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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Windows XP SP2

I finally installed SP2 for my Windows XP computer. I had been holding off all this while after hearing bad stories of incompatibilities with SP2. Once I was done installing it, my display driver prompty died a horrible death, leaving me at 640x480 with 16 colours. After a lot of browsing around the ATI website, I finally got my hands on the latest driver and installed it. Everything works properly now. For a while I was genuinely scared because this was my work computer with tons of important material on it. I knew I could always run it at low resolution and make backups if needed, but it's still not a pretty situation.

This brings up an important lesson. I am technically proficient enough to know that when Windows dumps me into a low resolution mode with 16 colours, there is some problem with the graphics card driver. I know the exact model of the graphics card that I have. I can browse company websites and update drivers on my own.

But what about the average person who owns a PC ? All they know is that for some reason the text is huge and the colours strange. They are unlikely to know the model of every component in their PC. And downloading and updating drivers ? Forget it. All they know is that after installing a widely publicised update, their whole system stopped working. Panic!

What about a sysadmin working in a large company with thousands of installed PCs. Should he risk putting SP2 on all of them ? What if something breaks and employees are unable to work ? The company will hold the sysadmin responsible for lost productivity. On the other hand, SP2 fixes a number of widespread security vulnerabilities. What if the entire network is taken down by a virus which exploits one of the vulnarabilities fixed in SP2 ? The sysadmin is responsible for this again. A lose-lose situation for the poor sysadmin.

This is what makes writing software so damn hard. On the one hand, there are an almost infinite number of configurations to test against. According to Scoble, Microsoft made every employee run SP2 prior to release so that they could sort out problems. In spite of that, SP2 has caused widespread conflicts with installed software. On the other hand, if Microsoft held back from releasing SP2, they would have been roundly criticised for not taking action against security vulnerabilities and allowing virus writers/crackers to have a field day exploiting them. Damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

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