Non-resolution of the dead home desktop problem


Last time, I told of attempting to upgrade my home computer and failing. I ultimately gave up and returned the parts to the store, telling them that I thought the IDE controller on the motherboard was dead. They refunded my money after a false step where they refunded me more than I paid for the components in the first place! (I bought the motherboard and CPU as a bundle, but the person who rang up the return treated them as two separate items and ended up refunding me the full price instead of the bundled price. It's one thing to return a defective product and get your money back. But to turn a profit doing so is downright wrong.)

Thus bereft of computer equipment, I drove down to the local Fry's and bought a bottom-of-the-line computer which would merely serve as a shell for all my working equipment. I would be using the motherboard, CPU, memory, and case from the computer, but I didn't care for the other stuff since I would be performing an "instant upgrade" with the old computer's DVD drive and hard drives. It cost about $60 more than the parts I bought from the failed upgrade attempt, but the saved grief was well worth it.

Skipping ahead in the story: After I got the machine up and running, I plugged one of my old hard drives into the machine and... the BIOS recognized it, and the volume mounted just fine.

On the other hand, I can't access the files on the drive yet. I don't have a domain at home (I'm not that big of a geek), so my SID on the new computer is different from my SID on the old computer. My new account can't access files created by the old account. I would have to do some SID history magic to get access to the files protected by my old SID, but I'm just going to take the lazy way out and do a recursive "replace ACLs" on all the files on the old hard drives. (This requires multiple passes, though. First I have to take ownership, then I can change the ACLs after I become the owner.)

Now about that new computer. It comes with Windows XP Media Center Edition, even though the video card doesn't have a DVI connector. I was kind of baffled by this. If you're going to run Media Center Edition, doesn't that mean you're highly likely to hook it up to some awesome flat-panel display for watching your videos? I don't quite understand why this bottom-of-the-line computer with an analog-only video card bothered to install Media Center Edition. Who are they fooling?

Okay, so I'm going to have to upgrade the video card, too. That increases the cost delta over the parts to around $160. Still worth it though.

One of the odd features of the new computer is that it has a 9-in-1 multi card reader built into the front panel. This is a cute feature, but it is also frustrating since it gobbles up four drive letters.

But that's okay. I already described how you can fix this when I talked about the infinitely recursive directory tree. I created a directory called C:\CARDS and inside it created directories C:\CARDS\CF, C:\CARDS\SD, and so on. I then used the Disk Management snap-in to de-assign drive letters from each of those card readers and instead mounted each card reader into the corresponding folder I had created. Now I can access the contents of the CF reader by going to C:\CARDS\CF.

One thing that really frustrates me about off-the-shelf computers is all the shovelware that comes with them. I fire up the computer and my notification area is filled with useless icons I don't want to see again, with more stupid programs jammed themselves into the Run key. No, I don't need an AOL monitor running. No, I don't need QuickTime pre-loaded. No, I don't need a program to monitor my card readers and do some evil icon chicanery.

The evil icon chicanery is particularly gruesome because every time I log on, I get a dialog box that looks like this:

×
fAIL

Good job there, stupid evil icon program. I bet you assume the user is an administrator.

The computer also came with a recovery partition. I hate those too.

Today's status is that I'm not out of the woods yet. I have a working computer, I can mount my old hard drives (though it'll take work to get access to the files), I still have to upgrade the optical drive to the rewritable DVD drive that I had in the old computer. I still have to get rid of all the shovelware that came with the system. I still have to reinstall the drivers for my rewritable DVD drive and printer. (I'm sure I have that CD around here somewhere.) And I still have to get a new video card that supports digital output so I can use an LCD panel.

Some improvements:

  • USB 2.0 ports. (My old computer had only 1.0.)
  • The fans shut off in standby mode. (My old computer left the fans running, which negated much of the benefit of standby mode.)
  • "Shut down and restart" actually works. (For some reason, my old computer was incapable of restarting.)
  • The new computer is a lot quieter.
Comments (90)
  1. gkdada says:

    (I’m not that big of a geek)

    Me neither. I ran into exact same SID problem when I put Vista Beta/RC1/RC2 on my home computer. I have done so many iterations of ‘Take ownership – assign rights’ now, I can do it without thinking.

    • I have an added step of assigning ‘all rights’ to ‘everyone’ so that the old XP installation continues to work. Is there any better way? I don’t like the stone-age DOS way of ‘all rights’ to ‘everyone’.
  2. Dean Harding says:

    Can’t you just install a new version of Windows or something over the top of the crapware-loaded version that was pre-installed?

    I don’t think I’ve ever used a pre-installed version of Windows before. Luckily my laptop came with a "re-install" CD, and the crapware on a separate disk, so I just re-installed Windows minus the crapware. Easy!

  3. matt says:

    I feel your pain. The "shovelware" is particularly annoying. I would think that Microsoft would eventually attempt to put a stop to this. Or at the very least make a really big frowny face at these vendors. It is getting to the point where new computers are coming out of the box in a completely unusable state by novice users. And who do you think takes the blame for this? Have you seen the latest Apple commercials?

  4. richard says:

    That mysterious message comes from some software for the 9-in-1 card reader (it think it is used to display fancy icons). It is one of the programs that has an entry in the run field of the registry.

    It only shows up if you are in a limited account.

    I spent way too much time trying to track it down fearing that I had inadvertantly picked up some virus or trojan.

  5. John Elliott says:

    I suppose it wouldn’t be worth trying to get the copy of Windows on the old hard drive to boot in the new hardware? That would avoid problems with SIDs and shovelware.

