Sunday, 18 August 2013

Windows 8 - the last in the line of a series of flawed products!

I’ve had it with Microsoft!  After more than twenty years of using their software and putting up with random crashes I’ve decided that I’ve bought my last Microsoft product.

I purchased a tower computer a few years ago from Palicomp running Windows 7. It’s been nothing but trouble ever since.  I don’t blame the manufacturers; although they were not very helpful about finding and loading updated hardware drivers and they typically took two days to reply to an email. So when it crashed I was effectively on my own.  

I’ve had to do a clean install of Windows 7 four times.  The classic symptoms were that, after a few weeks of use following a clean install, something caused it to crash and restart.  Windows system repair found nothing, and more often than not System Restore didn’t work.  The only temporary fix was to reboot it while pressing F8 and then select “last known good configuration”. I say temporary because this means that I can then no longer update Windows.  For some months I’ve been unable to print because the printer service won’t start and no fixes that I could find have worked.  More recently, when I was shutting it down, it got as far as “Installing updates” and then crashed and restarted in the middle of doing so.  Using the "last known good configuration" method on restart allowed me to then shut it down successfully, providing that I'd done nothing before initiating the second shutdown.  I couldn’t find the update in order to kill it and eventually decided to “upgrade” to Windows 8 rather than do yet another clean install of Windows 7.  I put off doing the upgrade for months and reverted to using an old Vista home premium laptop which, after I’d discovered that it had two hard disk drives and I’d installed another gigabyte of memory, (it will only take 2Gb) now works reliably.

Yesterday, after wasting a morning trying to fix Windows 7, and in the process discovering that various pages of the Microsoft support website were unavailable, I decided to take the plunge and load Windows 8.  I naively thought that Microsoft might have fixed the unreliable updates issue but no! 

The installation went OK.  It was a clean install, because any attempt to upgrade from Windows 7 caused it to crash due to something associated with Windows Restore.  I then went to Windows Update and before I’d installed anything, including anti-virus software, I downloaded the usual massive list of “important” updates.  When they tried to install the software froze and it only restarted when I unplugged the USB cable from a WD My Book Essentials external disc drive (there’s probably a clue here).  The computer then stopped and started a few times and, when it had finished, an inspection of the update history showed that 14 had not successfully installed.  I tried unsuccessfully to re-install them and resorted to Microsoft’s tool to check for problems installing updates.  This ran, stopped two services, restarted them and wiped the update history.  It now shows me that I’ve never installed any updates and on top of that when I check for updates it says that I don’t need any! This can only be due to unreliable software from Microsoft!

It seems that the options I have is to “refresh” Windows 8 and start installing updates again or just forget about them!  Really! Life’s too short for this sort of faffing about! 

It was at that moment that I decided not to buy any more Microsoft products.  Their whole approach to issuing software is wrong.  If I update an iPad the entire operating system is updated in one download.  This enables proper testing to be done on the release BEFORE it's shipped.   A piecemeal approach to issuing security patches and fixes is inevitably going to fail at some point.  This is one reason why they have had to include a refresh function in Windows 8.  They know that sooner or later the whole thing will fall over.

The final nail in the coffin of Microsoft is their decision to only allow three installs of Microsoft Office 2013 before you have to buy it again.  This is a great idea which no one is going to be stupid enough to buy into.  Deliver an unreliable operating system that has to be clean installed on a regular basis and then charge people for buying Office 2013 after the first three clean installs!  That will really help the sales figures!  I can’t believe that they are so arrogant and think that we are so brainless!  When you combine this policy with the slow uptake of Windows 8 it amounts to commercial suicide! With the rise of tablet computing, and the decline in sales of desktops and laptops, I think that Microsoft is now in an irreversible slow decline and it will only be sustained if it can persuade the large installed base of existing users to buy their products, but most won't see a good reason to upgrade their operating systems to Windows 8 so Microsoft's income stream is going to diminish.  (This morning, 3rd September, Microsoft's purchase of Nokia was announced.  How can one failing company be turned around by another which is going down the same path?)

I used to say that I have a lot of Windows software which I don’t want to have to repurchase but now that I no longer produce complex documents, or do a lot of animated graphics, I don’t really need Microsoft Office and could get by with one of the free versions.

So I will struggle on with Windows 8 for now, but if and when I decide to buy a new computer, as opposed to a tablet, it will be a Mac or even something running Linux, if it’s less techie orientated by then.  

Update at 3rd September 2013
I have now downloaded a trial version of "Start8" which adds a Windows 7 style start button, a start menu and a shutdown button.  All of this is very configurable so that you can make it fit your needs.  I'm impressed with this cheap no fuss extension to Windows 8 and can fully recommend it to anyone frustrated by the unnecessary screens that one has to click through to start up and shutdown Windows 8. Since the computer is only used by me, I've also got rid of the password entry screen so it's starting to feel more like the computer I wanted to own.

I still have 33 important updates to install, which I am doing one at a time due to my previous bad experiences with Windows 7.  I am also manually creating Restore Points before each update session, since when Windows 7 went sick it frequently showed no restore points at all. 

To be fair I should add that Windows 8 is definitely faster than Windows 7.

The WD Mybook Essentials 3.0, which has all my backup files on it, finally stopped being recognized by either of the two Windows computers in the house.  From looking at the forums this seems to be a common problem that appears to be a hardware fault, because it was running the latest firmware and there have been no fixes suggested by the manufacturers.   I dismantled it and tried to get the data off directly by installing it in the desktop computer but Windows 8 is asking to initialize the disk, which would wipe all the data.  I now intend to get the data off the disk using a USB hard disk adapter, then I will install the bare disk in the desktop machine, reformat it (initialize it) and use it as a second hard drive.  

