Monday, April 21, 2008

It's All Been Done Before

I'm astonished at the tenacity of Windows users. I'm dismayed at the loyalty of OEM manufacturers, willing to foist Windows upon their unwitting users, all in the name of profit.

Recently, I helped configure a brand new HP Media Centre PC for a client of mine. Nothing terribly difficult, just a problem with a DVI-VGA adapter that the client didn't know he needed to use to connect the widescreen 22” monitor. After getting the system up and running, I noted Symantec had various stages to complete for it's installer, and walked through the steps to ensure the PC was in a secure state. Naturally, Vista Home Premium had been preinstalled and the Symantec Norton Internet Security package was available for 60 days' use, which the client wanted to take advantage of.

Everything went fairly smoothly, and the client was mostly happy (aside from the speed with which Vista was responding; for a fast, top-of-the-line computer, he expected a bit more zip). He liked the service I provided enough to ask about his old computer, and if I could get the old computer up and running again so he could use it as a backup. I said I'd take a look.

The old computer was only a couple of years old, and also an HP. Windows wouldn't even boot, missing some critical system file. The emergency repair partition can only be used to completely wipe the system, so that was of no use in restoring critical system files, and of course the client had never made recovery CDs. I found later this may not have helped anyway: the system was infested with spyware and viruses and would likely self-implode within the first couple of boots and need to be fixed again. So I did what any good technician should do, and booted the system with a live Linux CD.

After repairing the NTFS filesystem enough to recover any documents and data files that may be of interest to the client, I let the HP recovery partition do it's work of reinstalling the system to a pristine install. On this PC, however, I did not enable the Symantec offering. Instead, I opted to install a free antivirus, AVG Free Edition, and made sure it updates itself daily. I also installed SpyBot S&D, and immunized the system right from the start.

When I returned the old system, with most data and documents intact, my client had a simple question for me. "How do I get rid of all these popups?" he asked. He had had the computer less than a week at this point, and already he was getting multiple popups! I examined the new computer for a bit, and found he had been infected with something called Virtumonde, which had taken the liberty of disabling the wonderful Symantec package I had taken the time (on my last visit) to enable. I downloaded SpyBot S&D, installed, immunized, updated, immunized again, and did a complete scan of the system. No less than 48 problems were found, not much by most spyware-infected standards, but it was only a week!

I cleaned things up for him, and got Symantec running again. I would have offered him a Ubuntu Linux installation free of charge, but I had found out recently that the network card used in these new HP Media Centre PCs just doesn't appear to be compatible (yet). Otherwise, all he's doing with his PC is watching movies, listening to music, email and web surfing. Oh, and getting spyware.

If this were any other product (a car, a fridge, a television, even a VCR) you'd take it back to where you got it and ream out the store you bought it from for selling such a shoddy product. I'm not just picking on HP, it's all major vendors that ship their computers with Windows preinstalled. But this shoddy product -- Windows -- is acceptable and normal for computer users. They expect their computers to not work, or to have problems. They expect to have to pay someone like me to come and take care of them.

When I can help them, I do: I give them a working computer; I give them Linux if their PC is compatible. And I tell them Linux is free.

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