The other day I read an entry by my friend, Jeff, who had "upgraded to Windows Vista, and his early claim is, "it isn't that bad."
That's actually the highest praise Vista can receive because no one alive can say that Vista is better than its predecessors… much less say that it's good. At the very least, Vista is incredibly complicated.
Now is it mere coincidence that as Jeff was documenting his so-far-so-good experience, I was having a different kind of Vista experience of my own? And not for the first time?
On Sunday night I turned on the computer, and it started to boot as usual. Then… nothing. A black screen. It's not an infrequent occurrence that Vista won't boot properly, but when that happens, you often need to act quickly. Otherwise it will do a "system restore" which is anything but. More on that in a moment.
So I shut off the computer, and I did my normal boot into "safe mode," from which I then restart, and Vista boots as usual.
Not this time. I couldn't get to safe mode. I got that same black screen. No problem, the next alternative is to do a "system repair."
That also was a no-go.
Next – the last option is that system restore I mentioned. There would be another option, a far better, option, but Microsoft won't allow that, but… uh… more on that in a moment.
If you're not familiar with system restore, it's actually a series of snapshots you can take of your system when it's supposedly healthy. And Vista will actually do some on its own, as will other programs from outside vendors. The number of snapshots is limited to the amount of disk space allocated, but there's another limitation that is quite amazing… more on that in a moment.
So I ventured into system restore and… and I didn't have any restore points, so no restore was possible.
It's at this point where, if you haven't backed up the hundreds of programs and thousands of songs on your computer, they're gone.
But I have a backup. And yes, I had to learn the hard way. And I must say, if it happens that you find everything has vanished, I swear you'd rather sacrifice a loved one than go through the process of trying to get everything back.
So I'm happy to say that nobody I love was harmed in the course of this story.
Other than myself, of course. So it's lucky that I'm filled with self-loathing, no?
Because reinstalling Vista, even with a backup of all your stuff, is tedious and terrifying, but… more on that in a moment.
What you have to do when there are no system restore points is to roll your computer back to Dell factory settings, so if you don't have a Dell, I guess you're really screwed.
Fortunately, I have a Dell, and I guess you could say I'm the farmer, but since I do have a Dell, it's easy and flawless… at least in the five times I've had to do it – five times since last December… and I didn't even have a Dell between January and May because I sent the first one back in frustration, so what I'm saying is that in seven months or so, I've had to do five complete reinstalls of Vista, not counting the many restores, and now the best news…
Last Sunday was only the fourth. Yesterday was the fifth.
And you not only have to deal with the rollback, but then you have to reinstall the thousand or so Microsoft "free updates." Then you have to copy all your backup data to it's rightful places, and reinstall many of your programs. Although the good news is that you find there are a lot of programs that run without having to be reinstalled which means your initial installs were needless and have merely added clutter to the computer and the registry.
Anyway,. another bit of good news is that a rollback also corrects many small problems you've been having that you had no idea how to correct, so you find, for example, that things that had been long gone from your context menu… things you missed and could never get to reappear, had magically come back to life.
And you're pleased.
My pleasant period lasted, as I sort of mentioned, less than two days. On Tuesday morning, I again could not boot.
I should mention that Dell tech support's little Indians are very pleasant and as helpful as they can be. They are so nice and confident in fact that you get the feeling while talking to them that maybe there is a solution short of total annihilation of your data.
But alas, they sadly have to give you the bad news eventually, and all I can say is, I only wish doctors had the bedside manner these Indians do.
So after spending an hour or so on the phone to India, you are abruptly transported back to the real world, and the restoration to factory settings begins. But your latest Indian confidant will even volunteer to call you back as needed which, while it may sound great if you're inexperienced, it is actually a nuisance if you know what you're doing because, as it turns out, and I don't know why, but Indians aren't as much fun to talk to when you're not so desperate that you want to kill yourself.
So where are we?
That's a question you'll ask a lot when you're reinstalling Vista and all the accompanying files and programs, and it's made even worse because unlike, say, a TV which requires a few adjustments, Vista requires a million… by actual count, to get it running at peak performance.
Which begs the question – WHY?!
