Computer Corruption and how to Avoid it...or Whose Responsibility is it Anyway?

nickcharles · February 23, 2006 12:00 am

Computer Corruption and how to Avoid it...or Whose Responsibility is it Anyway? I recently purchased a magazine because of the free software on it, which was supposed to be fully functional. I wanted to experiment with it. To make a long story short, it didn't work properly. Now I was left with it on my machine. In a perfect world, all programs would work perfectly. If you had to remove one, you could remove it thoroughly and cleanly, registry and all. However, this is not a perfect world. I liken my Operating System to an octopus; it has its tentacles in everything, and even when a program is removed, some of it might still remain. Or worse than that, I might remove something critical to another program, such as a .dll that is used by both or a newer .dll that replaced an older one and now has vanished forever. Since I review graphic software, I feel a special responsibility to keep my two computers as clean as possible, so if a program doesn't work as is stated I do not confuse it with computer corruption. If I find I am having problems with an aspect of a program, I initially check many forums to see if the problem is general, or mine alone before contacting the company. I have experienced a problem on one machine and not the other that turned out, for example, to have to do with an interaction of a video card. The cards in the two machines are different. Any way, I don't want to digress from the topic that I planned to address. What responsibility, if any, should the computer user take to insure that problems with software are not a result of a corrupted system? How much should a user have to know about a computer when they purchase it? I have found over many years of experience that one problem has the potential of multiplying into many problems. I used to redo my systems at least every 6 months. For the past few years I have used a program called "Ghost" and it has saved me countless hours. It is not a perfect program. I have found some tiny discrepancies when I have "Ghosted" back a program, but never anything that was a system problem. Symantec Ghost is a backup/restore program. I use an older version or I would describe the newest one in more detail. Basically, one backs up a drive or a partition and then restores it. Ghost can also perform other tasks, but I use it strictly for backup/restore purposes. To go back to the example I gave in the beginning of this commentary, which prompted me to write this article. Since I could not get the software on the CD from the magazine to work properly, I wanted to remove the program completely from my computer. It was not a problem. I just Ghosted back to the version before I installed the program. On one of my machines it is straight forward, on the other one which has a raid, I have to use a floppy disc as well as the Ghost CD. But the process takes only about 15 minutes total on the more complicated machine. This also works perfectly if an update to a program turns out to be corrupt. Yes, this has happened to me with more than one company. But with Symantec Ghost, it is merely an annoyance. Now, getting back to the topic, I am sure some people will claim that by having the ability to remove the corrupted version or malfunctioning software, companies will not be as careful in their releases. I have seen comments like this in various forums and I am not taking any position but my own, which has to do with what I do with my computers. Getting back to the topic: How much responsibility should a computer user take to try to keep a "bug free" system in this imperfect world? I sometimes feel that I spend more time keeping my computers maintained, than I do using them! Note: Please do not flame, name or comment about any one company. That is not the object or intent of this article.
  • The Paula Sander's Report is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column, where Paula investigates and comments on graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.
February 27, 2006

Article Comments

archdruid ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

I have been into computers since the days of the KIM and SYM, and, at an odd angle, before. Most often, I DO know what's happened, and how to "fix" it.... I feel that it's MY responsibilyty, and that of most users, to know enough about their systems to be able to, at least, diagnose a problem. On the side, XP has a Restore feature that I have used several times, that is similar to ghost in most respects. As for the software itself.... YES! the company that releases software to the general public should be careful of what they release... I believe they should be held accountable for buggy software that is NOT advertised as being under development or testing. Test/beta/Pre-release are 'ware that I expect possible problems with, not something that I buy, or download as a demo. The EULA supposedly covers this, and supposedly absolves the company of any liability, and your using it supposedly, is agreement to the EULA... this is not strictly so... there is, in the law, a principle of "Expected utility", where, if it IS buggy, you COULD sue them for time, effort, and equipment damage... if the companies WERE to be gone aftre, who DO hode under this umbrella, then, JUST MAYBE, the rest would be a bit more careful. Lou.

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

Just an aside. I have never used the XP feature of Restore because I went from Win 2000 to Win XP using Ghost. I am glad to know that it is useful. Thanks for that information.

