a single cycle, but some do not. I'm just so used to using the permanent list, even for one cycle, then changing it back that's what I do.

I learned this the hard way when doing a completely clean install about 2 weeks ago and walking away very near completion like you did. I came back only to find the Windows installer right back at the beginning again.

Well, of course it was because when the machine did the final restart after which the installer had completed successfully, what was booting was the installation media, not the Windows 10 instance that had gone on to my normal system HDD perfectly.

It took me several minutes of confusion and almost cursing before the light bulb went on.

Remember that all restarts that occur during the install process are set up to "pick up where I left off" in that process until the last one. After that, the regular system boot order takes over again, and if you have the install media as the first in boot order it will boot that and the installer will try to start again from the beginning. Just removing the media and restarting will get your new instance of Windows 10 to boot, but you also want to be sure to reset your boot order again in UEFI/BIOS.

Not that it never happens, but my need to seek out drivers after completely clean Windows 10 installs has decreased, and drastically, as Windows 10 has developed. In the early days it was quite obvious that third-parties that typically supply Microsoft with drivers for their massive driver library had pretended that Windows 10 wasn't happening and were unprepared themselves. I used to have to seek out older drivers (most often of the Windows 8.1 era) quite frequently. Now, for the most part, the generic drivers are handling almost everything at least such that it functions and the driver selector for Windows 10 does have a massive library from which to choose for the specific hardware detected by the installer. On this system I had none, but I have installed driver monitors for my AMD Radeon graphics and my Intel WiFi/Bluetooth since both seem to be updated at a rate far faster than either my HP support page or, I'd presume, Microsoft are being supplied with updates to same for inclusion.
 
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jhsachs

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The rebooting thing still sounds squirrely; Microsoft has based the installer's user experience on a fairly obscure feature that most UEFI boards have and apparently all BIOS boards lack, and which the user must know to use without being told. But that's neither here nor there; nothing we do will make them change it.

My experiments have gone a bit further, but I'm trapped now in a dead end.

I hooked the machine up to the Internet and rebooted. I expected Windows 10 to automatically install the device specific driver, as I believe Windows 7 would have done. It came up again with the generic driver instead.

OK, I thought, perhaps Windows tries to install a driver only when the hardware has changed. So I replaced the graphics adapter with a different one. The system came up to the point where it displays the Windows logo with a rotating circle below it, except that the circle was missing. I waited. Nothing. Windows crashed.

Windows 7 worked, and automatically installed the proper drivers, for both of these cards. And the one that makes Windows 10 crash is newer than the one that it ran with the generic driver before it could access the Internet.

How do you update a graphics driver in Windows 10? If it's actually impossible, or it's very time consuming, Windows 10 is simply useless for my purposes.
 

britechguy

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How do you update a graphics driver in Windows 10? If it's actually impossible, or it's very time consuming, Windows 10 is simply useless for my purposes.
The same way one has always done it, check your computer OEM's support "Driver's and Downloads" page for your machine for their latest driver, or check the device manufacturer's same page for the device/card in question. If there's something newer there download and install it.

Nothing has changed about how Windows 10 or any OS obtains drivers at OS install time. The basic sequence is to interrogate hardware, then for each device/card:

a) Check the "big driver library in the Microsoft sky" that contains the most recent dedicated device drivers that have been supplied to Microsoft by the device OEMs and, if one that matches for the version of Windows that's installing is available, use it.

b) If the checks in step 'a' find nothing, resort to searching the Microsoft generic drivers library for a best match that could be expected to work. If found, use that.

c) If neither 'a' nor 'b' get any feasible results, show the device as existing but with an unknown status and error in Device Manager.

When Feature Updates come along, it has been my general experience (but not universal) that if the date-time stamp associated with the device is newer than what is in either of the above referenced library searches, it's left in place. I have seen a couple of devices, and what those are varies over time, where MS was consistently replacing a newer device OEM driver with something older, and less functional or not functional, from the previously referenced libraries. The number of these has dropped over time, but you still hit the occasional one. Most eventually get patched such that it no longer happens.