Update at 8th September 2013
The hard disk adapter didn't work and neither did WD's data recovery tool.  The former showed that the drive had no data on it and the latter just hung and stayed like that for hours.  When I checked properly I found that I had, in fact, managed to copy all the data off the disk before it had failed so I carried on to reformat it and created two volumes E: and F:.  I then copied further data from C: onto the F: volume to act as my primary backup.  I still need another backup device and I may try to resurrect a Seagate Black Armor NAS drive that I abandoned when it appeared to have been responsible for corrupting my printer service in Windows 7.  Incidentally Windows 8 found and installed an HP 5150 wireless network printer without any intervention from me at all.

Update at 11th September 2013
Another 15 important updates today! This is for Windows 8 and Office 2007.  It's hard to believe that they are still discovering security flaws in six year old software. 
Also I tried to create a system image onto the second hard disk drive and it failed giving error 0x008007000D "invalid data" and no other clues.  As usual with Microsoft that's very helpful.

Update at 14th September 2013
Now I am once again updating because I've done a system restore to before the last batch of updates. I downloaded one Windows update and instead of pressing the button on the update page to restart the computer I carried on working thinking that it would install it when I shut the computer down from the desktop.  When I tried to do this it wouldn't shut down.  Eventually I switched it off at the mains. On restarting it took forever to start up, with a message saying that it had repaired the F: volume. Disk management was also taking so long to open that I gave up. On another day I managed to do a System Restore of the C: drive, but this also took hours.  From the command line I ran chkdsk on the F: volume and it found and repaired a number of bad sectors but hung at step 4 out of 5.   Finally I left disk management running and when it eventually opened I discovered that Volume E: had reverted to "RAW". Once it was reformatted this cured the very slow opening of Windows 8 and the computer behaved normally except that when I tried to create a restore point for the F: volume it timed out.  That still needs to be investigated.  So now I am downloading updates again one at a time and restarting the computer from the updates dialogue box!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

UK Protests against “Fracking” gain momentum

After nine days of protests outside Cuadrilla’s site at Balcombe in West Sussex,the company started drilling at 11:15 am on Saturday 3rd August 2013.  The protests continue even though Cuadrilla insists that it is only prospecting for oil using conventional drilling techniques.

Cuadrilla has stated that the operation on the Balcombe oil well site, which was plugged and abandoned after an evaluation by Conoco in 1986, is for an exploratory borehole only and no “fracking” will be carried out.  If you look at the Balcombe page on Cuadrilla’s website they have carried out a comprehensive set of studies and assessments since planning permission was granted by West Sussex County Council in 2010.  They are also working very closely with the Environment Agency, which has advised them of those applications that should be made for permission to enable them to legally handle the resulting waste materials from the drilling process. This includes applying for a licence to handle radioactive materials such as the water derived from the oil bearing strata, which is naturally contaminated with radioactive substances like uranium.

Frack Off!
Of course none of this is of any interest to the anti-fracking protesters who have effectively rallied support for their cause around this site.  They have been very successful in gaining media attention and the arrests, the heavy police presence and even the tents on the side of the road remind one of the Greenham Common protests which lasted from 1982 to 2000.

Tina Rothery
Tina Rothery of Residents Action on Flyde Fracking RAFF, said any plans to drill on the Lancashire coast, where fracking has already caused earthquakes, will be met with protest.
“If anything we have learned from the protests at Balcombe and they will help us to be more effective,” she said.

On BBC news today (03/08/2013) she used her media experience to fill a precious few seconds of air time with a highly articulate explanation setting out why the protests should continue, in spite of the fact that permission for “fracking” has not yet been applied for by Cuadrilla.  The drilling itself will create disruption, noise and waste disposal issues. There is also likely to be flaring of any gas found in the oil deposits. 

Fracking bribes may well be misplaced
When he announced tax subsidies for fracking companies George Osborne also said that local communities should be rewarded for allowing fracking in their area, but the idea may well backfire. 

In his recent book What Money Can’t BuyMichael Sandel tells an interesting story about the Swiss village of Wolfenschiessen, reported by the FT and Mr Leo Von B├╝low-QuirkThe proposal for a financial incentive to accept a nuclear waste depository near their village reduced the percentage of residents in favour from 51% to 25%. The offer of money converted what the residents were prepared to accept as a civic duty into a mere matter of financial gain.

In my view this is an example of the moral bankruptcy of some UK politicians, which is typified by the MP's expenses scandal, ongoing lobbying payments, "cash for questions" and the blatant cronyism of the latest honours list. It is the politician's cynical use of their privileged positions to make money or to dole out rewards to the faithful, which has already led to a lack of trust between politicians and the electorate.  I think that the idea that people will risk their local environment and health, for a financial gain which will not begin to match the losses that they will make if they are property owners, is a non-starter.

If the money goes to Local Councils nobody will trust them not to spend it on expenses, increased salaries and fact finding trips. At best it's likely to get absorbed into general budgets to offset cuts elsewhere. 

On the other hand individuals tempted to accept financial payments, in exchange for allowing fracking to be established in their area, should know that they will be signing away all their rights to any compensation for whatever damage they, or their children, might suffer in the future.