Windows rot is still a thing

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 27, 2019, 12:54 AM | comments: 0

Early last year, I bought my first Windows laptop in almost 12 years. It was a big deal, because those Macs I bought were awesome. But other OEM's started building really nice hardware, and Apple was charging a premium while the others built really nice stuff with the same specs, and Apple was charging too much while delivering crappy keyboards and that annoying f'ing touch bar that I did not want. You don't have to be a math genius to know that spec for spec, spending $700 or more for the same hardware was dumb. So I bought this magnificent HP laptop. And dammit, it was beautiful. Seriously, as I type on it, I'm in awe of its clicky-enough keyboard and 4K screen with painted-on typography. It's wonderful.

But a few weeks ago, about 20 months into ownership of this beautiful hardware, the machine started crashing every time I closed it. I'd open it up, and it would have to reboot, losing whatever I was working on. It seemed like an anomaly at first, but it kept happening. I started looking at the event log, and from what I could tell, it was doing a "blue screen of death" (BSOD) while it was trying to transition into sleep. Crash dumps, read with some open source tool, confirmed this. All I could tell was that maybe this was happening because of the driver for the fingerprint reader, which I never use (because this laptop uses its magic infrared camera to identify me). I couldn't just disable the fingerprint reader, and there were no updated drivers for it, so I had no idea what to do about it.

It's been almost three weeks, and I've been pretty annoyed. On weekends in particular, I let my kid play Planet Coaster on my desktop, because I spent good cash on a great 3D card. Tactically, maybe this wasn't a good decision, but I bought a nice laptop so I could work on my software projects anywhere. So with my desktop off the table, I need the laptop, since I'm trying to build hosted POP Forums as something I can sell before the end of the year. That doesn't work very well when every time I close the thing it dies.

Back in the day, before 2006-ish when I bought the first Intel MacBook, I generally expected that I had to reinstall Windows desktop about once a year. This was not a huge investment of time, because I always had a secondary hard drive that had all of my data, and that's the stuff that mattered. Thinking back though, what did non-technology people do? Flattening your hard drive and starting over, without losing stuff, was not the domain of common folk. But in those days, I could reliably expect that stuff would just break, and the only real way to repair it was to format and start over. A decade prior to that, we used to joke, when I worked at CompUSA, that the classic Packard Bell support line (they made cheap PC's at the time), was "reinstall Windows." But it really was a thing.

In my various day jobs, including Microsoft (duh), I had a number of Windows computers, and they were all generally reliable. In fact, I bought a Surface Pro 3 about five years ago, and it's been a great, reliable backup for me ever since. I still travel with it when I don't intend to write code. Not a single problem or reinstall. I don't think this is HP's fault, but it's endlessly irritating.

I finally bit the bullet today, and did a full on, delete the partition and reinstall, reinstall. The crashing seems to have stopped, but of course I need to reinstall all of the peripheral stuff, like Visual Studio, SQL Server, Docker and such. It's not a huge inconvenience, but it's not without cost either. At the very least, it's like six hours watching it install stuff while I interact with my family or grill chicken or watch Back to The Future for the first time with my son.

I do think things are better. The reinstall only required that I add an updated sound driver, and the software for the touchpad so I could properly double-click and scroll. Windows understood everything else in the laptop without extra work. But still, there was no obvious path from the crashing, and that sucks. Windows rot, as I used to call it, is still a thing. Hopefully I don't need to reinstall next year.


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