But if you have one of these devices, then once you find yourself having to find the correct driver and install it, hold on to the installer. Should you need to do it over again it takes mere minutes if you don't have to do the legwork to find it in the first place.
 

jhsachs

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The same way one has always done it... check the device manufacturer's same page for the device/card in question. If there's something newer there download and install it.
Um, sorry, no, that's not the way it worked in Windows 7, at least for me. And for my needs, it's exactly backwards. I can't tell the installer what the device is, because I usually don't know; I'm testing used equipment, and most of it isn't that specifically labeled. I depend on the installer to tell me what the device is.

I hope that you're mistaken, that Microsoft has not removed automatic device identification from Windows 10. If they have, then it really is useless to me. I'll keep looking.
 

USAFRet

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I hope that you're mistaken, that Microsoft has not removed automatic device identification from Windows 10. If they have, then it really is useless to me. I'll keep looking.
That's not a Win7 vs Win 10 issue.
Rather...that is a device identification issue.

There are multiple applications that will tell you what the device is. Speccy, for instance.
Once you know that, then you go to the manufacturers website and see what is there.

Windows may install a generic driver, or it may install the bestest ever.
But the real best one comes direct from the manufacturer.
 

britechguy

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I hope that you're mistaken, that Microsoft has not removed automatic device identification from Windows 10.
I have no idea what, in my prior post, gives the impression I'm saying this. I described the exact sequence of events that occurs during automatic device identification.

Some automatic identifications fail. Always have, always will. Those failures are rare.

But even if the identification is correct, if the OEM has not kept Microsoft absolutely up to date with their latest drivers (or the latest driver they've done is based on an earlier Version of Windows 10 where the driver itself needs to be updated as time goes by, but hasn't) then it isn't Microsoft's fault that what hey have in "the great OEM driver library in the sky" malfunctions.

The idea that any OS ecosystem is somehow entirely the responsibility of the OS maker has never been true. Never was that more obvious than at the introduction of Windows 10. Microsoft had given the release dates and access to the APIs and system libraries along with insider preview releases to software companies long before Windows 10 was released to the public. Many of them "whistled past the graveyard" and just took a "let's see what bombs" approach - which is entirely their own faults. The amount of this that went on with assistive technology companies was particularly breathtaking.

Microsoft can only identify those things that the makers of said things give them the drivers for and identification criteria for. They don't assign that themselves, the device makers do. And if it's completely absent, even for ID and use of a generic driver for common devices, then the OS does just what we humans do, scratch its proverbial head and say, "I don't know what in the heck to do with this thing."

None of the above is new with Windows 10 nor exclusive to Windows, period.
 

jhsachs

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That's not a Win7 vs Win 10 issue. Rather...that is a device identification issue.
OK, a Windows 10 device identification issue, then. I don't mind what it's called, as long as I can find a solution to it.

Bear in mind that this works in Windows 7 but not in Windows 10. You can say it's not a Win7 vs Win10 issue, but any search for the cause of the problem has got to allow for that fact.

Also bear in mind that while Win7 booted, identified, and installed the proper driver for the second graphics adapter I tried, Win10 wouldn't even boot. That seems to moot the proposed solution of "identify, download, and install."

There are multiple applications that will tell you what the device is. Speccy, for instance.
I wasn't aware of that. It will be useful, and I appreciate that you told me about it. It won't solve my immediate problem, though. With Windows 7 I just install an adapter and boot. Then I can identify the adapter from the driver that Windows installed, and I'm done. To get to the same point using Speccy I'd have to install the adapter, boot, run Speccy, find the right page on the right web site, download the driver, install it, and boot again. The extra overhead is simply unacceptable.

Windows may install a generic driver, or it may install the bestest ever. But the real best one comes direct from the manufacturer.
Please understand that for my purpose I have absolutely no interest in installing the real best one. I need to establish whether the adapter (1) works with a device-specific driver which I can identify, (2) works, but only with a generic driver, or (3) doesn't work at all. Then I can take it out and put another one in!
 
