09 July 2008

The ultimate re-install

A couple of weeks ago Firefox started misbehaving, claiming that it couldn't find various files and refusing to start, closely followed by Internet Explorer coming out in sympathy and eventually even the portable applications gave up the ghost. Usually, when something goes wrong I find myself in good company and someone somewhere out there has experienced the same symptoms and published some nice instructions to get it sorted. Not this time. Whilst there were some posts here and there on similar lines, no-one was offering any helpful suggestions. So there was nothing for it but, for the first time in all my years of computing, wiping the thing clean and starting again. (I did have to do my daughter's laptop a couple of times when a trojan simply refused to budge but she had little on it she wished to keep but mine was a different story.)

This used to be a complete pain because you'd have so much data by way of documents, photos and music files etc. that it was really difficult and very time consuming to back up everything before it all got wiped. Now we have SD cards and USB drives and wonderful gadgets for transferring files in an FTP-like manner from one computer to another and several gigabytes were simply moved somewhere safe for a while.

It still took an age, a couple of hours just for Windows, and all the extra programs I had have to be re-loaded or downloaded which is a long evening's work but well worthwhile as things do zip along afterwards.

It's so good not to have to worry about e-mail in the process as, of course, Gmail is all on-line and stuff now stored in Google documents and similar places is unaffected. I guess it won't be long before the whole pile of applications themselves are running on-line and all we need is a computer that accesses them with nothing being stored locally at all. More drops in the price of 'normal' computers too and we may well find ourselves just buying a new one when they stop working! I mean the screen seldom gives up, nor do the keyboard or other peripherals and components so it could be that we'll see a sort of plug-in thing that does all the processing work which will enable manufacturers to make smart, trendy designs that last for the bits that don't go wrong. Some programme or Windows not working? Unplug that bit and chuck it away. The ultimate re-install?!

You read it here first, possibly.

That reminds me of an argument I had in a College staff room in 199something. "Google?" they said. "That'll never catch on. Yahoo! Ask Jeeves and MSN Search (or whatever it was then) do all we need already."

It's not what you do . . .

It's the way that you do it. Microsoft's Service Pack 3 for XP may have all sorts of good things in it but if you're still using Internet Explorer 6 you could find yourself heading for problems. Now, you shouldn't be using IE6 still as IE7 has been out for ages and is a whole load better but I know plenty of people that haven't updated and I found myself back in IE6 land when all my browsers ceased to function and I finished up having to re-install Windows. (More about that in another post!)

To give you the advice first: install IE7 before XP SP3. If you don't then you may find that none of the updates they release will install successfully, and there are lots of them. I have to say that I find it really annoying that Microsoft didn't think about this before and included some sort of fix for the problem in the Sevice Pack download, or warn people not to download. After all, you have to wait while their on-line tool checks every nook and cranny of your computer before recommending what you should have and you'd have thought that this would have been simple to include in that process. Anyway, it wasn't. The subsequent updates are important, though, and you do need them, if only to stop the list of updates that Windows tries to install growing ever longer (and they include IE7!) and Live One Care or One Live Care or whatever it's called warning you every few minutes that you might be at risk! To which I have been yelling "I know, I don't want to be but you won't let me do anything about it!!"

The reason for this post is that I did a search for IE7 install problems and landed on a whole pile of articles, written by people far more qualified than me, which were without exception doom and gloom-laden and, basically, saying not much more than "you shouldn't have done that" which didn't help much. For a few days I carried on with Firefox, which I much prefer anyway, and just ignored the dire warnings but today I decided that this was ridiculous and Microsoft really should give me a hand.

I went to their Updates support area and after several attempts found the right combinations of words to get what I wanted - a solution at last. It seems that, to work properly, the Updates installation tool needs a certain file buried deep in your registry to work which, if you have things in the wrong order, it doesn't. In my case, I had reinstalled Windows from a CD probably created in the dim and distant past so the file wasn't as it should be.

To save you the trouble, Microsoft offer two methods to get out of trouble at this link. I've seen clearer instructions and if you've never used Start>Run before you may need someone more technically inclined to hold your hand but Method 1 worked for me and I now have IE7 and all the recent updates at last.

The browser does now say it is without add-ons which I've never seen before and so far I have failed to find a way to get it to work normally but as I shall probably only use it for those sites that refuse to function properly in Firefox (Facebook picture uploads, the bank and a few others) I can live without add-ons, I hope.