Incompetence Comes As Standard

Back in March of this year, Windows 10 updates caused massive disruption to all three of my Windows 10 builds. (All are Pro/64-bit). All are paid-for licenses.

The two with major impact are used for gaming and office tasks on my more powerful, water-cooled “gaming” system.

You can read about the sundry disasters here. They key point to note being that:-

  • The “Office” machine suddenly stopped recognising one of my 3 Dell Monitors. The unit that “vanished” was connected to my nVidia 1080GTX via a “DisplayPort” connector
  • The “Gaming” machine just, well, stopped, with all 3 monitors remaining dark, despite the fact that “windows sounds” indicated that the machine had booted successfully.

But wait! Isn’t that exactly the same ####ing thing that has just happened with the latest update? Why yes, I do believe it is.

So… having completely ####ed up two of my builds in March, causing me extensive down-time and a nightmare of an issue with getting my Omnipage OCR software re-activated [it somehow thought I had installed it twice already, which I hadn’t], it looks as though I could well be left with a repeat of that experience just 4 months later.

It isn’t as though I’m able to telepathically know in advance that the update is going to be applied [and stop it]. With Microsoft’s new updating mechanism, I have no ability to determine what gets updated, or when.

All I’m left with is [literally] a box of bits. With no Operating System, the hardware doesn’t exactly do much. This is entirely, completely and utterly unacceptable. In my case, Microsoft can’t resort to, “Well, it was free…” because I had to pay for both licenses. £200 each, thank you very much.

They don’t even provide direct support – oh no – if you go to their support forums [ “http://support.microsoft.com/”] you are left dealing with volunteer MCPs. Don’t get me wrong – the people I’ve dealt with have been excellent – patient, friendly and helpful. But that doesn’t excuse Microsoft from shipping sh1te product.

Microsoft: Incompetence Comes As Standard.

Pop Quiz: When Is An Error Message Not An Error Message?

Answer: when it is a complete and utter pack of lies.

Yes, this is about Microsoft. How did you guess?

Back in 2012, after an Apple Time Capsule I’d previously purchased decided to die on me, I got serious about my data and purchased a QNAP TS459 Pro II NAS box. This turned out to be such a wise investment that I subsequently purchased a larger TS-670 and now use that as my “main” network storage device, with the original serving as a “daily backup” server for critical files, with a 7-generation set of backup scripts running at 02:00 every morning…

Peachy.

Except. Any time I try and open any Microsoft Office file that has macros in it, where that file is stored on a NAS, I get a little “warning strip” with a scary-looking message about the dangers of macro viruses. Never used to. This is another one of those Microsoft “improvements”.

Because I can just click the “OK” button and make the problem go away, I’ve ignored it for a while. This might have something to do with my reporting the issue to Microsoft [when I upgraded to Office 2016 for the princely sum of £389] and being told that although they couldn’t offer me the solution for free, I could buy the fix off of them.

Wait, what? No. Just: no.

Being a stubborn so-and-so, I’ve been returning to this problem from time to time, trying to figure out what needs to be done to fix it. This evening I was trawling the web, looking for suggestions, when I found this thread. Buried in there was a post from “philbo2112” [obviously a keen Rush fan] who suggested that the problem could be fixed by right-clicking on Access and selecting “Run as Administrator”.

Well, not quite. However, after doing this and then attempting once more to navigate my way through the Office “Trust Center” and “Trusted Locations”, I discovered that, as “Administrator”, I was no longer able to “see” my network-mapped drives that connect my desktop to my NAS boxes…

Meh. I’ll just use Network Browse and go in that way… And – there was the solution to the problem. Going in “the long way”, revealed that CIFS required the full [canonical?] path name of

\\NAS1\Public\Data\Office Files\

when, of course, Windows Explorer would show the exact same thing as

\\NAS1\Data\Office Files\

The “name of the share” [i.e. “Public”] is “lost” by Windows Explorer once the mapping is made. So… it turns out that all I had to do was hand-hack the path name back to the fill value and that looks to have solved the problem.

Clearly, the programmer[s] who wrote “Windows Explorer” felt they were being helpful by hiding/masking the name of the network share to which my network drive was being mapped. The programmer[s] who wrote the code for Office Trust Center were somewhat more pedantic and wanted the full network path to be explicitly recorded.

