Windows PCs come in for a lot of critism about reliability but most of that is unfounded. You see, it’s not that Windows is particularly bad, but it’s actually down to the sheer number of permutations of hardware and software that are available and quality of the applications that we load on top of Windows (or inside Windows in the case of device drivers).
My wife’s PC is an old Compaq Deskpro EN6350 SFF that I gave her when she set up her public relations consultancy business a few years back. I originally installed Windows 2000 Professional on it before I moved to Australia in 2001. When I returned to the UK the next year I upgraded it to Windows XP, and since then I’ve applied software patches, anti-virus and anti-spyware updates and added a Wireless network adapter. That’s it. And although it’s a bit on the slow side now, it’s fine for Internet access, e-mail and a bit of word processing – which covers 99% of what my wife does with the PC. My point is, that after 5 or 6 years I haven’t had to rebuild Windows, clean out the registry, or do anything else with it, and it generally only needs a reboot when a software update requires that the system is restarted. I have similarly reliable PCs of my own – basically well maintained, with nothing that’s likely to upset system stability – and it all works very nicely.
The trouble is that now I’m entering the world of cheap software packages for consumer use (you know the sort of thing – the CD/DVD that’s free with the Sunday newspaper or found for a fiver or less in the bargain bin at PC World) and having written about my experiences of installing childrens’ software last weekend, I then experienced the other extreme of educational software – a little package called “Noddy – Let’s Get Ready for School“.
It didn’t start off well as running the application installer initially produced a really unhelpful dialog with a red stop icon and an OK button (no title or error message), so I tried again as Administrator and the InstallShield installer ran as expected. Once installed, I launched the application to find that a) it wasn’t really installed at all (the CD was still required throughout and the installer appears to have just created a few icons) and b) the program reset the screen to 640×480 mode before crashing.
I checked the specifications on the box: Pentium processor at 90MHz or better (I was using a 1.4GHz Pentium 4 M); 16-bit colour (I was using 32-bit color) and Windows 95 or 98 (I was using XP – Windows 9x operating systems are now unsupported so I would hope that vendors would stop selling appllications that rely on them, even if they do cost only a few pounds).
Running the application in Windows XP’s Windows 95 compatibility mode solved the crash issue but even so, it still insisted on me downgrading the graphics to 16 or 24-bit colour. After running successfully as Administrator, I logged out and logged back on with my son’s (unprivileged) account to find that running the application produced the following error message:
Director Player 6.0
Unable to copy the driver file C:\WINDOWS\xobglu16.dll to your Windows directory.
Your disk may be full.
The disk was far from full, but writing to the system root folder would be subject to NTFS access permissions. Indeed, using RunAs to elevate my permissions let me run the application with no apparant issues (except that I don’t want a toddler to have to enter a password to run a game), so I tried to copy the xobglu16.dll file myself (the file doesn’t appear on the CD, but is present in %systemroot% whilst running the application using an account with the necessary privileges – e.g. Administrator – along with a similarly-named xobglu32.dll). It seems crazy that a program would copy DLLs to %systemroot% each time it is run but, nevertheless, that seems to be the case; however if I copy them myself it crashes.
In the end I resorted to making my son’s account a power user on the machine (running a sandboxed Windows 98 installation in a virtual machine would have been another option, but less user friendly). Still, at least I didn’t have to make him an administrator.
In fairness, I should have been ready for this, having spent many hours trying to get various items of software aimed at little people to run successfully on my friends’ PCs but I did think the fact that this particular package was produced by BBC Multimedia would be a good thing. Clearly I was wrong and the BBC should stick to television programming (maybe it’s no coincidence that BBC Multimedia no longer publishes computer and video games).