May 21, 2003

Shudder

Occasionally I run across descriptions of life on the Windows side that make me thank $DEITY that I'm not one of them, and don't think "wasting an afternoon undoing [operating system] rot" is a normal and typical part of life.

Here Jon Udell provides a fine example of this kind of narrative:

Jon Udell: Testing for Windows rot: ...while wasting an afternoon undoing some rot that had crept into a Windows XP installation.... Windows rot isn't really about catastrophic failure, it's about, well, rot. I love this description:

The problem with WinRot is that its a process that just seems to "happen" over a period of time. There's no warning, no messages in the event log, no "Windows would like to rot now. Is this ok? Yes/No" dialog. Nothing. [Jim O'Halloran's Weblog]

In my case, two bizarre symptoms appeared on the same day:

  • MSIE 6 began crashing hard immediately upon loading any Amazon.com page. It was fine, though, with every other site. And MSIE 6 on another machine was (of course) fine with Amazon.

  • Radio UserLand's GUI interface, accessed by right-clicking the tray icon and selecting Open Radio, became inaccessible. No other functions of the program were noticeably affected.

I surmised these two oddities were related to a slew of software installation I'd done recently, so I began playing the System Restore roulette game. Pick a day, revert to that day. Problem solved? If yes, assess collateral damage. If no, pick an earlier day and repeat. After three tries I was back 12 days, and the Radio glitch was solved. But not the MSIE/Amazon glitch. Applying the most recent MSIE patch did solve that one too, for reasons I'll never know. Then the collateral damage. Office 2003 apps got unregistered, as did the SpamBayes add-in for Outlook 2000. My Jython-based email searcher broke because of a rollback to a previous CLASSPATH. And there were a few more things like that.

Probably it was software installation or uninstallation that caused the two symptoms of rot. Maybe not. Either way, lack of immediate feedback made recovery much worse. System Restore is actually a darned useful utility, but if you don't catch the cancer early you're in for a painful treatment. Problem was, the disease attacked functions that I don't use every day, or even every week.

I wonder if regular testing of installed applications could enable early detection. And if so, I wonder how that might practically be done.

Yes, I do also use Mac OS X...

Posted by DeLong at May 21, 2003 07:00 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Any particular reason why you left off the last little bit of his post:

"Yes, I do also use Mac OS X. And while I can't confirm rot, I do detect questionable odors. In the final analysis, any complex system can benefit from regular and disciplined verification."

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on May 21, 2003 07:19 PM

Hmmm.... I think I had it originally chopped off at the end of the previous paragraph, but then decided that the anticipatory defensive counter to the wave of "Get a Mac!" emails that he's anticipating was funny enough to be worth including...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 21, 2003 07:41 PM

grrrrr....I am very familiar with WinRot. Now I keep my machine sparkly clean with jv16PowerTools (freeware from www.jv16.org) and Ad-aware. Once a week I check for stray bits of programs, corrupted files and spyware. Been WinRot free for a least a year.

Posted by: vachon on May 21, 2003 07:42 PM

Interesting... Now why doesn't Microsoft roll this stuff into XP?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 21, 2003 08:08 PM

>"Yes, I do also use Mac OS X. And while I can't confirm
>rot, I do detect questionable odors. In the final analysis,
>any complex system can benefit from regular and
>disciplined verification."

I've used Mac OS X on at least six different boxes since the public betas come out, and I have never noticed *anything* you could mention in the same sentence with WinRot. The Public Beta was glacially slow, but it was slow from the get-go, right out of the box.

Indeed, the total number of crashes I have ever experienced under OS X is still less than 10. 3 of them were caused by the latest version of EndNote locking up when you close a notebook when a presentation is still running. Two were caused back in 10.0.something when Kid Pix Deluxe, which runs under "Classic", made the machine choke hard. Explorer brought the machine down once in the old days...and I know there were a couple of others, but I'd have to think hard to find them. On windows, there have been rather more problems...

Posted by: Jonathan King on May 21, 2003 09:14 PM

I use WinXP 10 hours a day at work, and Mac OS X 10.2 running constantly - except when my laptop is asleep and not plugged into the wall - at home. One has crashed completely just once in a year and a half, with perhaps a handful (literally) of program crashes along the way. The other needs to have IE restarted at least once a day, with slowdowns and WinRot requiring a shut down and restart at least once a week.

Guess which is which.

Not that I don't have the occasional spinning beachball at home. 'Course I do. And I certainly see XP as by far the most professional job MS has ever done, and don't find it cramps my style too badly. There are times when I barely notice it getting in the way.

But every day I find myself trying to multitask in XP the way I do with Jaguar, on similarly specced machines, and every day the XP machine feels on the edge of falling over while the Jaguar one stays rock-solid.

Just my experience. YMMV.

Posted by: JeremySJ on May 22, 2003 07:55 AM

My experience does not match that of others here. While I'm fundamentally a UNIX person and hate the Evil Empire as much as the next Penguin hugger, I've never had a problem with NT and succeeding machines. And nothing good ever happens to me on a Mac. And a lot of software I want isn't available there. And people have trouble reading my MS word resume (I'm job hunting). And I wish the whole thing would just go away.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on May 22, 2003 10:17 AM

Ironically, this message is being written on a machine that runs MacOS 9 and craps out every three to six months. The cure (recommended independently by three Mac experts)? Periodic OS reinstall...

Posted by: Nikolai Chuvakhin on May 22, 2003 03:07 PM

Ironically, this message is being written on a machine that runs MacOS 9 and craps out every three to six months. The cure (recommended independently by three Mac experts)? Periodic OS reinstall...

Posted by: Nikolai Chuvakhin on May 22, 2003 03:12 PM

I myself strenuously avoid MS format documents when job hunting for Jonathan Goldberg's very reason, giving people access. My best compromise so far is plain ASCII in an html file, topped and tailed with the html tags for preformatting - and an email or other cover note telling people this CAN be read with MS word. To decipher inbound MS word documents from other people to me, I use antiword for MS-DOS on my old home system (I have found but not yet installed a utility that does the same for pdf files).

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on May 22, 2003 04:45 PM

I switched to mac and OSX because of winrot a couple of months back and am now a diehard OSX fan for the reasons described above, amongst others.

I wonder whether there is a point where the tipping effect* would come into play, at what sales level that would be, and whether Apple could aspire to get there.

L

(e.g. the oft-quoted example of white or black neighborhoods slowly changing demographics and then switching completely from one to the other once a certain percentage of incoming inhabitants is reached)

Posted by: Lance Wiggs on May 22, 2003 05:24 PM

Ironically, this message is being written on a machine that runs MacOS 9 and craps out every three to six months. The cure (recommended independently by three Mac experts)? Periodic OS reinstall...

I am not sure why that is ironic, but it sure does suck. I recommend switching to OSX immediately, unless your machine is too old. There is no comparison.

Posted by: Mac expert #4 on May 23, 2003 02:18 PM
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