If these two products had been written by different vendors, you could sort-of understand how this might have happened. [i.e. because the OS vendor had failed to give clear guidelines on the mapping of network file systems.] But when the programmers for Office and Windows both work for Microsoft, this is inexcusable.

Idiots.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Four: Microsoft

What, don’t tell me you were only expecting to see three issues within a “Trouble Comes In Threes” montage? Do keep up.

Having more-or-less recovered from the Windows 10 update nightmare, having ordered a replacement printer and having calmed down, yesterday I thought it might be nice to actually grab an hour or two of PC gaming…

You know, what with that being one of the reasons I spent so much money on the thing in the first place…

So there I am, enjoying a decent bit of fun in Skyrim, when my PC performs an instant and full-on crash and gives me a “Blue Screen of Death”.  Now, in fairness to Microsoft, these have become extremely rare since the arrival of Windows 10. This, then, was a big deal. I waited for an error code, but got,

WHEA Unrecoverable Error

In other words, nothing useful. The system rebooted and I had just re-loaded Skyrim from the most recent save when… another blue screen. Same error code.

Grr…

Nothing for it but to wait, reboot, and try again. Whilst obviously checking the logs files and looking for obvious problems – nothing on show…

When the computer crashed for a third time, the Blue Screen Of Death gave me a “new” error code – certainly not one I’ve seen before. This time I got,

Clock Watchdog Timeout

Interesting. And that was it…

There’s nothing in the “Update” logs to suggest that anything has changed in the build, but then Microsoft aren’t exactly truthful. Or it could be that they had reached out and turned on a piece of their spyware that isn’t normally active and that this occasionally-run piece of code was clashing with the gaming environment. That’s the problem of Windows 10. You just can’t know what it’s doing. When it does tell you anything [which is a pretty rare event these days] then the information is minimal. Even Event Log has become largely useless.

Is this it?

The end of the shambles that has been the latest Windows 10 Update? who can tell? This is part of the charm of Windows 10 – you just don’t know what is going to screw up next – or when.

Sigh.

Bastards.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part One: Microsoft

Back on the 13th or 14th of March, Microsoft rolled out a massive update to the Windows 10 OS. Like all Windows 10 updates, it’s invisible: unless you check your network traffic, there’s no evidence it is even being downloaded.

There is a long and painful history of what went wrong here (Microsoft Support Site): the short story is:-

KB4088776 completely trashed two builds.

Build One – Symptoms – “Dead” Monitor

A machine running Windows 10 was left “alone” during a copy of files to external disk for backup purposes. On return only 2 out of 3 monitors were working. All three screens are identical Dell U2415W monitors (running a Dell Driver date-stamped December 17, 2017), connected to the system via DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort, respectively. The “DisplayPort” monitor was dead. When I checked via my nVidia Control Panel software, it reported that one of the three monitors was no longer recognised – the panel looked like this:-

Build One – Fix

Using the Windows Installation USB Key provided when I purchased the Windows 10 License [64-Bit Pro edition] I was able to boot the system as far as the first setup screen, from which I was then able to select “Repair” and this allowed me to “roll back” the KB4088776 update. There had been no other changes to the system in that time.

Conducting the restore didn’t solve the problem 100% – I was still left with only two monitors, but I was now able to go in and reactivate the “de-selected” monitor and get back to my triple-screen setup. Eventually I was left with something that looked like this:-

Build Two – Symptoms

Unfortunately, things got worse, a lot worse, from there. The hardware that I use for gaming includes an amazing little unit from Akasa that slots into a 5.25” drive bay and gives me no less than four 2.5” drive slots. It looks like this:-

Because the drive bays make it easy to replace the drives they contain, I can swap between different Operating Systems in the time it takes me to power down, swap drives and power up again… So I bought a pair of Windows 10 Pro 64-Bit licenses [£200 each – ouch!] and away I went…

On the second drive, I used the same method to boot from the Windows 10 Installer USB stick, but when I attempted to “Repair” the OS, I was told that there was nothing there to be repaired… What? I went back to the now-working “Games” build and booted it, then used an eSata dock to take a look at the C: drive from the “dead” Office build…

What I found was a completely trashed operating system. The update process had left two Windows directories and had also dumped some error files in the “service” partition at the front of the disk. The above-linked series of posts on the Microsoft site provide details. In short, the OS was toast.

