Windows installation makes me look bad

c: | f: /

After many years of installing Windows for people who should know better, I’ve come to the conclusion that operating system makers enjoy raising my blood pressure.

After successfully obliterating the memories of Windows 3.1 and NT from my subconscience, the first installation of Windows I recall back in 1998 was Windows XP. After it had loaded all the files off the disc and rebooted, it proudly stated it was going to take 39 minutes to complete, counting down(ish) while displaying natty screens about how much better the OS was than rhubarb crumble.

You did have to nurse XP through the procedure, which was a pain. Rather than collect all the info up-front it asked you for stuff like your keyboard and language preferences, went away for fifteen minutes or so then asked you for some date and time stuff. A few minutes after that, for some network info, then right at the end for your login credentials. Oh, and the access key was requested somewhere in there too.

Fast-forward to Windows 7 and have things improved? A bit. You no longer have to nurse it through the installation, which is a bonus as it simply bookends the installation process with all necessary questions — something borrowed from Linux installers. But unless you have been blessed with / had the foresight to create a slipstream copy with all the Service Packs/updates already on it, you’re in for a very bumpy ride thereafter.

Updates are available for your computer

Once installed (and it takes less than 39 minutes now), the first thing that greets you after clicking Check for Updates is this:

Windows: update the updater before updating.

Fine, whatever. I let it update the updater before allowing the check for updates to continue the update process.

And reboot.

After checking for updates again, I’m cheerily informed there are 60-odd comprising many, many hundreds of megabytes, so I let it download and install them. One or two fail, so I have to repeat the process.

And reboot.

Great, all done. But what’s this icon down here in the tray: “There are updates available”… what?! Clicking that informs me that there is an important update, so I let it do it.

Aaaand reboot.

Again, the tray notification informs there’s more. So I kick off the next batch. This set takes absolutely forever, even though it’s only a few hundred megabytes. Once downloaded it takes about 10-15 minutes per item. Running Task Manager I notice there are a few mscorsvw.exe processes sucking up a lot of the CPU time. Googling for this indicates it’s a .NET compiler process that’s busily precompiling stuff for me so people’s .NET apps run more efficiently. If only I had the opportunity to install any.

The .NET process is supposed to take 5-10 minutes to complete, but because I’m applying updates at the same time, the hard drive and processor are fighting each other for thread superiority. If I’d known this “background” procedure was part of the update process, I’d have waited. Now I’m stuck waiting for either the hard drive to overheat and fail, or the end of the universe, whichever comes sooner.

I elect to stop the update installation (which it’s very unhappy about), and find a hotfix by running some command which purportedly finishes the .NET process off. It spews a tonne of errors that Microsoft claim it shouldn’t, and takes over 10 minutes to complete. Granted this is a lowly Pentium 4 (3GHz CPU with 2Gb RAM and an 80Gb 7200 RPM drive) so it’s not exactly the Thrust SSC of the PC universe, but it’s capable enough. Eventually it finishes doing stuff. And now I can’t restart the update process.

Reboot.

I check for updates again and kick off the installation. Since the downloaded files for this batch of updates are already in the machine’s cache, it reports there are 0Mb of 0Mb to download, but still spends ten or fifteen minutes apparently doing nothing while it verifies this (or something). Ultimately it resumes the installation procedure and cheerily informs me I need to…

Reboot.

That configures Service Pack 1, applying thousands of updates.

And it reboots.

Twice.

A reboot for all seasons

Finally, yay, I’m greeeted with a desktop I can use and can start installing my applications, then begin to transfe… wait, what’s this notification in the tray?

There are updates available for your computer.

Sheesh, enough already. Maybe it missed a couple. Checking for updates again reveals there are 167 available. Yes. 167, comprising over 700 megabytes. *sigh*. So I set it off. Twelve minutes later it starts to download them. What it was doing in the meantime I have no idea. Frustration growing, I get bored and leave it, coming back in an hour expecting to find it done.

Nope.

Sure, it’s downloaded them all, but is only 18% of the way through installing. An hour after that it’s 63% of the way through. Another half an hour it’s at 76%, so it’s slowing down. Great. By this time I’ve wasted nearly an entire day just installing updates. Not even got any applications on yet, so I just go home and leave it running.

The next day

When I came back in this morning and rebooted, guess what.

There are important updates available for your computer.

AAAARGHHH!

OSX doesn’t have any such tomfoolery. Linux has a natty little checkbox at the very start of installation: “Download and apply updates during installation”. So simple. So effective. The only time it falls foul is during upgrades from one version to another: you have to watch it, because there are quite a few times it stops to ask if you want to replace some configuration file or other that could potentially screw up your machine. But both are a fraction of the hassle of a Windows install.

During the lengthy and arduous process, colleagues and bosses drifting past the desk say things like “still going?” or “when is it going to be ready?” and my shrugs/excuses about it being a fault of the process/hardware/software are clearly met with skepticism. Simply put, it makes me appear utterly inept.

So, thanks Microsoft. Unless you’re out to prove how difficult being a sysadmin is to justify my salary, it seems you have a lot to learn about a seamless installation procedure. Or I have a lot to learn about constantly keeping slipstreamed media up-to-date for the inevitable hard drive failures when supporting today’s crop of pre-installed, single drive computer systems.

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