  6. Steve says:

    "I would think that Microsoft would eventually attempt to put a stop to this"

    Yeah, that would be hi-freakin-larious! Ever heard the words Microsoft and Monopoly used in the same sentence?

  7. Mal says:

    A hypothetical scenario:

    I wonder what the reaction would be if Microsoft decided to adopt Apple’s business model and cease licensing Windows to anybody and you had no option but to purchase a Microsoft PC instead if you wanted to run Windows.

    This is, I suppose, why Apple are able to dictate precisely what software is installed on your new Mac thereby avoiding the shovelware problem described above, while avoiding accusations of anti-competitive behaviour.

    No doubt the user experience would improve, but I guess you would also get that reassuringly expensive feeling too :)

  8. Peter says:

    I don’t work for an OEM, but I DO work with the OEMs — but not me personally, but I do get to hear things.

    1. Why Media Center?  Because it’s being positioned by all of the OEMs as the "next step up" from regular windows, and is therefore the Windows you get when you get a medium-to-better PC. Why was it on Raymond’s "low-end" PC?  Probably because the extra cost of Media Center is offset by the extra cachet of "Media Center".

    Sort of like how fancy watches had jewelled movements (because they wear better), and then cheap watches had them (because it makes them sound fancy)

    1. The extra software on the machine accounts for a substantial amount of the profit on each box.  The software vendors all pay for placement in one form or another.

    And yes, the OEMs are all aware that on the one hand, people don’t like the extras, but on the other hand they do like the extra money.

  9. RyanC says:

    The first thing I did back when I bought my Dell Laptop was to format the hard drive and reinstall Windows XP from a true Windows CD (Not Dell’s restore disk).  

    I then went and downloaded drivers for everything I could directly from the actual chip manufacturer – such as Broadcomm for the NIC, nVidia for the Video card, Intel for the wireless, etc.  I plug-and-played each driver too (except nVidia) to avoid the extra bloatware every manufacturer loves to install with their driver if you use the setup.exe.  Some manufacturers have started sticking their task bar icon installations into the actual INF now, but those I can deal with.

    You end up with a streamlined Windows XP installation that takes 15-30 seconds (or more!) less time to boot, and you know the registry is as clean as it can possibly be.

  10. David Walker says:

    You’re worried about using up four letters out of 26?  (or 24?)

    Glad things are working.

    David

  11. Sysinternals makes a tool to alleviate the SID issue.  They call it NewSid, it’s a freebie.  Linked in my URL.

  12. I rarely buy a pre-built box. I tend to buy the componenets then assemble it all myself. The times I do buy a prebuilt box the first command I run on it is "FORMAT C:".

    But then I’ve got a selection of automatic builds that will configure the machine for me – ok, Generally I need to hunt for a few drivers here and there but the majority of the hard work and configuration is automatically done for me.

  13. Sam says:

    I always install windows from scratch.

    I am too lazy to ‘repair’ all this preloaded stuff, and recovery partition.

    But I reinstall windows at least two times a year to clean up my HDD anyway – seems I’m a neat-freak ;)

  14. Andrew says:

    Let me add my welcome to the world of bloatware as well.

    My most recent computer (after my wife complained that our 800Mhz PIII was too slow, a computer that I still use most days!) was a modest Dell that came with just tons of rubbish installed. I spent a couple of hours patiently uninstalling and rebooting and ended up with a machine that was barely usable (variety of symptoms including non-functional screen saver, hard lock-ups and on one occasion a blue screen after pressing the DVD eject button).

    In the end I had to reinstall the OS (from the recovery partition) but this time I was a lot more selective about the bloatware removal and my wife now now appears to have a stable system.

    I’m perfectly happy with the Dell hardware but their software bundling means I will think twice about buying my next machine from them. This will sound daft but one of the reasons I’m I’m looking forward to Vista is so I can do a clean install and get rid of the bloatware.

  15. js says:

    Getting rid of all those startup warts is one of my pet peeves.  Here’s a feature request for future versions of Windows–don’t allow any program to let itself run on startup without user permission.  It could show a popup like Windows Firewall that says something like:

    The application "QuickTime" is trying to infect your system tray.  

    [Allow] [Deny] [Deny and send profanity-laden e-mail to publisher]

  16. Damian says:

    If you go down the un-install route, I highly recommend Crap Cleaner – http://www.ccleaner.com/ to clean up after the uninstallers (don’t) do their jobs.

  17. Arthur Strutzenberg says:

    Kind of reminds me what I end up going through whenever I have to rebuild a family member’s PC, or when they upgrade to a new box and are not sure how to bring files over from one box to another…

    Generally speaking I make use of norton ghost to make an archive of the hard drive before doing anything to it.  Generally speaking the images are smaller than the hard drive they came off of.

    After that I usually end up flattening the box(either for rebuild or just to get rid of the crap)…and using a real windows XP disk (not those pseudo oem things that they give you.

    Afterwords I toss the image of the old box in a place easy to find and install ghost explorer on the machine–this way if (when) you discover a file that you forgot to bring over, you can do so from the ghost archive..over time the images are generally split small enough that you can eventually move them off of the drive onto dvd media…

    Only downside is this doesn’t taken into account some of the file encryption that is going to become part of Vista…

  18. Andy C says:

    "If you’re going to run Media Center Edition, doesn’t that mean you’re highly likely to hook it up to some awesome flat-panel display for watching your videos?"

    Not necessarily. A cheap, quiet Media Center PC can easily be secreted away somewhere out of the way so that you can then stream all your videos/music to your Xbox 360 which is hooked up to your awesome flat-panel display.

  19. Ulric says:

    I stopped buying computers in parts about 5 years ago when I bought my first laptop.