Build Two – Fix

Nothing for it: a wipe of both the C: and D: volumes [after making careful note of what had been installed] and a clean build of the OS. For the most part this went smoothly [it took all day] with the exception of the re-installation of Nuance Software’s OmniPage 18.

That refused to go back, claiming I had exceeded my license count… I dropped a line to their support desk and eventually I was granted an extra “activation” to get the job done – after being warned that version 18 was not compatible with Windows 10. I can’t find a more recent version, so: whatever.

 

I don’t know what Microsoft are doing with Windows 10 – other than completely and utterly screwing it up.

Bastards.

Never attribute to Malice that which can be explained as Stupidity

One evening earlier this week, I was enjoying an hour of gaming on my home PC when – without warning – my game screen went a bit bonkers, turned from full-screen to a windowed mode – and then I got presented with a cheerful message from Microsoft to tell me that they were going to update my Windows 10 build… (whether I liked it or not). I immediately selected “disable now and don’t remind me” and thought no more.

The following evening I booted the computer for a different reason but got the same result – my work was interrupted and I got another “get ready” warning. Disabled again.

Until Thursday, when the upgrade “just started”, while I was back playing the game I’d been enjoying previously (Mass Effect Andromeda). Let’s fast-forward through the multiple-reboot update process, which took a significant chunk of time, to get to the bit where things really started to go wrong. In fact, upon the final “We’re finished” reboot, I was left with:-

1. No working audio (from a Creative X-Fi Titanium sound card – hardly a rare item…)
2. A disabled and broken firewall (Checkpoint Zone Alarm)
3. A completely re-configured monitor setup (I have 3 monitors driven by an nVidia 1080GTX graphics card – the upgrade broke the nVidia display-spanning configuration and then changed the Left-Centre-Right orientation of the monitors).
4. A Start / Menu / Task Bar which relocates itself to the top of the screen with each system power on – despite the fact that its own settings have it clearly marked as appearing at the bottom of the screen.

OK, to the fixes:

1. Sound Card… It turns out that the “upgrade” had checked my hardware and decided that – of course – I would want to pipe audio via an HDMI cable to a monitor which has no audio output capability, rather than send it via the perfectly serviceable Toslink optical audio feed to my surround speakers. I once again changed the default audio and once again deleted the 3 Monitors from the option list in the Sound applet of Control Panel. Of course they have since come back, but that’s a problem for another day.

2. Firewall… This proved to be another relatively straightforward [if annoying] fix. In simple terms when I booted under this new edition of Windows 10, I was unable to get ZoneAlarm to work. In the end I manually deleted it and then simply manually re-installed it once more. I now have a working Firewall. Or do I? Take a look at the first of the images below, and you start to see the problem. Windows 10 “Upgrade” thinks that I have no working firewall. ZoneAlarm begs to differ. “Checkpoint One, Microsoft Nil…”

3. Monitor Setup… I honestly don’t know what the blazes happened here, other than a general-purpose Microsoft fsck-up. Although having said that, I’ve noticed that nVidia driver updates have become shambolically awful recently, often doing stupid things. Maybe this was Microsoft, maybe the Windows 10 update included an nVidia driver “update” as part of the process. Either way, the fix required me to break my “virtual desktop” (I had the three monitors configured at the driver level to give the effect – to applications – of a single, 5760×1200 display). Then I simply re-sorted the three monitors so that they appeared Left-Centre-Right in the correct sequence and re-created the virtual desktop.

4. The wandering task bar. No fix identified at this time.

When all this was done, I thought it might be helpful to capture this experience in more detail and send the feedback to Microsoft. So I did. Which brings me to the second screen scrape, below. This is what I saw when I clicked the “send feedback” button.

It isn’t enough for Microsoft to spy on their users. Oh no. Every once in a while they feel the need for a nostalgic trip back to the good old days when running Windows on your computer was nothing short of digital Russian Roulette and “What do you want to do today?” (their logo at the time) was genuinely interpreted to be, “What are we going to fsck up on your computer today? (Can you guess?… Ho ho ho)”

I don’t mind updates.
However, I do object to having those updates forced on me against my wishes.
I strongly object to updates being forced on me when 1) they haven’t been properly tested; and 2) they fsck up my computer in the process.

This computer is a “new build” machine – it didn’t qualify for a “free” upgrade to Windows 10 and the boxed copy I purchased from the Microsoft store cost £200. Two hundred quid for intrusive, nagging, disobedient, buggy spy-ware.

Bastards.