Sunday, July 13, 2008

Everybody Makes Mistakes

So, yesterday I got several messages from the Tampa Bay Computer Society concerning the complete loss of Internet access by a large number of people. Seems a recent Microsoft update (KB951748) caused Windows XP/2000users who use ZoneAlarm to lose their Internet access if their ZA security level was set higher than Medium. Windows Vista users weren't affected, nor were those folks still limping along on Windows 98 and ME.

Also unaffected was everyone who had previously taken my advice and uninstalled ZoneAlarm. If you're running Windows 2000 and need a firewall, or you're running Windows XP, and want more firewall than the built-in model, you should be running PCTools Firewall Plus. It's a tenth the size of the latest ZA bloatware, and in software terms, smaller almost always translates as faster.

If you absolutely MUST stay with ZoneAlarm (maybe you lost a bet or something), click the link below to see what to do about the latest problem. It's my understanding that they've already released a fix, or a new repaired version, or whatever; to be truthful, I don't care enough to go see which is the case. I'm using PCTools Firewall Plus, and having no connection problems at all, thank you very much. ZoneAlarm SNAFU Correction

 [recent addendum: I've removed PCTools Firewall - it starting blocking access to sites and services I wanted, and I couldn't seem to correct it from within the program. Now using just the Windows firewall. 6-13-09]

So, who do you blame when Microsoft releases an update that breaks a third-party program? Depends... but I tend to blame Redmond for most if not all of my computing woes. It's so seldom that it's not actually their fault, it just isn't worth the time trying to give them the 'benefit of the doubt', so to speak.

Case in point: Windows XP Service Pack 3. Have you loaded it yet? DON'T! I let it load on my laptop during a recent visit to the WindowsUpdate site. Bootup time increased to about 4 minutes. But that ain't the worst of it! Each time I tried to open Internet Explorer 7, it took 4 to 4 1/2 minutes for the first web page to open. After I had a page on-screen, I could click on links to my heart's content, and each popped dutifully open within seconds. It was only opening the application and rendering the first page that was excruciatingly SLOOOOW. Of course, Firefox had no such problem, so I used it for a few days while I tried to fix the problem with IE.

For the record:

1. Service Pack 3 would not uninstall from the Add/Remove Programs module in Control Panel, though it had promised beforehand that it would.

2. System Restore failed every time I tried to revert to the day before SP 3 loaded. Don't know why, it had worked every time I had needed it before.

3. Re-installing Internet Explorer now that SP 3 was installed didn't help.

4. Re-installing SP 2 seemed to complete successfully, despite SP 3 already being installed, but the problem with IE 7 persisted, and now I know I'm not comfortable with how messed up my system files must be. So...

I dumped all my personal files to a 4 GB thumb drive, booted from my Windows XP CD, formatted the hard drive, and reloaded Windows. I made nearly a dozen trips to the WindowsUpdate site, AGAIN! , until Service Pack 3 was the only update listed that I hadn't installed. I dumped the thumb drive back to the hard drive, and all was finally well. No more than 10 or 12 hours of my time wasted.

My recommendation:
Open Control Panel » Automatic Updates.
Click the radio button next to Notify Me But Don't Autmatically Download or Install Them » click OK.
Now, anytime there are critical updates available, a yellow shield will appear in your System Tray. Click it, then click on Custom. Look down the list of available updates; if one of them says Windows XP Service Pack 3 (may be abbreviated to SP3), remove its check mark before clicking on Download.
You'll get asked again once the updates have finished downloading. At this point, since you already excluded SP3 from the download, don't bother llooking down the list --- just allow all downloaded updates to install.

Hope I've helped, or at least not caused any damage.