    Now I recently bought an iMac which runs Windows Vista perfectly, in the Refurbished section of the online apple store.  I defy you match the spec : 1,400$ – 20 inch LCD, intel dual core 2GHz, 250 GB HD, DVD burner 512M Ram, 3 USB 2, 3 USB 1, two firewire 400, 100/1000BASE-T, 802.11g, blue tooth, ATI X1600/128MB, web cam.  No ugly mini tour, it’s all in the elegant LCD panel.

    I’m not even sure why they throw in wifi and blue tooth, in fact.

  20. Curious Jorge says:

    The Media Center thing becomes even more annoying when you find out MCE has the half-broken network stack of Windows XP Not-Professional.  I figured it must be cheaper to OEMs to install or something, because a wide array of dell and sony notebooks ship with Windows MCE, including those that lack DVI outputs, etc. Why would I buy a notebook for my media center?  It makes no sense.  Raymond, you don’t happen to overhear the pricing convos on this stuff do you?  Maybe you can find out the answer to the mystery of the omnipresent Windows Media Center Edition

  21. Brijesh Chawla says:

    Wait.. so why can’t you install Ubuntu Linux on it again :)

  22. Zian says:

    @js

    I think Windows Defender does that (minus the "send death threat to publisher" part).

  23. “I still have to reinstall the drivers for my rewritable DVD drive and printer. (I’m sure I have that CD around here somewhere.)”

    Personally, I don’t bother hunting out CDs for drivers anymore. It’s usually better to go to the manufacturer’s website and download them, as there’s a good chance the older versions will have problems, and the website will have an updated version.

    In fact, when I buy a new peripheral I usually download the drivers rather than using the ones in the box.

    [I agree with you in general, but the DVD came with a DVD-burning program that I happen to like. -Raymond]
  24. Erbo says:

    This is why, when I built a new computer and then did some upgrades on the one that it replaced, I bought copies of Windows XP SP2 Home Edition OEM from Newegg.  It installs JUST the OS, no shovelware involved.  Then I added in a number of quality free and open-source add-ons, such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org, VLC, etc.

    My wife’s notebook doesn’t have a real OS CD, just a set of "recovery" CDs that reload the entire hard disk, including the shovelware.  Gack.

  25. Good Point says:

    To all those that automatically re-install Windows on a new machine, do you:

    Buy a new boxed version?

    Use the OEM CD/License?

    Use a MSDN CD/License?

    Don’t wish to tell?

  26. James says:

    I think Microsoft should double the number of reinstallations allowed for Vista, to mitigate the  removal of the shovelware problem.

    Of course it sounds suspiciously like a software developer recommending that a user install more memory when running an application that leaks like a sieve.

  27. A Tykhyy says:

    Speaking of C:Cards etc, it is easy enough to create mountpoints for all the rest of the “drives” like the cd and the floppy and whatever. But is there a way to get rid of the C:, so that I won’t need to bother with it?

    [What would you use if you didn’t have at least C:? -Raymond]
  28. RyanBemrose says:

    >> I have an added step of assigning ‘all rights’ to ‘everyone’ so that the old XP installation continues to work. Is there any better way? I don’t like the stone-age DOS way of ‘all rights’ to ‘everyone’.

    In my experience, the Vista migration wizard handles ACL problems (and most other things) unexpectedly well.

    http://www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/library/1a3fbe72-9de8-4b94-b254-586a61843a04.mspx

    [The catch is that it requires that the old machine still work! -Raymond]
  29. I have worked for an OEM, one that views MS and Intel as competitors for the

    few meager $ in profit an OEM may see.

    All that junk on the PC is the difference between profit and loss. You sign for AOL or MSN, that $15 bounty makes the PC sale a profit. I know it sucks, but Intel and MS have pushed the OEMs into it.

    Recovery partitions are a case in point. I hate them, they dont help you when your disk gets hosed, they can even get infected with malware. But the OEMs like them as they save $20c on a CD. Microsoft like them because they reduce the number of OEM disks to resell on ebay or spam mails.

    The other issue is that in the absence of a cross-vendor version of windows update, every app that can open or download content off the net needs to install their own little updater. I hate it, but dont have the problem on a linux runtime, where I just add extra publishers (like NVidia) to my list of trusted repositories. Then the automated update tool pulls down vendor updates as and when I choose them. Quicktime/iTunes deserves special mention as contaminating everything; it even screws up your java classpath. Its as if apple wanted to go out their way to punish windows owners of an iPod for having the audacity to run windows (despite the fact that many more ipods must bond to windows than macs)

    Having just spent the day not getting ubuntu installed (one word: GRUB), I am not going to advocate it as a mass user alternative. You need someone competent to help set it up. But in windows land, you need somebody competent every so often too. Every time I visit my sisters I end up wasting 1-3 hours in sysadmin (one time spyware, next time ipodware). Games consoles do not need sysadmin evenings. Telephones do not need reformatting and rebuilding. Cars do not need their registry scrubbed. Somehow, we, the computing industry, have taken a wrong turn.

  30. jcopenha says:

    A good use for a Media Center PC with no DVI output would be to link it to your XBOX, http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/extender/owner/default.mspx.  Makes a nice streaming media server.

  31. Cooney says:

    [What would you use if you didn’t have at least C:? -Raymond]

    I’d use /

    [That begs the question. / means “root of current drive”. So what’s your current drive? -Raymond]
  32. Rick C says:

    <blockquote>Games consoles do not need sysadmin evenings. Telephones do not need reformatting and rebuilding.</blockquote>

    Well, true, but game consoles and telephones don’t allow you the vast variety of addons computers do.  If they did, you’d probably see the same problems.

