September 06, 2004

Why does anyone put up with this?

How did you spend your Labor Day weekend? I've spent mine attempting to clean all of the crap off of Ruby's new Thinkpad. I've failed. I give up.

She's had the computer for about two weeks. She's a reasonably good computer user, in that she doesn't download random junk, she doesn't use peer to peer software, and so on. But she isn't an expert. She's not going to spend time reading tech news sites to keep track of the latest worms or anything like that.

Nor should she have to. You shouldn't have to spend time dealing with your computer. The computer only exists to help you get things done, and when that balance changes something's very, very wrong.

This is a brand new computer. It shipped too early for XP SP 2, but everything else was up to date. Despite that, in the first two weeks it managed to get infected with at least two viruses and about a dozen spyware programs. This is just from using Word and IE...I doubt she launched any other application the entire week. They messed up so many things that the system would no longer stay on the Internet for more than a minute or two before the connection would die. SBC's DSL support called it a hardware problem, so she was going to call IBM on Tuesday to get it sent back in for repairs. Now we know it's nothing of the sort.

I've run Ad-Aware and Spybot. I've run both in Safe Mode, in a standard startup, and while not connected to the Internet. They clean more and more things, but the lists change, and they disagree. Meanwhile, the computer continues to display some random popup ad on startup. I know what application is causing it -- something that's sometimes called mteo.exe that spawns off randomly-named executables that do the dirty work -- but Windows' "find file" tool denies that it exists. I've tried to go hunting around on the command line and find it, but I've failed. It doesn't turn up in the standard places, and 'dir' seems to be too stupid to search for hidden files unless you specify them by name. (And I've already done that for a whole bunch of things in C:\Windows\System32 -- spyware files that installed themselves as hidden system files.)

Why does anyone put up with this? I've wasted a whole weekend trying to get this computer back into a usable state. I don't understand why this isn't Microsoft's problem to fix. I've had to track down a variety of loosely-documented and not-necessarily-reputable third party tools, starting with Ad-Aware and Spybot -- each of which only sometimes works, has an awful UI, and is slow -- and there's simply no single trustworthy source out there with all the information I'd need to fix this. Nobody else could do that job as well as Microsoft, but they don't seem to be interested in providing a complete solution. I can't even begin to imagine how anyone who isn't a programmer manages to keep a Windows system secure. And this is on a computer that now has XP SP 2 installed.

I've had it. I told Ruby to buy a Thinkpad rather than a PowerBook because she can't take her exams on a Mac. Screw it. Until the spyware epidemic is fixed, I'll never recommend Windows again. Yes, I work for a competitor, but my friends and relatives can tell you that I've always recommended Windows to people who need it. No longer. This just isn't worth it. In Ruby's case, she can return the Thinkpad and get a computer that will actually get out of her way, and I'll buy her a used PC laptop just for exams if I have to. Anything to keep from ever again having to waste multiple days of my life just trying to clean a computer.