Saturday, February 18, 2006

Don't Try This at Home: Tales from the XP Fringe.

There are some recurring themes in life that spell trouble, no matter what angle you come at it from. One of them is anything to do with America Online, a/k/a AOL. Another one is anything to do with Norton Antivirus. Although antivirus software is a necessary evil, Norton's clunky, memory munching, file hiding, always ready to intervene if you turn it off or install a competitive product software has become the bane of my computing existence.

I've got an old IBM PC that I use as a file cabinet and experimental platform. It's undergone a lot of surgery in the quest for low cost computing. It started out life as a bargain basement PC but it's had an 833 mhz Athlon in place of the 500 mhz original unit, it's been made wireless capable, a BIOS update (that was scary) a CD/RW drive installed, a new power supply, 384 mb of memory and a 120 gb hard drive salvaged from a deceased TiVO receiver. I've gotten pretty good at tinkering with it, and stripping out the operating system causes me no grief.

Enter Norton. I've been dissatisfied with their product (Antivirus 2002) for some time. It runs in the background and causes crashes when the IBM sits idle for any length of time. Hence the quest for something better and less expensive. I ran the Norton uninstaller. That part of it was fine, I got AV-G Free from the Grisoft people.

Then what I found was that the Norton product, like a compulsive packrat, archived files in the hard drive and in the computer's registry that would create error messages and otherwise make life difficult and boring.

I ran the Norton uninstall utility (Rnav) for persistent uninstall problems. It added files in out of the way places. Ultimately what was required was laborious searches for Symantec or Norton files and registry keys and manual elimination.

So I squandered 3 or 4 hours in this procedure. At my age, things that waste my time are a pain in the ass-I mean, how much time do I have left?

Well. So far, so good. A deletion of Antivirus 2004 on the Toshiba laptop went well, and the Grisoft product went in flawlessly.

Then it happened.

During a download of a freeware antivirus program someone sent me an instant message. Instant operating system crash, the worst I've ever seen. Then it seems that the program, Antivir, insisted on fighting with Norton. The result was at least 20 attempts to reboot without much success. I couldn't get to System Restore. Then, I figured, "OK-what the hell. I'll reinstall XP and lose 2 years worth of work." Even that didn't work-it couldn't boot from the CD. So down the stairs to the IBM to see if I could download floppies to do the same thing. I'm still a believer in floppy drives, by the way-particularly in the Windows environment.

Anyway, I rebooted the Dell one last time and left it for two hours while I got my floppies formatted and downloaded the XP stuff. When I returned, the desktop was there. Although it took several minutes to load, I found the path to System Restore and saved the day. Damn, did I ever dodge the bullet that time.

The moral of the story should be obvious for Windows users. If you don't need it, dump AOL instant messaging and Norton Antivirus. But be careful of your efforts in this regard because they will punish you if they catch you in the act of deletion or substitution or even A/B comparisons.


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