Microsoft Corporation convinced me this week that I should buy a new Apple computer. At least when something goes wrong with an Apple computer, I can take it to the nearest Apple store and get it repaired, whether the problem is with the software or the hardware. But when I install an on-line security software update from Microsoft and it totally disables my Dell or Hewlett Packard computer, I have no quick and easy solution to getting it fixed. The hassle is endless.

For example, recently when I called the local HP repair center in Beachwood, Cleveland, Ohio to make an appointment to bring in my in-warranty monitor for service, they did not answer my telephone call, nor did they return my call after I left a message with my phone number.

Even after a follow-up call explaining that I was a magazine editor and needed service right away, no return call. Ever! So much for HP service-and HP computers. I ended up going to Office Max in Solon, Ohio and buying another monitor that got me up and running in one hour.

So, why did my computer with the Windows XP operating system go down in the first place? It seems that Microsoft transmitted a weekly security software update that was so deranged that it shut my computer down and returned it with the "Blue Screen of Death." What could I do? The last thing I would ever suspect would be a software bug from a Microsoft update!

Especially when I manually rejected downloading the update at that time. Apparently, Microsoft ignored my wish to download the update later and just took over my computer. After the catastrophic event, I tried rebooting my computer by following all the directions that popped up on the screen after re-starting it - before the "Blue Screen of Death" reappeared- but none of them worked. I was stuck with a dead computer with all my loaded and inert Word files for the next magazine issue. Fortunately, I maintain a Western Digital Passport (320 GB for $70!) for backup and was able to use another computer with a Vista operating system to finish writing the articles for the March issue.

But, I still cannot resolve in my mind how Microsoft could do such a thing by accident! They are too smart. There are only two possibilities: Either their "offshore, deep-discounted" programmers have a basic cultural problem understanding our American software "language," or Microsoft did it on purpose! For example, I suspect the Windows Vista OS was designed and programmed offshore; that is why it has had so many bugs and problems, so much so that IT managers at many major corporations have rejected it.

But why would Microsoft do this on purpose? Because their sales are down and they targeted Windows XP so we would get frustrated and buy the new Microsoft Windows 7.0 to replace it! Believe it or not, stranger things have happened. In my opinion, today, a large corporation will do anything to make a buck!

Now regardless of the reason, a week after the Microsoft cyber attack, my Windows XP-based Dell is still dead. It came with pre-installed software, so I do not have a boot-up disk to put in the CD/DVD drive. Nor do I have the time to sit for hours on my telephone waiting for Microsoft assistance, nor trying to find a reputable computer repair center that will fix it free. After all, it was not my fault or a computer failure. So how is Microsoft going to repay millions of people for all the millions of hours and dollars that were lost because their ISO-9000 Quality Procedures did not work -or worse, was it really a conspiracy?

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Comment by Alan Pitas on April 1, 2010 at 8:24am
I think using Apple is a smart way to go, if you're not interested in the engineering workplace. Now that hacking is a business, the good ones follow the money, and the Mac world is just too small to matter. Likewise, Linux is a niche that has yet to grow to the point that a Russian hacker would bother attacking it.

Back when Firefox came out, you may remember how much safer everyone said it would be than IE because so many thousands of programmers had had a look at the code. And then, of course, some hacker couldn't resist the challange and Firefox had to send out an emergency update to fix a hole. So much for the 10,000 eyes thesis.

My only advice is don't try writing any articles about computing in the engineering workplace since you won't have a clue about what works and what doesn't.

