Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Recently I offered to take a look at a faulty laptop and working on the problems over the last few days has reminded me of why I began my odyssey into open-source.

The machine in question is running Windows Vista (SP1); it wouldn't boot into restricted (non-administrator) user accounts and was prone to crashing during the boot sequence. Getting the machine to boot into safe mode gave me some useful pointers:

  • This is a multi-user machine with two registered users & the Guest Account activated.
  • There were two AV programs installed (McAfee & AVG), both were active and both were out-of-date.
  • The firewall was turned off.
  • The last successful Windows update was 2009.
  • Internet Explorer crashed every time it was invoked.

These are signs that computer security is relaxed and immediately raised suspicion that some kind of virus or other malware might be responsible for the problems. So, the course of action was clear:

  • Uninstall McAffee (for no better reason than it's a subscription-based service and AVG is free).
  • Turn on the Windows firewall.
  • Update AVG and run a full system scan.
  • Install Spybot S&D and run a full scan in Administrator mode.
  • Reset Internet Explorer.

There were no viruses but Spybot did detect and remove over 142 bits of malware and tracking cookies! Once IE had been reset, booting into any account worked as expected: however, it was then that my problems really began.

For the sake of good order, I decided to update the machine and install SP2 (as Microsoft no longer supports SP1) but Windows update refused to work. Each time I tried the update, the update installer crashed, offering nothing but vague error messages and nebulous reference numbers.

Being a resourceful chap (and not wanting to be beaten by Windows!), I decided to install SP2 manually. So, I downloaded and saved it to the hdd and then ran it as an administrator - still no joy! Each time I tried to load the update manually, a new error message appeared:

"Window module installer has stopped working and was closed."

This is not a novel problem with Vista, just Google the error message to see how many other users have experienced the same thing. Indeed, so common is the issue that there are several solutions posted online (notably, Microsoft offers no solution) but I couldn't find one that resolved the problems on this particular machine. After several days (yes, days) of trying, I've given up! The fact is that the remaining options for resolving this issue are pretty brutal and it's not my machine!

  1. Leave WAU switched off and eschew all future updates from Microsoft (this is a bad option - it leaves the machine vulnerable to attack).
  2. Restore the PC to its factory condition and install SP1 & SP2 manually (although, there is no guarantee that this solution will fix the problem)
  3. Install Ubuntu - my favourite option!

If this had been an open-source problem, perhaps more attention might have been paid by the distro provider. In any event, the community would almost certainly have found a solution. This is why I turned to Linux in the first place and it seems, in retrospect, that my decision to abandon Windows was justified.

Source & References:

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