Monday, December 24, 2012

The time has come to rant about Windows again

The problem, such as it is, is that while there are ways to disable automatic updating I don't want to do that.  What I want to do is disable automatic restarting, and I have yet to find a way to do that.

So instead what happens is this, the updates are automatically installed, as naturally they should be.  Some of the updates don't go into effect until after the computer has restarted, as naturally it should be.  Then the problem comes.  The natural thing to do in this case would be to have a prompt come up that says, "Installation will not be complete until the computer is restarted, do you want to restart now, or restart later." and if the person clicked on "later" never speak of it again and just wait for them to restart the computer on their own damn time.

That is how every non-Windows program operating on Windows does these things.

What Windows does is... Well actually let me say something first.  There is a tendency to see any criticism of Windows, Microsoft, or Bill Gates as a compliment to Apple, Macintosh, or Steve Jobs and vice versa.  Likewise any compliments to one are seen as a tearing down of the other and the whole thing is treated as a zero sum game.  It is not, and should not be.

So before I go and say why Windows being Windows had me screaming the word "FUCK!" into the Heavens this Christmas Eve (I'm sure the Heavens could hear me through the ceiling and roof, I was very loud) let me offer this disclaimer before anyone tries to see this as a building up of Mac.

I have been using Windows my entire life, it first came out when I was less than a year old.  And while I might have initially had more fun playing video games on the Commodore 64 and the TI whatever it was, that's a long time using Windows.  All of the bugs in all of the versions of Windows that I have ever experienced, combined, do not add up to the irreparable damage done by a single Mac bug.  Was the bug I'm thinking of a bug from the days of yore when computers were strange and unknown things used only by the sages of cyberspace?  No.  It was a bug that went out with OS 10, four years after we were playing with an RC car on Mars.*  And unlike most every** Windows bug I've encountered it happened to everyone who did what they were supposed to do.  Across the board.  Every single person.

Follow directions, do everything you're told, and all that you care for will be destroyed.  That's a Mac bug.  Apple's response to learning about this bug?  A national advertising campaign telling people to move -let me repeat that: move not copy- all of their most important and beloved files (the files for your small business, the photographs of your baby, it didn't matter what so long as it was precious to you) to the operating system that deleted everything on the computer without fail if you did everything right.

Apple is evil.  They are sadistic.  The fact that their business model is based on applying the tactics of drug dealing to the world of technology doesn't bother me.***  The fact that they seem to take joy in causing suffering does.  The fact that while, Bill Gates was off trying to cure Polio, Apple was using its influence on a local city council to pressure the local police into breaking down the door of someone whose only crime was doing everything Apple ever asked him to do just adds to the flavor.

So any criticisms I make of Microsoft should not be considered in any way to be endorsements of Apple.  Those people are evil.  I wouldn't endorse them unless under duress and I'm not entirely sure how much duress it would take.

So, what does Windows do when an update requires restarting the computer?  It starts a timer.  You get fifteen minutes to respond then it restarts the computer its own damn self losing almost, but not quite, all unsaved data you have.

Your options are "Restart now, repeat this timer process in ten minutes, repeat this timer process in four hours."  Notably missing from your options is, "What I'm working on is going to take more than four hours, so wait until I tell you shut down."

No, if you're working on anything of any significance you need to repeatedly tell it, "Wait another four hours," and hope that you are never called away from your computer for more than 15 minutes because if you are you know that those will be precisely the 15 minutes when the computer starts the timer to self-restart.

So, here I was, working on many things at once.  Dozens?  Hundreds?  Probably not thousands so let's go with hundreds.  I was not saving them because saving took too much time and I am in a hurry and even if my computer should be hit with a giant power surge (which should be impossible twice over) the worst that would happen is that it would go into hibernation and all of my unsaved stuff would be preserved.  Indeed the only thing that could possible ruin things if the computer shut down or restarted itself without my permission.

