Why Do I Even Try?

My disdain for Microsoft ebbed somewhat when they tried to stop being the Evil Empire and started using their enormous wealth for charity purposes. Also, Windows 7 was an incredible leap forward — finally, Windows is a usable operating system. More than that, it’s one I — gasp! — prefer to Mac OS X.

Today at work, I got a friendly reminder of why I should never give in fully to the cult of Microsoft. It starts, as these stories often do, with unmitigated administrator access to a computer that’s usually locked down tighter than a virgin Nazi oil drum. I discovered, quite by accident, that if I change the computer’s domain from the work network to the computer alone, I can login with the administrator username and a blank password. Since then, I’ve used it for little more than program updates — which I can’t install under my own username, thanks to all the restrictions — and, occasionally, Windows updates.

The Company is too cheap to pony up for MS Office, so we’re stuck using OpenOffice, a Java-based knockoff whose best feature is its compatibility with versions of Office through 2007. Unfortunately, I now use Office 2011 for Mac, and even when I save as an old-fashioned .doc, OpenOffice gets confused and doesn’t want to open it. That’s annoying, but on the plus side, Office 2011 opens OpenOffice files, so I guess it’s a wash.

I bring up this apparent digression only to explain that I now get frequent requests to update Java. I can’t do it under my own account, and today, I got fed up with canceling the update request. I logged in as administrator, applied the update, and decided to do some spring cleaning. I updated Firefox to 4.0, updated OpenOffice to 3.3, and grabbed the latest Windows updates.

That’s when I ran into trouble. See, Microsoft (finally) released their own lightweight, fully integrated, and free antivirus software, Security Essentials. I thought it was only available for Vista and 7, but there it was, among the XP updates. I thought it might not be a bad idea to grab it, since the computer is currently unprotected. (The IT department installed Kaspersky, which is a resource whore, so I turned it off.)

Once installed, I ran a scan, and it came back saying it found a few problems. Feeling confident with my decision to install it, I instructed Microsoft Security Essentials to clean the computer. I checked the history to see what it had cleaned out. If I could figure out where I’d downloaded the spyware or virus, maybe I could avoid it happening again.

The history told me it deleted most of the files associated with VNC, the program The Company uses for its network infrastructure. Without VNC installed properly, I wouldn’t be able to get on the network. I quickly used my USB thumb drive to grab the VNC files off another computer and restore them to my own. In the meantime, I restarted my computer so it would apply all the updates.

When I restarted, the computer wouldn’t start. It didn’t give the blue screen of death; it gave the pale-blue screen of Windows XP deciding whether or not it wanted to start up. After ten minutes of nothing happening, I did an IT no-no: I shut off the computer while it was allegedly applying updates. Now, I couldn’t tell you if it actually was finalizing the updates, or if it just took a second restart for Windows to realize it was dead, but the second restart gave me a DOS prompt with an error saying Windows has some bad configuration files and needs an installation repair.

Fuck. The computer is a Dell, and I know Dell has some kind of crazy deal for Microsoft OEM discs. If I used my own XP Pro install disc, would it be able to repair it?

I opted to ignore the problem. See, over time I’ve collected more computers than any sane person should. First, my computer died (bad power supply). I replaced it with a spare one from the front office, removing components (like RAM) from my old one to improve its underwhelming performance. Then, one of the wires in my Ethernet cable shorted. The problem there is simple: the IT department ran a 500’ cable from my office to the front office — where all the routers and switches are — and instead of coming to replace it, they just sent me new RJ45 ends. Shockingly, that didn’t solve the problem, but I discovered something in the process: it could still connect at 10Mbps. The problem was with it connecting at 100Mbps.

Well, here’s the thing: I’m at work. Who gives a fuck if I have to wait slightly longer for a website to load? I’m on company time, right? The problem was that I couldn’t use the same administrator trick with my “new” computer, because it ran Windows 2000 (which one would think is less secure than Corporate America’s beloved XP), and it insisted on looking connecting at 100Mbps. I couldn’t get into the control panel, so that was that. No Internet. I only discovered the 10Mbps when trying to test the cable with yet another abandoned computer — we’ve had a lot of layoffs — which had XP and could do the administrator trick.

So, fine. I cherry-picked components from the two old computers and hung onto them, just in case. I’ve been using the new new computer for about nine months now, with no problems. Until I totally fucked it up.

What do I do? As I see it, I have three options. I have the resources to grab an XP Pro SP3 CD for Dells. Will that repair the installation? Who fucking knows? I’ll try it tomorrow. Option 2: I can remove the still-working hard drive from my old old computer, which has the same hardware and (finger crossed) should be able to swap out without any horrendous consequences. I know there are hardware addresses and other assorted bullshit that could cause problems, but I am hoping to Christ and all things holy that Windows XP is smart enough to figure out the changes. The third and final option: admit What I’ve Done, return the computer to IT for repair, and take whatever lumps get doled out for unauthorized software installation.

I’m hoping the first two options work out. I’m lobbying for a raise, and fucking up a computer won’t help my cause. (Ironically, I’m also vying for several local IT jobs. This post probably won’t help that cause, either, nor should it.)

So at the end of this rant, it occurs to me that I shouldn’t blame Microsoft. The problems that decimated the computer — either “cleaning” VNC right off the computer or the rookie mistake of shutting off the computer in mid-update — were user error, plain and simple. Maybe Microsoft Security Essentials could have been a little less stupid and not perceived VNC as a threat, but I was the one who hit CLEAN willy nilly. I deserve any punishment The Man lays down.

Unless I can get out of it.

Posted by D. B. Bates on April 4, 2011 5:10 PM