    My Sony-Ericsson cell phone locks up from time to time, and has to have the battery removed.

  33. Sudsy says:

    “On the other hand, I can’t access the files on the drive yet. I don’t have a domain at home (I’m not that big of a geek), so my SID on the new computer is different from my SID on the old computer. My new account can’t access files created by the old account.

    Sure you can. Just look for ADMNALOW on Google.

    It’s written for exactly this problem. It will change the ACLs so that you, as the local administrator, have full control to everything.

    Another way of doing this is with my “chown” program. It works just like the Unix “chown” program.

    [Oh, an administrator can see the files fine. But I can’t because I’m not an administrator. -Raymond]
  34. David Craig says:

    This is another reason why I make the boot/system partitions FAT32.  No ownership issues for my home systems.

  35. Puckdropper says:

    Steve, it’s the nature of the best.  The computer is such a general purpose machine, it’s hard to keep it configuration and administration free.

    I’ll buy a prebuilt laptop, but I still prefer to build my own desktop.  Having the original CDs for all the hardware appeals to me.

  36. Stu says:

    Steve: Cars do not need their registry scrubbed.

    Cars do however need regular maintainence, servicing, etc.

    Computers are at least as complex cars (if not 100x so) and while they don’t suffer from mechanical wear-and-tear in the same way as cars do, most OS’s do seem to suffer from a digatal form of wear-and-tear and Windows seems to be especially prone to it.

  37. Sid says:

    Even if your new MCE running computer had a DVI output, you would be hard pressed to find a decent digital TV (lcd/plasma etc, and not a monitor mind you) that accepted a DVI input. Infact, none of Samsungs TV’s offer DVI input and it states very clearly on their FAQ and their documentation that you WILL NOT be able to connect a computer to any of their TV’s using DVI or HDMI. Some tv’s do support analog SVGA inputs which work just fine on my new TV.

    I love paying 2000 dollars on a product that does less. Doesnt everyone?

  38. Mark W says:

    XP Media Center: could it be because media center is cheaper than XP Pro?

    Video card: there are low end video cards with a single DVI output for probably less than $40.  Dual DVI outputs would probably be closer to the $100 range.

    9 in 1 reader: the c:cards trick is very handy – I find it hard to remember which letter which media goes into!

    thanks for sharing

    Mark W

  39. Cooney says:

    [That begs the question. / means “root of current drive”. So what’s your current drive? -Raymond]

    / means root. There is no current drive. Everything else hangs off of that, frequently as /mount/floppy or whatever.

    [Oh, I didn’t realize you wanted to redesign Win32 path syntax, too. And what’s your compatibility story? -Raymond]
  40. Good Point says:

    Games consoles do not need sysadmin evenings. Telephones do not need reformatting and rebuilding. Cars do not need their registry scrubbed. Somehow, we, the computing industry, have taken a wrong turn.<

    Best thing I have read on this blog.

  41. DriverDude says:

    ahhh, you’ve now seen how Windows is used in the real world!

    I almost always reinstall using the OS cd that came with the computer – meaning I only buy from companies that provide seperate OS discs and have better online support. Not those "imaged" discs that pre-install all the shovelware too. Companies like Dell or IBM.

    Which reminds me, I didn’t have to reinstall on my old ThinkPad, because that was configured for "business" user and didn’t have quite as much crap loaded.

    -D.D.

  42. Stu says:

    Windows CE doesn’t use drive letters (at least it didn’t when I last used it, around version 2.0).

    It would be quite easy to switch to UNIX-style paths in Windows. See WINE for how to make it compatible with existing apps.

  43. Sudsy says:

    Sure you can. Just look for ADMNALOW on Google.

    > It’s written for exactly this problem. It will change the ACLs so that you, as the local administrator, have full control to everything.

    > Another way of doing this is with my “chown” program. It works just like the Unix “chown” program.

    > [Oh, an administrator can see the files fine. But I can’t because I’m not an administrator. -Raymond]

    I thought you installed Windows on your new computer, and then attached your old drive. So, don’t you have an administrator account on your new computer? If you did, then either admnalow or chown would work. If you don’t, then you could put the disk on a computer that you do have admin access on, run admnalow, and then

    copy the files to either another directory on the same disk, or onto a portable medium (e.g.

    CD or flash).

    [But if I used the administrator account to copy the files, the copied files would be owned by the administrator, not by my new account on the new machine. I still wouldn’t be able to access the files. Unless chown lets me assign ownership to somebody else? -Raymond]
  44. Tyler says:

    So what was the program that said, “fAIL”?

    [I answered that question twice in the entry itself! Once in the sentence immediately before the picture, and again in the sentece immediately after it. Proof that people post comments without reading the entry first. -Raymond]
  45. Dave says:

    Welcome to the real world, Raymond. That is what real people go through every time they buy a new computer. Real computers have tons of crapware and faulty drivers, written by developers who barely know Windows, filled with bugs, hogging resources, using inconsistent UI conventions. As far as my Mom knows, that *whole package* is Windows.

    Wait until Vista gets out, things are going to get even worse. Especially with users running without admin privileges, we’re going to see a real mess with ACL issues.

  46. Sudsy says:

    “[But if I used the administrator account to copy the files, the copied files would be owned by the administrator, not by my new account on the new machine. I still wouldn’t be able to access the files. Unless chown lets me assign ownership to somebody else? -Raymond]”

    chown works just like the Unix chown. It allows a suitably priviledged user to unilaterally change the ownership from one owner to another. Give me an email address and I’ll send you the source.

