Stranded in Margate with a dead laptop, Simon Moores bemoans the instability of Windows XP
I'm reduced to writing this column on Wordpad, and if it wasn't for the help of Andy at M-wise Computers in Margate, you wouldn't be reading this column at all.
Windows XP is supposed to be invulnerable, well almost. Experience shows that while it's more robust than any of its predecessors, when it does crash it does so catastrophically and invariably demands a system rebuild.
In January, Microsoft very kindly sent an ambulance around to collect my first HP laptop and completely rebuilt my system when it crashed for the first time.
This time, it was a new laptop, a Saturday afternoon and a week ahead that starts with an early morning flight to Nice to speak at the Unisys, Zero Gap security conference.
Although I'm backed up to a CD, having learned my lesson in the past, XP's stubborn refusal to move past its splash screen took me by surprise.
The PC is only weeks old and most of that time was spent installing Microsoft Office. As I happened to be away from my London home with a dead laptop and a weekend reserved for catching up with a backlog of work, XP's perfect dead-parrot impression was nothing less than a disaster.
In an act of desperation, I went looking for a PC dealer and stumbled across M-Wise, which had the system and running again within two hours, having had to reinstall the operating system from scratch. That's the good news.
The bad news is that Office is demanding that I rerun setup and Symantec's utilities keep warning me that my system has been tampered with and wants to shut it down entirely. Worse still, Norton antivirus has turned itself off in a sulk, as have all the Symantec applications, so attempting to use the internet would be an act of foolish bravado.
Here lies the problem. Lose the operating system and you lose all the rights management software that goes with it.
Software paranoia over software piracy - frequently justified - means that the OS represents a single point of failure for most of the line-of-business applications that it supports.
My Exchange client allows me to read any e-mail that was delivered before the crash but that's as far as it goes, and Microsoft Office is a lost cause until I find my installation discs, which are a hundred miles away.
Over the past month, I've been interviewing local government IT managers about their infrastructure and what they have in common is their enthusiasm for Windows Terminal Server.
Not only does it offer them a good security model, but when a system crashes it can hot-desk or "hot-swap" very quickly to another machine. They can run their mission critical and line of business applications from the server, frequently over a telephone line which delivers the equivalent of broadband speed, as only screens and keystrokes are pushed back and forth from the client device.
If you don't have a terminal server farm, which is true for most of us, then losing your PC and, particularly, your e-mail has been shown to be as emotionally traumatic as a divorce or, at least, a temporary separation.
My advice to you is to assume the inevitability of a Windows XP system crash.
It's bad enough that we are constantly being suffocated by viruses and strangled by worms, but we need something to rely on, and that is the integrity or stability of the operating system.
If my own experience and what I have heard from others is anything to go on, then having an up-to-date backup of vital files is absolutely essential, and keep your Windows XP system disc and Office installation discs with you at all times.
As for Symantec, putting their software on your system is easy but uninstalling in an emergency can be next to impossible.
What do you think?
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in October 2003