Because, Sometimes, It Just Fails!

When I started this lil’ blog, I planned to refrain from posting any Windows vs. Mac OS rants. However, when I ran into a weird problem with one of our Windows machines at the office, the opportunity to put some beef behind an earlier posting that may have come across as fluffy Mac-glorification, was just too good to pass by. Also, the story involves an Apple product, so it’s not all that off-topic.

Always follow instructions, or else…

We’re in the neat position that we can justify buying one of those gorgeous iPod nanos for presenting and demo’ing one of the products we sell. Since it’s being used in our office, it makes more sense to authorize it on one of the office Windows boxes instead of on my PowerBook. After unpacking that shiny little thing, I thought that I could just plug it into the PC, since that machine already had iTunes installed on it. Alas, the iTunes installer you can download from Apple’s website apparently does not include all the required files, so Windows bailed: it did recognize the nano as a USB storage device and an iPod, but complained about missing files for the latter. No problem: denied any automatic driver installs, ejected the iPod via that little icon thingy in the Taskbar’s “Tray,” put in the software CD that came with the iPod, and installed iTunes. Umhh, no, that did not work as it should have: the installer would launch fine, but stall at one point, claiming it could not install the InstallShield Script. Ouch.

No sweat, shut down and do a cold restart. No luck. No, not just “no luck,” friggin’ “bad” luck: after the restart, the Kaspersky AntiVirus package complained that it could not find its antivirus database and that the real-time protection feature could not run. At this point, I was about to consider my options of either silently panicking or wildly bashing any hardware components this Windows computer has. Luckily, I came up with a third option, which is calling my good friend Ralf, who’s not just an IT pro, but also Knows Windows™.

Now’s a good time to offer you some seriously valuable advice when calling on your friends for free computer tech support. The first thing you should do after greeting them is to ask them if they have some time to spare!

Unfortunately, maintaining your glorious image of the die-hard bits-and-bytes-munching Internet-commanding super-geek has the unwelcome side effect that people will often ask you for help when they run into problems with their computers. And although I usually do enjoy helping others if I can, there’s one type of call that seriously pisses me off in a big way, and it goes like this (imagine shaky, tear-full, panicky, fast-talking voice): “Hi Jochen, sorry for calling, but I have this major problem with my computer, and you must help me. I really need my machine to get some work done, and you just HAVE to HELP me. Here’s the problem…” The next time one of these calls comes in, I will calmly (hopefully!) and politely (I’ll try!) tell the caller that I have no time at all, and just hang up.

Guys and gals, it’s extremely rude to expect someone of whom you don’t know what they are busy with right now, to work on your problems the instant you need help. If these folks are willing to invest some time in solving your problems, fine. If they don’t, and you do value your friendship with that person, please do try to ask someone else, or just get a Mac if you’re on Windows (Have. To. Stop. Plugging. Macs.). Also, once you’ve gotten the help you asked for — regardless of whether it actually solved your problem — show you’re appreciation to the other person for at least trying to help you out of your hassles. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, but of the good kind.

We’re diligent to the point of paranoia with regards to maintaining our three Windows machines: we regularly scan for viruses (“virii”?) and malware, we run regular back-ups, our firewall is up, we don’t use Microsoft office, and we install new software very rarely and, if so, only from trusted sources. Still, following Ralf’s emergency plan, the first thing I did was grab the Knoppicillin disk I had flying around, and run a virus scanner off it. Just a few MIME decompression errors and some scan time-outs, but no viruses. Umh, scan time-outs?! Any problems with the hard disk, maybe? Luckily not the case, either, since the files the virus scanner listed would copy without a hitch after a restart.

Well, onto the Microsoft Knowledge Base and search for any info on failing installers. And, lo and behold, after following some advice from the Knowledge Base — which, if you can find what you’re looking for, is a seriously great resource for users of Microsoft products — involving messing around in regedit, it turns out that the file path to the installer’s executable pointed to some file in the /TEMP directory. Not good, but “easily” solved.

This did get the installer back into perfectly working condition, and after removing the Kaspersky package via the Software control panel, and re-installing it and the iPod and iTunes packages, everything is now back to normal again. A fresh scan with Kaspersky AV and Spybot S&D — both treated to the most recent malware database updates — did not reveal anything. Phew.

Let’s recap what happened: I forgot to install the software for the iPod nano before plugging the device into the PC, and it somehow seriously broke both the installer application and, much worse, the Kaspersky AntiVirus installation. Maybe it was just a bad coincidence, but it is weird, right?

When facts influence opinions

Even though applications sometimes fail to load on my Mac, I cannot recall any problem that corrupted more than one app at a time like I experienced with this iPod-on-Windows install. And I usually don’t feel as helpless when looking for the right tools to do some problem analysis. On the Mac, you usually need only three tools to solve your problems: Console for viewing the log files and Disk Utility for checking the hard disks, which are both found in /Applications/Utilities on your Mac; and DiskWarrior, a third-party hard disk repair tool that has a well-deserved reputation as being the last resort if everything else fails. On Windows, however, you have to look in all kinds of nooks and crannies within the Start menu to find the right admin tools before you can even get started with your trouble-shooting.

Finding the right tools is, of course, highly related to simply being familiar with what you’re using on a regular basis. It’s just that, after being used to the clarity of Mac OS for such a long time, Windows feels so much more cryptic and unhelpful to me. Hey, even the error message in the system log said something to the effect of it not being able to show the full error message because it could not find the installer app. What the…?!

I know, I know, it is painfully obvious that I’m pretty darn biased when it comes to computing platforms. Still, from my very personal perspective, I really haven’t run into any problems on the Mac that I could not solve with some common geek sense and the tools listed above, while I have experienced far too many smallish, yet highly annoying and time-consuming issues on Windows boxes that could often not even be traced to a specific cause. Therefore, although it only serves as anecdotal evidence, I see that episode above as yet more proof for my claim that the Mac has some weird special quality to it that, all in all, simply provides a more pleasant computing experience than any other platforms I have used so far. Even when stuff goes seriously wrong.

P.S.: Thanks again for your help, Ralf. ‘preciate it.

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  1. Ralf "The Man(TM)" Bergs

    Hi Jochen.

    I’m glad that you made it, and that I was part of the solution. :-)

    Have a good time, and hope to see you soon.