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britechguy

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Bear in mind that this works in Windows 7 but not in Windows 10. You can say it's not a Win7 vs Win10 issue, but any search for the cause of the problem has got to allow for that fact.
It's a "the Windows 7 driver was supplied to Microsoft and is in the Windows 7 driver library in the sky but not provided by the OEM for Windows 10, and thus is not in that library." There are a very great many devices that will not function with a Windows 7 era driver under Windows 10, and there are a very great many that will. It's a crap shoot, but I would not want Windows 10 pulling from the Windows 7 era drivers as a matter of standard practice.

It is not a Windows 10 problem in any meaningful sense. Microsoft has relied on device manufacturers to supply them with the appropriate drivers since prior to Windows (though nothing as far as automated ID and install was done then). You can't blame Microsoft for not having something that they have not been given. Complain to your device manufacturer and ask why in the heck they haven't issued a Windows 10 compliant driver AND supplied same to Microsoft for automated installation by Windows 10.
 

jhsachs

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I've investigated the problem a bit more, and have two problems to ask about.

First: I want to test the theory Windows 10 was unable to install the proper driver for the adapter because the manufacturer had not provided it to Microsoft. To do that I need to know what adapters' drivers have been provided to Microsoft. I thought that would be easy to find out: just check the hardware compatibility list. I searched for the Windows 10 hardware compatibility list for a considerable time and finally found a link, which proved to be invalid. It appears that there no longer is a hardware compatibility list. So: how do I find out what adapters Windows 10 has drivers for?

Second: I had poor results trying to start Windows 10 with different adapters. I want to describe what happened tonight and ask if anyone can identify something that I'm doing wrong.

My object was to manually install drivers for several different adapters. I have a theory that I had a smooth experience with changing adapters in Windows 7 because almost every adapter I tested required a driver that I had already installed at some point, which was still available on the system. I wanted to see whether, after I installed several different adapters, Windows 10 would begin recognizing some and behave the same way.

When I started, the computer was equipped with one adapter (I'll call it A) and the maker's recommended driver (dA) was installed.

I replaced A with another adapter from the same maker (B) and booted. Windows came up using the generic driver, as expected. I downloaded the recommended driver for B (dB) from the maker's web site and tried to install it.

At some point the system crashed. The driver installer had been running, and its window did not say anything about whether it was done, or whether it detected a problem before it died. I rebooted.

Windows started with a screen that said "Windows is resuming." I thought that was odd but I attributed it to a change in the Windows 10 recovery interface. I let Windows finish loading and found that dB had been installed, so I considered this step a qualified success.

I then removed adapter B and installed adapter C. When I booted Windows it again displayed the "Windows is resuming" screen. I now got very suspicious, since I had performed an orderly shutdown before replacing B with C; Windows should not have done anything that could be called "resuming." Nevertheless I let it run. It came part way up, then crashed. I tried to reboot and got the BIOS message which indicates no bootable medium was available.

I reinstalled adapter B and booted again, with the same result. I then booted the installation medium (flash drive), which asked me whether I wanted to install Windows or perform a system repair. I selected "system repair." It ran for a few seconds, then displayed the message "The Boot Configuration Data does not contain valid information for an operating system." OK, I thought, the Windows disk was well and truly munged. I booted the flash drive again to reinstall... and I got the "no bootable medium" message again. The installer had not only failed to repair the munged drive; it had munged itself.

The last screen the system repair function displayed appeared to say that I was having trouble because my system had a hardware problem. To test that I reattached my old system disk (dual boot with a functioning Ubuntu and now-unlicensed Windows 7) and tried to boot. Ubuntu came up flawlessly and ran rock-solid.

I really need to understand what happened before I start over. I can't afford to reinitialize the installation medium and reinstall Windows every few times I boot.
 
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britechguy

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Actually, and no snark intended, you will likely never know what happened. There are certain idiosyncratic events that are one-offs, and it's a waste of a great deal of time and effort to try to trace down what happened.

You should just do a completely clean install:

a) Completely Clean Win10 (Re)install Using MCT to Download Win10 ISO File

b) Completely Clean Win10 (Re)install Using MCT to Create a Bootable USB Drive

then see if the events that occurred do occur again. Then it would be potentially useful to try to figure out why they happened. But unless they do, and I doubt they will, just moving on with life is the best option.