BigDen ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

If the software company has taken the time and effort to test their creation against a significant sample of the computer hardware on the market today, I believe that this alleviates some of their responsibilities as far as problems go. There is no way that a company can, or should have to, test against all hardware, if just comes too fast and there are too many different brands on the market. If you have a machine with fairly up to date equipment and drivers and you are still having problems, unrelated to your own sloppy housekeeping, then the software company should be responsible for whatever damage and time repairing said damage is worth. The major problem, as I see it, is that no one writes nice tight code anymore. With storage devices in the umpteen gazillion bite range and system memory going way up, no one takes the time to clean up the code, the way they did in the days of 640k and 10meg HDs. In the movie "I Robot" they use the phrase "Ghost in the Machine" to talk about random lines of code producing unsuspected results. This isn't just science fiction, even though accidental sentience is probably not going to occur. The bottom line is be careful and know your machine. XPs restore feature is very nice and I found a really good backup, copy and reformat program out of Australia called Acrunis True Copy that I am fairly in love with...go Aussies, this from a Texan. I built my first bread board computer from an 8008 chip and some LEDs and switches a trillion years ago when I worked for Texas Instruments as an engineering HD, no floppy, no monitor, no keyboard, funny how far we've come. Happy puttering Bill

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

BigDen mentioned this software: I am not familiar with it but am always glad to learn something new. Thanks a lot.

bluliner35 ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

I've always used Apple Computers. I've NEVER had this problem. I started working with apple's back in the old SE days. Not a bad record. Still going strong. Not to say i've never had the odd hardware glitch. But seriously. Never had the problem. As a pro, i've had software do some nasty things to files, Quark in particular has been a bear, but i put Quark aside when InDesign became viable, and i've NEVER looked back. Problem solved, as far as i'm concerned. Make a product that gives me grief, and i won't use it.

kathym ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

Sometimes I think companies are too interested in how much money they stand to make from the release of a product. One operating system comes to mind that was released in 2000 - it was supposedly uncrashable but upon its release .. the was no USB support .. for anything USB. All they keep doing is update release after update release. I don't think that there is one piece of software out there that is 100% functional. But keeping backups and even backups of backups is very important.

Gongyla ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

We have two machines, both with XP. The first one is the "workhorse". It is not connected to anu intranet or internet. Therefore it is free of virus killers, spamkillers, firewalls,... On it are the applications we really use and trust. We perfectly know what we installed on it, and when. The other one is a laptop. I'm using it right now. It connects to the internet and is therefore well protected. Any data that is downloaded for keepers is moved to a small external hdd, from which it goes to the workhorse's second HDD and a big external HDD. If anything happens to XP on the laptop, we simply reinstall. Up to now, this wasn't necessary. But then again: we don't install anything just for the jazz. Even updates of the main apps are downloaded but not installed before we know from other users (forums,...) that it's ok to install. So indeed: we keep control over our system.

artbyphil ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

On the windows XP system restore point I have to say I've used it lots of times and not really had a problem with it and its saved me quite a few headaches. Now if I'm installing anything that I think will make significant changes to my system I set a restore point first, just as an extra line of defence.

NukedBug ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

I knew this article would produce good opinions, so here goes mine. I think the problem as such started when computers started being sold as ahousehold item. Lets use the analogy of a stereo system, on one extreme you got your stereo enthusiast that know everything about dolby's, subwoofers and wattage on speakers etc. He thinks you can't go buy a stereo unless you know all there is to know about stereos and sounds systems. Then on the other side you got your average joe, who just wants a nice stereo to listen to his CD collection. Now, the guy with the knowledge might get the better system, but both systems will basically do what they are meant to do. At no point after the stereo is bought, you suddenly realise you need a diploma in engineering to be able to work out your stereo. I think this is the failing on PCs at the moment, they are being pushed to the public as a "neccessity" but without letting them know the amount of knowldege you do need to just use it and mantain it in a daily basis. In that sense I think the Mac has an advantage, as it can be used in it's most basic form very easily, without a lot of knowledge, while any windows system does need a steep learning curve just to work out what to do after you switch it on. And this is coming from a PC user, but I am triying to be objective. My solution would be to sell PC like cars, no one can buy one unless they have a "computer driving" license. Ensuring they have the basic knowledge needed to deal with the most basic of needs to be a ble to enjoy their hardware at home without problems.

abmlober ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

@Gongyla: What are you doing with an application that you trust but that needs an internet connect from time to time? My Ultrafractal keeps up-to-date this way... Will you install it on both PC's and transfer the resources to your secured PC?

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

I have felt for many years that the schools could teach some of the computer skills necessary to understand a computer.

starmage ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

Most schools do. Altough these days it is not so much the school kids but the older generations who didn't grow up with computers that still struggle. Just a note about Ghost..... I've never used it so I'm not entirely sure but you might have to check if it actually removes things. I think it merely returns to a stage where the program you don't want didn't exist in the registry. This might mean the program still exists on your HD although the computer can't see it (as is the case with the deleting files, you merely remove any links to the files and not the actual file). Need to make sure you defragment pretty regularly.

rodluc2001 ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 01 March 2006

buy vm ware workstation ! you can create a "virtual pc" and try all the software you want... is very usefull, by the way if the problem born from some hardware card... vmware isn't the response...