Do not try to ask Microsoft that, because you can't. In fact, I got mad at one Indian last December because he had the nerve to suggest that I contact Microsoft. I told him, "Why don't you just suggest I throw myself into a black hole, I'd stand a better chance?"
I might add that i instantly cheered up because it's funny to hear an Indian say, "black hole."
OK, Vista crashed on Sunday, and again on Tuesday, and each time I found myself without any restore points. But that's not because I didn't create any. I create many. And I create them more frequently now with each passing day. That's because they disappear on their own.
Well, not exactly on their own, something causes that to happen. The bad news is that I don't know what. Although that's not exactly true either. I suppose some malicious program could have deleted them, but I know something else that does – Microsoft.
See, I found that if you turn off System Restore for any reason, but primarily because you want to save that perfect point from scrolling away as new restore points are created, Microsoft will delete ALL of your restore points. And so whether it's Microsoft or some program you install or some malware, if something turns off your system restore mechanism and then turns it back on, you've got nothing. So I've taken to checking that I have at least one restore point before I shut the system down.
And there's are some other things about system restore that will amaze and scare the heck out of you – here's one: whatever point you restore to… all of your .exe files you've put on your system after that point was created will be gone, and you'll have to reinstall the programs… assuming the program you had to install them originally wasn't itself an exe file, because if it was, it'll be gone too.
Microsoft says that none of your other data will be lost, but I have found that not to be totally true. In fact, I have lost a number of things, one of which was recurring sticky notes I'd used as reminders.
But since the restore points don't destroy much data, they also don't destroy various malicious things that might have found their way into your system, so you may have solved nothing with the rollback.
The worst part is that Vista was supposed to be simpler to use and to prevent crashes, not just the devastating ones, but the frequent blue screens that you used to get on, say, Windows 98. In fact, you rarely get those blue screen situations with Vista, but it still crashes – a lot. It just doesn't show it as conspicuously – things get momentarily transparent, or nothing happens for a while, and suddenly you're back to normal. That is better, but it doesn't make up for what Microsoft has done on the other end.
When Windows 98 crashed completely, you lost nothing unless your drive itself was corrupt. You simply renamed your Windows directory, reinstalled Windows 98 and some programs, and you were off and running. Now, you can't do that. If Vista fails, everything fails. so if you don't have a good backup, your life as you knew it is over.
That's only a slight exaggeration.
That's because even as you are reinstalling your backed up data, you realize that you're only that backup away from total devastation – complete oblivion. Whereas with Windows 98, you still have the data on your disk, so your backup is a true backup, with Vista, the backup becomes your primary drive, at least until you've successfully copied everything back to where it was originally. If it ever happens that Vista fails and your external drive fails at the same time, you, yourself, instantly become a miserable failure.
And I was mere minutes away from that – twice- this week.
So now you need two backup drives to be really safe, and the worst of it is that there are free programs that create exact backup images so that, in theory, you could simply copy them back if Vista fails and you'd be back to normal in no time. Well, not "no time," but in like five hours or so. But to do that you need to boot Vista from a CD… and Microsoft won't let you do that.
If you're not completely computer illiterate, you may recall that creating a startup disk in Windows 98 was as pie. Actually, it was easier than pie, just go to the control panel and with a few additional mouse clicks, voilà!. Not now. Microsoft even had a utility to create a Vista startup disk in its beta release of Vista SP1… and they removed it from the consumer release.
Lovely people these.
Allegedly there are outside sources who provide "iso images" that will allow you to create a boot CD, but that's beyond my level of expertise, so I know it's beyond the level of most people.
What this means to the average person is big repair bills. No, Microsoft isn't going to profit, so their only motivation in not allowing people to create startup CDs is to prevent piracy, but the net result is, as my wife says, "if you weren't here, I'd just turn the computer off."
So at least I know I won't be the subject of any Forensic Files episodes anytime soon, but I'm listening carefully when she talks about computer related things happening where she works> I look for any signs that she's getting chummy with any IT guys.
It's now Wednesday evening, and I'm nearly back to normal, so, like Jeff, I can say, at least since this afternoon… "so far, it's not so bad…"