    [Well, since I don’t have disk quotas, ownership isn’t important. It’s the ACL that grants me read/write access that’s important. -Raymond]
  47. Andy C says:

    Stu:”It would be quite easy to switch to UNIX-style paths in Windows.”

    Yes, but you wouldn’t actually gain anything over using c: as the root. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    [Well, since I don’t have disk quotas, ownership isn’t important. It’s the ACL that grants me read/write access that’s important. -Raymond]

    The owner of a file always has change ACL permission under Win32, do they not?

    [Right, but I can change the ACLs as Administrator. I don’t see what chown buys me. -Raymond]
  48. Cooney says:

    [Oh, I didn’t realize you wanted to redesign Win32 path syntax, too. And what’s your compatibility story? -Raymond]

    Stu:

    Windows CE doesn’t use drive letters (at least it didn’t when I last used it, around version 2.0).

    Whatever the wince guys did :)

    [Well, since I don’t have disk quotas, ownership isn’t important. It’s the ACL that grants me read/write access that’s important. -Raymond]

    Unix uses ownership to determine rights – perhaps chown bashes the ACL properly to do that?

  49. Mark says:

    OK, so if you’re going to flatten this new machine, how about going hell-for-leather and installing Vista on it?

  50. tsrblke says:

    Having recently gotten a HP MCE Laptop I can say a few things.  First what defines MCE PC is quite odd.  My laptop has no TV tuner card (it was an option, but only if I bought from HP directly, and since this was from my Best buy warrenty plan payment, that was out.)  My ram is pretty good, I’ve got a decent processor, but the video card could probably use some work–ATI Xpress 200M 128 onboard RAM).  Yes it has Shovelware, yes it has the backup partition (which I won’t delete until the space is needed I’m sure.)  But I have to say I like the Laptop design 6 in one card reader design better.  It stays disabled (as in not attached as hardware) until you stick a card in which turns it on.  I can then use the "Safely remove hardware button" and when I remove my card it turns off.  It only uses one driver letter.  Granted I can only have 1 card in at a time, but I rarely see a use for more than that.

  51. J. Edward Sanchez says:

    Steve Loughran wrote:

    Games consoles do not need sysadmin evenings. Telephones do not need reformatting and rebuilding. Cars do not need their registry scrubbed. Somehow, we, the computing industry, have taken a wrong turn.

    This reminds me a COMPUTE! magazine column from August 1984 that asked why there was a "COMPUTE!" magazine but no "WASH!" magazine:

    "A magazine like COMPUTE! can be a lifesaver for the consumer who has just bought an inexpensive computer. The magazine offers easy-to-read tutorials, practical tips, and lots of excellent, affordable software.

    "Kids can also be helpful. So can user groups. But all this is beside the point. The real question is: Should a home appliance be this difficult to use?

    "To put this question in perspective, ask yourself how many people would own a washing machine if, to operate it, they had to buy a monthly magazine called WASH!, and they had to get help from a washing-machine whiz kid and attend weekly meetings of the Whirlpool User Group?"

    This really struck a chord with me, and it has stayed with me all these years. I’ve always strived to develop software that approached the simplicity and ease-of-use of a washing machine.

    To be fair, general-purpose computers are probably thousands of times more complex than washing machines. And to the computer industry’s credit, they are not thousands of times harder to use — for most people, anyway.

    Yet, in absolute terms, they are still hard to set up, and still hard to use and maintain. In the 22 years since that column was written, things have changed a lot. We’ve seen the rise of GUIs, the Internet, and obscenely powerful hardware. At the same time, we’ve also gone through things like BSODs, DLL hell, the spyware epidemic, and yes, shovelware. On the whole, computers have gotten lot better. But how much easier are they to set up and maintain than they were in 1984?

    Not enough. Not yet.

    [Full text of the COMPUTE! column here: http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue51/227_1_Are_Computers_A_Home_Appliance.php ]

  52. Jonathan Wilson says:

    What is broken about the network stack in XP Home and XP MCE?

    What is missing that XP pro does have?

  53. Tim says:

    Why Media Center?  Well, I’ve had an MCE PC for about a year, but until recently I ran it via an analog signal, and via analog video it managed to be a pretty good DVD player, a PVR, a music jukebox, and let me watch videos that were downloaded to my desktop machine, etc.

    Since when did watching TV *require* a big fancy flat panel display?  My 26" CRT wouldn’t have benefited from a DVI input, let me reassure you.

  54. James says:

    Good Point: In my case, Campus Select licensed XP Pro (along with several gigabytes of other apps, some installed or not depending on the machine’s IP address at installation time – so the student lab machines get Visual Studio, AutoCAD etc, staff machines don’t) – all legit! Complete with over a gigabyte of assorted drivers; the only time I’ve had to add anything was a Dell SATA RAID controller.

    David Craig: I’ve been wary of FAT32 since NT5 (Beta 2) ate the other partition on the system it was living on. It’s nice and simple, but when things go wrong they can *really* go wrong…

  55. Matt says:

    Domain Membership

  56. James says:

    The problem with mounting the card-reader drives as directories is that Explorer doesn’t always treat them exactly the same way.  In Windows 2000, for example, removable media drives usualy get an "Eject" command on their context menu, but once you mount them as directories, you lose that ability. (It’s important for me, since I can’t disable write caching in Windows 2000, and if I don’t go through the Eject step, I can corrupt my data.)

    I suppose it’s less of an issue with Windows XP since it doesn’t enable write caching for removable media by default.

    I also wish the manufacturers of those 9-in-1 card readers could somehow make only slot active at a time.

  57. required says:

    Here’s a feature request for future versions of Windows–don’t allow any program to let itself run on startup without user permission.