gz152 ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 01 March 2006

Myself I have used system restore utilities including ghost and xp's own system restore. Only reality is these utilities help your system in the case some faulty software gets on your machine and in some cases particularly nasty spywares and viruses that come imbedded in some "demo" software. But there are few cases where a complete wipe of the drive and reinstalling the os from scratch may be in order, especially after going a long time of installing and uninstalling software. If you don't use these utilities every time you install and uninstall or clean up your unused programs and files, eventually you still have to do a clean install. I still highly suggest along with the system back ups make a back up of your data files, i.e. images, spreadsheets, data in purchased media collections and such. Back them up on DVD (or CD), and even better is you can also get to the files individually from the backup. Also if you really want extra reliability consider purchasing an external hard drive. Now adays you can get a USB with 200 gigs of space for about 150 bucks. Use this drive only when you backing up or retrieving files, when not in use disconnect it from your computer and electrical outlet then store it in a safe spot. Do not leave it running all the time or it's gonna go in the same ammount of time just like the constantly spinning internal drive your computer comes with. Simply put, and I heard this from many a computer tech over and over again. "Don't rely on your internal drives and don't rely on restore software, back up all your important data seperately. Back up, back up, back up!" The ghost and system restore don't mean anything if you lose your created data as well.

xanatose ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 01 March 2006

IMHO And End User Agreement should not be like a blank check. Companies should be liable specially If the are doing something in your system without telling you like espionage. If construction companies folowed what software companies do. You will have a house that can fall on you at any moment and with cameras in the bathroom sending images to the company HQ. In the medical industry. no mather what you signed, if you can prove than the doctor was negligent you can sue them. So why its different with software companies? And YES, ITS POSSIBLE TO MAKE SOFTWARE WITHOUT BUGS. It just takes dicipline and responsibility. Two things that are laking in software companies since the invention of the Get out of Jail Free Card, (also know as EULA)

Bearclaw ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 01 March 2006

Not being a windows user, but do actively support it in the field I have learned one major issue, the step back feature can be deadly in some instance and a blessing in some. There are two schools of though on the use of this feature one is go ahead it won't hurt an the other is to shut it off. If you are using Ghost you can turn it off and save yourself a big head ache. The primary issue of course here is the "registry" if WIndows had PLISTs we would be better off. instead it keeps all this sacred information in one holy place making it very easy to corrupt. I can not stress this one fact . Back Up Back Up Back Up. that should be your mantra if you are doing any major updates, be they to your applications, utilities or OS.

lluque ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 03 March 2006

What I do from a long time ago: I have an small C: partition, only for XP and peripheral software. My C:Program Files is empty. All the software is installed in other drives/partitions (normally D:WORK). To restore I use sometimes Ghost 2003, sometimes Acronis True image. For me is the same, but I am absolutely sure that no one virus or bad installation is made, because I have a couple of ghost-acronis images made. The first, just when XP, graphic card, printer, scan, etc is finished without any other program installed. The second when all my normal daily using software is installed, but always in a partition different to C: So, the registrys and dll's on System32 of the different programs are in C: but not the programs theirselves. So, when I need to make a reinstall. I only restore the C: partition image that include all registrys and libraries of every program installed and all the software will be working again. This is the most effective way I found across the years because you dont need to have big image files for every partition. Only an small C: that will be around 1.5 gig aprox. (just 5-6 minutes to recover all) I also use Spy Sweeper that just tell me when something new is trying to modify the registry, favorites, etc. All this together with AVP Kaspersky antivirus have made me happy for long time now. I normally do a restore when I think that the system is getting something slow because a lot of installs-uninstalls but not really because it be needed. This happens aprox. a couple times to year. Just my 2 cents. :D

MarkHirst ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 04 March 2006

Setting up a dual boot on my PC seems to have worked well. One is the clean room where all the graphics work is done, the second is the sandpit where evaluation software is tried out, plus any other random bits and pieces like MS Office and Visual Studio. The difference in boot up time and random disk activity is quite stark - installing software, even on XP has quite a negative effect. In addition, I've indulged myself by getting a second computer (Mac Mini), which is the only machine allowed to browse the web and do email, the PC only gets to do Windows Update. As far as bug free software goes, I don't believe any of us would actually buy bug free software because: a) It is practically impossible to achieve and: b) It would be significantly more expensive. Look at the 'cost per line' statistics of commercial software against those used by NASA and other safety critical users. Bugs per 1000 lines of code are less at NASA but boy, is that software expensive.

Modulok ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 05 March 2006

Programmers are rushed by project leads. Project leads are rushed by investors that don't understand the amount of time it takes to write clean code. Investors are being rushed by the market demand and competition. Well established standards that are followed by all developers are lacking. There isn't even a standard compiler for most languages. Take a look at how bad web browsers are. Everything gets parsed slightly differently by different browsers. Compilers are the same way. Then there is differences in the operating systems, and then different OS builds, and different OS versions, and then when you bring other hardware into the picture and it gets even worse. Knowledge among end users is also lacking. It's ugly, and unavoidable unless you write your own software, specific to the hardware and other software it's going to interact with...or pay through the nose to have someone else write it. -Modulok-

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