The probability of needing to reinstall Windows 10 "every few times I boot" is very, very small.
 

jhsachs

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Actually, and no snark intended, you will likely never know what happened...
You're probably right. And you may say the same thing again when you read this story.

I have two living spaces about 140 miles apart, one my "real" home and one near my job. I have one of these beasts in each place, and I'm trying to install Windows 10 on both. Up to now I've been writing about location A. This week it will be location B.

I attached an empty hard disk to the test system (used, just checked for errors), inserted my Windows 10 ISO flash drive, made sure "removable storage" was first in boot priority, and booted. Everything was fine up to the point where the installer wanted to allocate partitions. It shrugged and said sorry, there's no disk. Huh? I reattached the computer's regular disk (Ubuntu 16.04) and booted. The new disk was there. It had no partition table, though. I thought that might be the problem, so I built one, removed the regular disk, and rebooted from the flash drive. Or tried to. The machine just sat at the last firmware display before it should have loaded the installer.

I checked the flash drive. It was correctly inserted. I tried moving it to a different connector. Same problem. Double checked the boot priority; it was correct. I removed the new disk and tried booting from the flash drive with no disk attached. Same problem. I moved the flash drive back to my other computer, reloaded the installer, and tried again. Same problem.

I didn't have time to test whether the mobo can read or boot anything from USB; I'll do that tonight. But unless it has mysteriously lost the ability to boot from any USB connector, or both of the connectors I tried have failed without affecting the two connected to the keyboard and mouse, I have another mystery... a reproducible one with no known workaround.

If the problem doesn't resolve itself tonight I'll resort to loading Windows 10 from a DVD. I'd sure like to know what's happening, though.

LATER: I'm at work now, and I tried booting my office computer from the flash drive that the test system would not read. No problems at all.
 
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britechguy

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All I can say is that any time I have issues with bootable install media I just create a fresh copy.

Your proposal to use optical media is a good one because it is a differential diagnostic as well. I would still, however, create a brand spankin' new bootable USB drive so that you have both when the time comes.

I will not be shocked if the optical boot media doesn't work, either. I suspect something about what UEFI sees hardware wise doesn't match what's actually there physically, but that's just a shot in the dark.
 

jhsachs

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If you mean "brand spankin' new USB drive" hardware, I didn't do that. I don't have a spare on hand. I did "burn" the ISO to the drive again; it still didn't boot. Then I took it to work, where it booted just fine. Then I brought it home, where it still wouldn't boot. Finally I tried booting Clonezilla from another USB drive, which I used this morning to migrate my work computer from HD to SSD. That wouldn't boot either.

So it appears that some evil influence has made my test computer lose the ability to boot from USB drives. Apart from ensuring that "removable storage" has first priority as a boot device (which I've now done several times), I can't think of anything I might do about it.

I conclude that the hardware has broken. In my experience that's almost never true unless the device is close to brain-dead, but I seem to have ruled out everything else.

So on to the DVD. The computer did boot that. It got as far as "Where do you want to install Windows?" Unlike my first attempt at installing from the USB drive, it did detect the presence of the hard disk. But when I told it to use the hard disk, I got this message:

Windows cannot be installed to this disk. This computer's hardware may not support booting to this disk. Ensure that the disk's controller is enabled in the computer's BIOS menu.
i swapped my original hard disk back in and booted Ubuntu, which was a pretty persuasive demonstration that the disk's controller is enabled, the computer's hardware does support booting, and (if I may be so presumptuous) that Windows darned well can be installed to the disk, if the stupid installer would just try.

Once more, I'm baffled. I'm going to do something productive for the rest of the evening and sleep on this one. Meanwhile, suggestions are welcome.

Later: Just for the cheap thrills, I decided to see if the installer would get less upset if it found a disk with one big NTFS partition instead of a disk with an empty partition table. I booted Ubuntu and allocated and formatted a partition. It worked like a charm. Gee willikers, why didn't I realize Microsoft would assume that anyone who installs Windows 10 will just naturally have another operating system lying around?

I've now got a basic dual boot system with Windows 10 Pro and Ubuntu 18.04. Tomorrow I can start adding the applications I need.

But I'd still love to know why the motherboard forgot how to boot from a flash drive.
 
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