    Well you could write an app to do that yourself, couldn’t you? It could sit in the notification area (system tray), and… oh.

  58. Chris Becke says:

    [What would you use if you didn’t have at least C:? -Raymond]

    Actually, I’d use F:

    On my home system, with one of those all-in-one card reader thingies, my Windows XP installed itself to F:

    C: is where thumbdrives end up.

    I have no idea why… But damn it, FireFox’s auto update doesn’t like not having a c:

  59. required says:

    Computers are at least as complex cars (if not 100x so)

    Given that most modern cars contain at least one computer I find that difficult to believe.

  60. Centaur says:

    Re: preinstalled software:

    For me, it goes without saying that when I get a new computer the first thing I do is scrap everything it had preinstalled (including spy-, ad- and other malware, if any), reinstall the OS and then install only the software I want on my machine. Can’t trust a software environment unless I built it myself.

  61. JW says:

    > Here’s a feature request for future versions of Windows–don’t allow any program to let itself run on startup without user permission.

    Well you could write an app to do that yourself, couldn’t you? It could sit in the notification area (system tray), and… oh.

    Or use one that’s invisible:

    http://www.mlin.net/StartupMonitor.shtml

  62. BryanK says:

    Given that most modern cars contain at least one computer I find that difficult to believe.

    Here’s the problem with that.  The "computer" in a car has no software in the same sense that "normal" computers have software.  It does run programs, yes, but the programs can’t be changed.  (Or if they can, it would require a flash type of process — nothing that the programs themselves can do.)  There’s no equivalent of WriteFile() / write().

    Video game consoles are the same way — you can’t change the OS (or, in most cases, the game code itself).

    Cars are much more similar to your BIOS than your hard drive in that regard.

  63. Wince says:

    [That begs the question. / means "root of current drive". So what’s your current drive? -Raymond]

    WinCE doesn’t have the concept of current drive or current dir. Alla paths are absolute.

  64. Swap says:

    Can current Windows versions run without any writeable drive? I didn’t thought so.

  65. dhiren says:

    Although I may be mistaken, I’m sure that WinCE doesnt run normal win32 applications, so asking the win32 team to do whatever the wince team did is pointless – wince is a completely different platform and therefore had the opportunity to start from scratch without drive letters without needing to be backwards compatible with anything.  

  66. Cooney says:

    required:

    Given that most modern cars contain at least one computer I find that difficult to believe.

    Not so – car computers are fixed function devices with very specific ideas about what they allow. further, they have no need for backwards comaptibility, even within a model year.

  67. GeekDeveloper says:

    One more comment about the crapware: What would you rather have, a cheaper PC and put up with the crapware, or a PC that’s $50 to $100 more expensive with no crapware? If PC makers were to offer more expensive PCs that came with only the bare essentials, as well as the ones with all the other stuff, what would you buy? Be honest, now. I think you’d pick the cheaper one.

  68. ThisBolgNoob says:

    For my new system, I paid extra to have the local shop put together the hardware, install XP Pro SP1 (*not* SP2), download and install the driver updates, and give me the original CDs as a backup for re-installs.

  69. ender says:

    Speaking of recovery partitions and showelware: you can usually install clean Windows by simply running WINNT32.EXE from C:I386 (which contains the installation files). No need for CDs, although it might be advisable to first make a BartPE boot CD, to delete Program Files and Documents and Settings (and start the install from there).

  70. AndyB says:

    The chap who suggested a unified updater is spot on. Yum and apt-get in the linux world are brilliant. If I want a new app I would (in an ideal world) just type ‘yum install x’ and I’d get it. Sometimes I’d have to add a vendor-specific repository to the yum configuration.

    So, why doesn’t Windows have something similar? Microsoft Update works for windows and now office too. Why couldn’t it be extended to allow vendors (eg nvidia, ati, symantec, etc) to provide details of their Update-compatible repository and have Microsoft Update be the front-end to detecting and installing their software updates?

    Please, Raymond – suggest this to the powers that be to get the development kit created for this, and get the message to the major manufacturers.

    [I’m confident that the powers that be are aware of this. But would ISVs trust Microsoft with their patches and marketing information and traffic? Would you want to let Microsoft know exactly how many customers you have and where they are? -Raymond]
  71. Matthew says:

    Like one of the previous posters, I have windows installed other than to C:. I know it’s because the boot loader decided it needed to be on a later partition, for whatever reason. My question is: how do you reletter the drive to C:?

  72. J. Peterson says:

    Not to be a troll, but upgrading systems is something the Mac does a much better job of.  When you buy a new Mac, it says during the initialization:  Are you upgrading from an old machine?  Click yes, and you get a nice diagram of how to plug the two together, and how to boot the old machine as a passive disk drive.  Then it gracefully copies all of your apps, user names, data. settings, etc.  Magic.

    The shovelware situation with Windows is really horrific.  I always just completely nuke the disk and install a "clean" Win XP.  Then spend the rest of the *DAY* (week?) re-installing the apps and re-configuring the machine.  Ick.

  73. a-z says:

    What happens when the drive letters isn’t enough to map a system drive at all?

  74. Man from U.N.C.L.E. says:

    There is/was no USB 1.0.

    But why buy junk?  I am disillusioned, even more so than when I learned there was no Santa, no tooth fairy, and girls never had cooties.

  75. Stu says:

    [I’m confident that the powers that be are aware of this. But would ISVs trust Microsoft with their patches and marketing information and traffic? Would you want to let Microsoft know exactly how many customers you have and where they are? -Raymond]

    ISV’s wouldn’t need to “trust Microsoft”. All they would need to do is register their own update server with the system. Just like adding a new repository to an apt-get or yum setup.