Now I had to step away for what I thought would be fairly quick but turned out to be slightly over 15 minutes, guess what the computer did?

Well the only thing that could possibly make things go wrong at this juncture would be if it restarted in spite of me repeatedly telling it that I did not have time to restart right now.  So that is exactly what it did.  And all of those things were lost, like teardrops in the rain.

Some things are intermediate steps, never meant to be saved, some thing are meant to be saved eventually but doing so right now would take too much time, in all cases there was no cause for me to save them because literally anything that happened that left the computer intact would preserve them as well as saving would.  The only exception being if somehow the computer were shut down or restarted without my permission.

So the computer doing that has quite naturally pissed me off.  The entire idea of setting it to a timer rather than allow you to wait to restart until you're good and ready seems silly and stupid.  I've don't things on computers that took days to complete.  Does Microsoft expect me to wake up every four hours for three days just to tell the computer, "No, don't restart now, put it off another four hours."  What if one of those times I wake up 15 minutes late?

It was a bad design the last time it screwed me over, it's a bad design this time, and it will be a bad design next time.  And there will be a next time, because I still can't find the, "Update automatically but wait until I fucking tell you before you shut down or restart," setting.

Still, much better than a Mac bug.  At least it didn't delete every single file on the computer.


* Pathfinder fans forgive me for describing the mission in such a glib way.  I realize it was a tremendous achievement.

** The reason for "most every" instead of "every single" is hedging against the off chance I'm forgetting something, but in truth I don't think I am.  I don't think I ever encountered a bug in Windows that would happen to everyone who used the software right.

*** I actually think that's rather smart and shows a real ability for lateral thinking on their part.  Even the Macs I used at school as a child were placed there in accordance with Tom Lehrer's description of the Old Dope Peddler.  "He gives the kids free samples/ because he knows full well/ that today's young innocent faces/ will be tomorrow's clientele."  And saying that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applying drug dealing tactics to technology sales would severely understate how prevalent it is.  Way more than 90% of that is too far out of the purview of this article to mention even in a footnote.


  1. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the system is regarded as even more unstable than usual between the installation of updates and the restart; it's more likely than usual to crash without warning. Therefore the restart should happen as soon as possible.

    On the other hand, I agree with you; the totality of what you end up with is a machine that, outside your control, suddenly decides to use huge amounts of bandwidth and then restart. Which is just the same as crashing.

    Do you not have the option of turning off automatic updates but then kicking off the same process as part of your routine, say for example when you end work for the day/week/etc.?

    Personally I use Linux, which is exactly as automated as I want it to be. I control restarts (which are very rare); I control updates...

  2. I can set it to only update at a certain time, say when I'm not using the computer, but when I'm not using the computer I have it off, so that is useless.

    I can set it to only update when I tell it to, but that's no good because I'll forget to tell it do.

    What I either can't do or have yet to find a way to do is to have it automatically update (or prepare to update) let me know it has done so and a restart will be necessary, and then wait for me to decide when to restart.

    1. I think that one would have to make it part of the user's daily routine: finished work, hit "update" and leave machine to get on with it.

  3. The Windows Update option (on Vista, but I'm pretty sure it's been on all the versions with automatic updates)) I use is "Download but don't install", and this may be what you want. What happens for me is:

    1) The download (and thus bandwidth usage) is in the middle of the night when I'm not using the computer.
    2) When I check the computer in the morning, there's an update icon in the System Tray, with a bubble notifying me that there are new updates. After the bubble closes/fades, it does not nag me again until more updates are downloaded.
    3) When I choose to shut down or restart the computer, the *default* option becomes "Install updates and shut down." I can still choose not to install updates, but it's usually the perfect time to do it.

    So as long as your regular workflow includes rebooting the computer at least once a week or so, you get the updates installed in a reasonably timely fashion without having to think about it, and never have to worry about automatic restarts or having an unstable system from an incomplete update.