Also, I have a question: What did you do that allowed ESET to be disabled? (An impertantent question I know. If you don't want to discuss the web site involve, I certainly understand) I've been running NOD32 for years and the only time it failed is when I screwed up. On that occasion I powered down and disconnected from the Internet. I fired back up and had ESET remove the offending software. My wife has been running ESET for the same length of time and never had a problem. Of course we don't always visit the same Web sites.
Comment by John R. Gyorki on April 1, 2010 at 7:13am
Thanks for the spirited and intelligent remarks. I count on you to help fill in the blanks and share your engineering experience for the benefit of others. BTW: Since I wrote the above editorial, I had the computer cleaned and back in operation, only to have it "sucked inside-out" again with a very clever attack. I think it was carried out by a disgruntled Microsoft employee. But I think it is worth describing what happened here. First, my antivirus program (ESET NOD32 v.4) was disabled, then the firewall was disabled, and then a "redirect" program (virus, worm, Trojan?) was installed. As a result, I was unable to reset the antivirus program, and I was unable to reach the ESET Web site to register a new version of the ESET software. In fact, I was unable to log onto any Web site that was an antivirus company, including Microsoft updates. But I was able to log onto just about any other Web site. Now when I attempted to reach the ESET Web site, I was redirected to some random Website. Finally, I was able to log onto a Microsoft Web site that discussed some recent virus attacks, and as I read about it, a pop-up asked me if I wanted to scan my computer for viruses. Now, it had an official Microsoft logo. In my frustration, I succumbed and in a microsecond discovered that I made a BIG mistake! I logged onto a site that took over control of my computer, loaded it with dozens of viruses and began loading foreign email address to the address book! Finally, I was unable to shut it down or return to any other screen. In fact, I could not even force a power off...I had to remove the battery (the computer is a laptop.). Then I shut down my service provider, temporarily. I turned it on again later, and nothing appeared but the virus program that continued to load junk, or at least appeared to, even with the disconnect to the IP. What do you all think of that? So, yes, I am looking into Linux, now. I have a friend who runs a consulting business and works only in Linux. I shall visit him. Thanks for your valuable comments. (PS All the editors on staff who use Apple computers don't get into the trouble that I do!)
Comment by Alan Pitas on March 30, 2010 at 1:22pm
You're right. A typing error on my part. Sorry for not proofreading better.

It was only after we chose Suse for the OS of a recent piece of production equipment that I came up face to face with limitations of Linux that no one ever talks about. Chosing Linux over XP probably added 30% to our design schedule and forced us to abandon several features. This despite have the assistance of several die-hard Linux true-believers. The core problem was that most Linux users never have to incorporate peripherals in their programming. We ran into driver issues with everything from touchscreen monitors to image recongnition software, to com boards. It was a nighmare.

However, for a desktop CAD system, once a driver interface layer becomes a standard part of Linux, one could hope for a superior system.
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on March 30, 2010 at 1:09pm
Maybe by then Linux will reach the level where kernal rebuilds are required for every driver change and we can all cut the Redmond umbilical.

Pardon, did you mean to say "... where kernal rebuilds arenot required..."? Having to recompile the kernal for every driver update would seem to be the opposite of a stable platform.
Comment by Alan Pitas on March 30, 2010 at 1:04pm
Andrew is correct. Many of the 70s and 80s CAD systems were Unix based machines. In those days an engineer took his sketches to a CAD jockey who had spent several years learning to master the program. At Fermilab the CAD jockeys sat in a large darkened room so that they could see their monitors better. After several days to weeks you would get some drawings that you hoped would reflect what you meant to say with your sketch.

It was the WinTel revolution that brought CAD to the masses in the form of AutoCad. They leveraged general consumer demand for the PC to provide a 2D system that any small business could afford. They also followed the MS model in creating a scripting language, LISP, that allowed anyone and his brother to create add-ons for their product. A friend of mine created a very successful add-on that automatically added fire sprinkler heads and piping to an architects floor plan.

The world of 3D was much slower to make the move. The darling of the late 80's and early 90s was ProEngineer. Still a workstation product at that time. $20k for the hardware, $20k for software, and two years to get good at runninng the software. CAD jockeys stil controlled the outcome of an engineer's design.

Only in the late 90s did 3D CAD come to every engineer's desk. The leader in the movement was SolidWorks and the founder of SolidWorks was a ProE programmer who saw that WinTel boxes would soon shift the price point for 3D CAD. Now there are five professional grade programs that run WinTel. Even ProE so the writing on the wall and made the move.

So, if one wants to draw an arc it has been a steady move from workstations, usually Unix based, to WinTel boxes. The timing dictated by the arrival of a PC that had enough umph to handle the task.

According to SolidWorks, then next step along the arc is platform independent CAD/CAD in the cloud. While I am sure this will happen someday, given the bandwidth require, it won't be anytime soon, particularly for engineers in large organizations with data security policies. Maybe by then Linux will reach the level where kernal rebuilds are required for every driver change and we can all cut the Redmond umbilical.
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on March 30, 2010 at 10:49am
Ironically, Mr. Damato, I've heard that in the early days of CAD/CAM, before Windows became a commonplace item, most of the CAD programs were written to run under UNIX, and when the Windows desktops became popular, the Engineers of the day were asking for the CAD programs to be ported to Windows so they did not have to fight with the 'Computer Guys' about setting up dual-boot computers just for them.

