Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Windows Blackout caused by AutoUpdates

I've never been a big fan of automatic software updates. I still recall the days when the rep from Sperry-Univac would update the operating system on our room size, mini-computers. We'd spend the next week updating our software to handle what the new OS Patch would break. Now, auto-updates are build into the software, including Windows.

I've often been asked why we don't include auto-updates in WinPatrol. I can see signature files or data being updated automatically, but I'm not comfortable making code changes if there is any chance it could somehow create an incompatibility. There are just too many unknown variables that could affect the performance of a Windows machine. My policy is to stick with a solid, well working version at least until new features are available and keep all our data online where we can update it without affecting the user.

Lately, I've been digging deeper into Windows Internals and how the OS has evolved over the years. This research increased after I experienced a night of down-time following the installation of Windows OneCare Live. I wasn't thrilled with how Windows OneCare worked but my real concern came when the Uninstaller failed and I couldn't remove OneCare from my system. I could not even “Exit” Windows OneCare. It had integrated itself into the system. After a little task/service stopping with WinPatrol I was able to connect to the internet and write to Microsoft. They did respond within 24 hours offering personal help and a more forceful uninstall script.  Between their help, WinPatrol and Regedit my machine is now back to normal.

This recent experience strengthens my belief that, it won't be long before we see a large scale "Windows Blackout". The time will come when a number of large companies and individuals will apply new update that causes far more trouble than it's worth. It could be a Windows Security Update or some other very popular program. Most users won't experience a problem but a small percentage will experience a serious production blackout. It won't be instantaneous like a power blackout but the cascading impact will be the same. So much of the world is dependent of Windows that, the big one won't be spyware or a rootkit deployed by a terrorist. It will be an automatic software update.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to share your view on the new “offering” from Microsoft. It has one of the most ill written installers in history. It total ignored my existing firewall and antivirus and blindly installed without a peep. Of course having multiple firewalls is a bad thing, but being curious, I let it go on. Upon the restart it asked about every single application that required internet access. Its help feature is so lacking that most users would be confused on what to let go in and out. Of course my firewall eventual come on and crashed intermittently as it and the newly improved firewall went to blows on whom to control access. Sadly, when my firewall was active it recorded a stream of activity from the MS package, which was concerning as my machine was just at the desktop with NOTHING running. Wanting a working machine back I did the recommended and tried to remove this new malignancy upon my system. It failed spectacularly. It required a safe mode reboot, registry editing, and finally this beast was disabled. For the people without any antivirus or firewall, I could maybe see some benefit, but as it stands this product is very alpha at best and more like a malignancy than a useful product. The rest of the family has sworn to never allow this application on any of their machines, sadly MS you have turned a whole families hope and expectations into concern that their machines may fail to work again if this gets installed.

10:59 PM  

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