    [But Microsoft would still get the web hit from the user visiting the Microsoft Update site and the Microsoft site scanning the user’s system and saying, “Oh, you have LitWare Professional. Let me send you to the LitWare update server to see if need any patches.” Or are you just saying that the Microsoft Update site wouldn’t scan your system and merely have a list of links of the form “Click here to go to the LitWare security update/patch web site”? That’s much, much less useful to the user. If I have LitWare Professional 2.5 patch 25 and Contoso Organizer 1.1 I now have to visit three web sites to see if I’m up to date. -Raymond]
  76. Stefan Kanthak says:

    Does REALLY nobody know SubInACL.EXE (the free Resource Kit Tools)?

    It’s a shame!

  77. John Hensley says:

    Shades of "They Live" in this entry

    oBEY

  78. Matt Ryall says:

    "Shut down and restart" actually works. (For some reason, my old computer was incapable of restarting.)

    I’ve seen this problem on many Windows systems, both with shutdown and restart. Glad to know that Microsoft gurus have the same problem, because I couldn’t find any solution to it.

  79. Igor says:

    But if I used the administrator account to copy the files….

    Raymond, it’s simple:

    1. Login as Administrator
    2. Add your user account to Administrators group (NET LOCALGROUP Administrators your_user_account_name /ADD)

    3. Login as your_user_account_name

    4. Take the ownership of the whole drive recursively

    5. Set the permissions to your liking

    6. Login as Administrator

    7. Remove your user account from Administrators group (NET LOCALGROUP Administrators your_user_account_name /DELETE)

    That’s it.

  80. James says:

    The update problem should be easy to solve if you stop
    regarding/building the Update tool as a web site, instead having a set
    of repositories for Update to poll for relevant updates.

    It shouldn’t be “the Microsoft site” scanning the PC anyway –
    rather, it should be an update tool running on the PC which scans the
    system it’s running on, comparing against whatever update servers have
    been registered. The ISV still needs to trust Microsoft software – but
    if they don’t, why are they writing Windows apps in the first place?

    [The original proposal was “Let ISVs hook into
    Microsoft Update”. You’re proposal appears to be “Don’t let ISVs hook
    into Microsoft Update.” -Raymond
    ]
  81. Igor says:

    >The original proposal was “Let ISVs hook into Microsoft Update”…

    Raymond, people want to say that the current situation is bad:

    1. Each program we use has it’s own update feature.

    2. Said feature is usually buggy, unreliable and requires additional space and resources.

    3. They usually don’t have resumable downloads or QoS management,
    they hog your bandwidth completely and they often nag you with dialog
    boxes.

    So what people are proposing is to have an API which software
    vendors could use to check for update on their own registered update
    site using windows update service which is already running in
    background on almost every computer.

    That would cut their costs on developing update schemes — they
    would just have to register their server with Microsoft and to change
    update to use Windows API instead of custom code.

    Benefit for the end users is obvious — they get streamlined update process and less clutter in the system tray.

    [Now I’m completely confused. First you say you
    want to check the ISV’s site, but then you say you want to use the
    Windows Update service, and other people say that this can be done
    without any ISV software inventory information being sent to Microsoft
    (but that’s what Windows Update does)… Preparing patches for Windows
    Update is a very complicated undertaking since users can choose to
    install one patch but skip another. The patch permutations grow rather
    quickly. I suspect ISVs wouldn’t want to support that degree of
    customization. They probably just want “Take all the patches or none.
    No mixing and matching.” -Raymond
    ]
  82. Steve says:

    My experience with IBM mainframes, Unix (inc. Linux), and Windows
    has led to the conclusion that the Unix people were and are the
    smartest; and have built the most robust, the most usable, and
    generally, the best OS.  For one thing, they know what an
    operating system is, and what it is not.

    FWIW, / is the root designator on Unix.  It’s just another
    invalid character in Windows filenames.  Arguing for DOS
    drive-based filenames over Unix filesystem hierarchy is just silly.
     It’s obvious which is better.

    Raymond, you sound like you’re getting wrapped a little too tight
    these days.  You’re starting to act like you think you’re
    responsible for every comment.

    I read every word of the original article, and I have no idea where the fAIL message came from.  Maybe I’m dum.

    [Right before the fAIL message, I wrote “The evil
    icon chicanery is particularly gruesome because… I get this.” So I
    said up front that hte evil icon chicanery was responsible for the
    dialog box. And then the next sentence after the dialog box is, “Good
    job there, stupid evil icon program,” so I once again point the blame
    at the stupid evil icon program. As for the / — the point is that
    saying “Let’s make a new set of rules that are incompatible with the
    old rules” may make you feel good, but it’s not a plan. If you don’t
    care about compatibility then you may as well say “Ditch Windows and
    switch to Linux.” And maybe you want to say that, but don’t disguise it
    as “making a change to Windows”. -Raymond
    ]
  83. Igor says:

    For one thing, they know what an operating

    system is, and what it is not.

    Seems that you don’t.

    the best OS

    Linux is not an OS, just the kernel.

    Unix being a full blown OS (without having usable and intuitive graphic front-end) is debatable.

    IBM mainframes run what? Don’t make me laugh, please.

    Arguing for DOS drive-based filenames…

    C: under Windows or /mnt/C in Linux/Unix — which one is better? I chose C: over /mnt/C crap any day.

    In Windows and even in DOS you can SUBST long path with drive letter:

    C:Usersmaster>subst W: C:Usersmaster

    C:Usersmaster>dir w:

    Volume in drive W is XP64

    Volume Serial Number is CC4C-820D

    Directory of W:

    09/25/2006  09:06 PM    <DIR>          .