Granted, all this was a bit before my time, so all I have is anecdotal evidence from teachers and colleagues, but it looks like the CAD programs are on a pendulum, which is swinging back to the UNIX/Linux end of the spectrum.
Comment by Dion Damato on March 30, 2010 at 10:29am
I'm with Mr. Dreasler. Unfortunately, many of the popular engineering software (CAD, FEA, CFD, CAM, etc.) companies aren't supporting Linux. This has been the one item holding be back from switching to Linux. Also, there is zero customer support with Linux, albeit there is community support.

Recently, I saw someone running Solidworks 2010 on a Mac OS X using VMware, and in the same week I heard about CAElinux. Also, I've used EMC2 which is a CAM/NC program, but it lacks the capabilities of even the mid-range CAM packages for generating G-Code from 3D data. Anyhow, its seems Mac is gaining traction which is good for Linux and potentially for the need to port CAE applications to Linux based machines.
Comment by Gerald Pierce on March 30, 2010 at 9:48am
Hey, John. What a mess! I too have had one of Chairman Bill's automatic downloads freeze my computer. It does not happen often, but it DOES happen. I emailed Microsoft and they responded right away with a list of 4 possible fixes. None worked and when I told them so I go (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) a phone call from a tech. We worked together on the problem for about 30 minutes, but were not able to fix it. In the process, I learned a lot about how their internal search function works. All interesting, but in this case, not useful. After we got off the phone I searched their pages to try to find an answer using my newly acquired insights. Still no solution (sigh). Microsoft searches tend to be opaque and verbose and void of answers. After a few hours, I Googled the problem, got an answer, applied it and was back is service. Microsoft time over 4 hours and no answer. Google time was less than a minute (and Google found the answer in Microsoft's web pages). I give Microsoft an A for effort and even attitude while Google gets a C for effort (they didn't seem to strain at all) and an A for results.
So when the tech from Microsoft called back again to follow up (AMAZING!!) I told him how I solved the problem. I wonder what they will do with that information? Learn? We can hope.
Comment by Alan Pitas on March 30, 2010 at 9:41am
It is often difficult to diferentiate between incompetence and maliciousness. I would suggest that issue you raise is one of incompetence. First of all, you have a data set with only one point. Extrapolating from single rat is notoriously bad form. For instance, I've installed all of the MS XP patches when requested and never had a problem. Does that mean that MS is a wonderful company working hard to provide support for customers who haven't paid them a penny in years. I don't think so. Both my children purchased laptops with Vista two years ago. Both are very happy with their machines. Does that mean that Vista is a better product than XP? Having two data points is hardly an improvement. Before you slander MS perhaps you should do a little more research.

The fact that you've taking a swing at our cultures favorite piñata is in fact not surprising. What does surprise me is that an editor for a magazine that serves the mechanical engineering field considers this problem an issue. The fact is that engineering software runs on WinTel machines. Running Suse or Leopard may satisfy some subconscious need, but it won't get the work done. Windows is our joy and our curse. The joy portion is that we can leverage off the needs of the general populace to multiply our own functionality. The curse portion of the equation means that you either always get OS disks when you buy a new machine, or you know someone you trust to fix things when MS goes south. How is it you didn't know this?
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on March 23, 2010 at 6:33am
At the risk of sounding evangelical, may I offer another way to show your displeasure to Microsoft without going to Mac (Which would most likely be running Microsoft Office, do you're still giving Gates money for 'attacking' your XP system.

Step 1: buy and install a new HD for the Dell, so that the original one is safe and secure in an anti-static bag for now.

Step 2: Install Linux on the new HD, in whatever flavor you prefer. I personally find Ubuntu Linux to be a nice 'fire and forget' installation, almost as easy and self-directed as an OEM Windows install.

Step 3: if your version of Linux did not come with, download and install

Step 4: connect your old HD to the computer as a secondary drive. Linux should allow you to mount the Windows partition for data access, and can read and write MS Office file formats, so you can get at your 'trapped' data, and can also save the new columns in the format your Editor wants on his desktop.

If you still want to complain to Dell and try to get them to fix things under their service plan (assuming the service plan is still active) You would probably want to build a 'white box' computer out of 'spare parts,' which you can get from any decent computer store these days, then hook up the Dell's HD to the White Box system and copy the files to the Linux partition so you can work with them while Dell complains that it is Microsoft's problem, not theirs.

The more people who show that Microsoft isn't needed in their lives, the less power Microsoft will have over us.

If Microsoft will not repay the lost dollars and lost hours to millions of people, it's time the people repaid Microsoft by abandoning it and not giving them any more money.


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