A friend for whom I built a computer about six years ago started having trouble with her Windows XP installation. I’ve already narrowed it down to a driver or startup service issue, but it is truly unbelievable not only how hard it is to arrive at that diagnosis (thanks to missing, obscure, or obfuscated documentation), but then to fix it non-destructively in a reasonable amount of time. To approximate that span, find a comfortable chair and wait for your beard to grow to the length of your forearm. (If you are female, make that the width of your hand.)
The Microsoft troubleshooting practice for this problem is something like the following:
- Try safe mode.
- What? That didn’t work? Oh, in that case, we invite you to drill down through roughly 350 links until you find a completely useless MSDN page that pretends to be about your problem, but is really about this other problem over here.
- Sure, you could Google this, but then you get hundreds of links to people who have EXACTLY the same problem as you, only unlike Linux, no one can actually diagnose the problem because we’ve made that impossible.
- UNLESS you’d like to hook up a serial cable to your spare computer, and debug the kernel and whatever stack trace you get.
- What? You’re not a kernel developer?
- What? You don’t have another computer?
- What? You don’t have a null serial cable?
- Never mind, just reinstall Windows, and kiss all your installed programs goodbye. That’s what everyone does in this case, even though it’s just a futzed driver or service.
- Oh wait — did we mention when you reinstall, you can’t do it without blowing away all your user data files? Oops, our bad. Glad you bought that extra USB hard disk now, aren’t you?
- What? You don’t have an extra USB hard disk?
- By the way, remember to buy your Vista upgrade right away!
OK, this is a slight exaggeration, in that I actually do have a spare computer and USB hard disk. But can you really imagine Joe Sixpack trying to remotely debug his ailing computer over a serial link? Compare this to the actually helpful Google-provided universe of informative information on fixing common Linux problems.
This moment of community self-confidence boosting has been brought to you by the letter “Q” and Stolichnaya.