    09/25/2006  09:06 PM    <DIR>          ..

    09/25/2006  08:45 PM    <DIR>          Start Menu

    10/19/2006  06:35 PM    <DIR>          My Documents

    09/25/2006  09:06 PM    <DIR>          Favorites

    09/25/2006  08:45 PM    <DIR>          Desktop

    09/28/2006  05:21 AM                 0 Sti_Trace.log

                  1 File(s)              0 bytes

                  6 Dir(s)   3,742,232,576 bytes free

    Can you do that in Linux/Unix? Or you have to type this:

    /mnt/C/Users/master

    Each time you want ot access it? Yes I know you can start typing and press Tab, but you can do that in Windows too so it is not some serious advantage.

    Moreover, mounting a drive inside of a directory was always annoying Linux/Unix feature for me especially when I wanted to check how much free space I have. Nowadays you can do that in Windows too but not many people use it, guess it is not that usefull feature after all.

    Dealing with removable drives is also a PITA in Linux/Unix. instead of DIR E: it is ls -l /mnt/cdrom or whatever your distro is using for access, which of course wildly differs from one distro to another.

    The only thing Windows needs IMO is better/more reliable journaling. I have seen NTFS filesystem trashed too many times due to simple power failure in the middle of writing operation.

    As for the / thing. I believe that Windows hierarchy is more logical than Linux/Unix.

    In Windows root is My Computer. That makes sense because all devices are connected to it. It is counter-intuitive to mount CD or DVD or any removable drive contents inside directory on your hard drive because it leads you to believe that files are already there.

    "Let’s see, I am copying files from one HDD directory to another HDD directory so I can remove this USB drive… damn!"

    Next time before saying "it is obvious which one is better" you should be first try to find the flaws in the system you are praising.

  84. marlinj says:

    Nice multi-topic thread.

    1. (Not having seen this suggested yet tells me there’s probably some horrible gotchya which I’ve avoided so far only through luck, ignorance, and the blessings of god, but…) Why not jam the old drive into the new box, boot from an XP install CD, and do a repair install?  Hardware gets detected and installed/reinstalled, so drivers are handy, but the only the NIC is critical.  Everything else can limp along on defaults until you’re back on the wire.  Original OS files tend to replace the updated ones, so you’ll get to spend some time with Windows Update, but nothing to worry about as long as you get a firewall between you and the internet first.  And as a bonus, your apps and most of your user preferences survive the process.

    2. I thought the increasing commonality of XP-MCE was just pre-Vista stock reductions.  (Why  MCE was OS SKU instead of a application is probably a secret only known by the dark lords of marketing.)

  85. BryanK says:

    Igor/James:  Vendors can already hook into most of the automatic updates stuff.  There’s a documented API for access to BITS.  The rest is just adding jobs to BITS and periodically checking their statuses.

    Now, it might be good to have a similar hook into the Automatic Updates service, so you could add servers to its list.  But the "don’t use all my bandwidth" stuff is already coded into BITS, at least.

  86. Igor says:

    BryanK, nice to hear that. It seems however that nobody uses it. For example while your anti-virus updates its definitions you can’t surf. What is even worse is that you have to have active services or processs which sit in a loop asking "Is it the time to update? Is it the time to update?" for each updateable thing you may have installed on your computer. Start with anti-virus, then anti-spyware, quicktime, adobe acrobat, photoshop, real player, and the list goes on…

    We need universal place to deal with all that. One list to rule them all.

    To Raymond:

    Funny how nobody noticed that fAIL thing. Someone who designed that dialog had their Caps Lock on and held Shift while typing the message text. Maybe changing capitalization means something really bad has happened? ;)

  87. BryanK says:

    Yeah, I know nobody uses it; I think that’s because frankly, it’s so dang hard to get it to work right (either that, or nobody knows about it).

    I’ve been having some issues with it related to the current SID — apparently only the user that starts the BITS service has any access to it at all.  Except the automatic updates service has access no matter what, which I really don’t understand.  (I don’t remember the error anymore either; I’ve been working on other stuff lately.  The thing that I wanted to use BITS was going to be internal only, so it’s not that big of a deal for us.)

  88. Norman Diamond says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only hater of recovery partitions.  Now hoping some others in Microsoft read this blog entry.  Disk Administrator prohibits deletion of system partitions and boot partitions because Windows can’t run without them.  Disk Administrator prohibits deletion of recovery partitions and hibernation partitions because, well, Disk Administrator says that Windows can’t run without them.  I took a hard drive out of a computer that used to run Windows 98 and had a hibernation partition which that computer’s BIOS had used, and put the drive in a USB case.  Disk Administrator obediently deleted the old C and D partitions so I could create a brand spanking new partition on the now-USB disk, but that hibernation partition absolutely had to remain in a place where it would never be used again.

    Regarding the suggestions to let Windows Update connect to vendors’ sites, I thought they meant that the ActiveX control which executes in Internet Explorer on the client machine (100% CPU for several minutes in Windows 2000) would make those connections.  Sure it would be necessary for Microsoft to provide some configurability in the control but Microsoft’s servers wouldn’t have to connect to millions of vendors’ sites.  On the other hand Windows Update has already brought me some drivers so Microsoft’s servers already are providing some.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006 9:26 PM by J. Edward Sanchez

    why there was a "COMPUTE!" magazine but

    no "WASH!" magazine:

    Yeah, but there are Consumer Reports and Better Homes & Gardens and stuff like that, and there are zillions of "DRIVE!" magazines.

  89. And not just for novices.

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