A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Friday, June 27, 2003

Microsoft's XP beta testing program

Yes, since 24 June I've been a beta tester for the Windows XP Hotfix (SP2). I'm about to send them an invoice for three hours of my time.

This is how I enrolled on the program:

1. I accidentally clicked on the Automatic Updates tray icon
2. I [Alt-Tab]ed away from the Automatic Updates window
3. Some time later I hit [Enter] whilst the focus was on the Automatic Updates window
4. The Automatic Updates Install started
5. As I'd applied some in the past I didn't bother trying to stop it

The next day, whilst saving a Word document my PC rebooted. At the time I thought I'd kicked the power cable (despite the fact that I've taped it so that it shouldn't happen). When XP restarted I checked the error report. It contained the following:

BCCode : 6 BCP1 : 00000000 BCP2 : 00000000 BCP3 : 00000000
BCP4 : 00000000 OSVer : 5_1_2600 SP : 1_0 Product : 256_1

and said more details were in these files:


When the same thing happened a few hours later, I knew that it wasn't a one-off. The error report contained the same information.

Now this is the clever bit. I'm sure that most people don't bother sending those error reports to Microsoft, but I did because I knew that it wasn't just an ordinary program crash. Microsoft also know that I installed some updates the previous day, so they should be able to tie the two events together, and if other people had done the same thing...you get the idea.

By this morning I'd kind-of forgotten about the two crashes. Until I had another one (again when saving a Word document). This time I thought a bit and realised that the only thing that had changed on my machine was the automatic update from Microsoft. Handily each of the updates were listed separately in the add/remove programs list in Control Panel. Not so handily, removing each of them required a reboot, until I decided to "End Task" the uninstall program each time it got to the "Click Finish to restart your machine" dialogue box. This saved another three reboots.

This might not have been a good idea because it didn't fix the problem.

When the "Send error report" dialogue box comes up it's worth checking what the files it refers to contain. One of the two is called sysdata.xml and sits in a directory in your /Temp folder. However, when you select either "Don't send report" or "Send error report" this temporary directory gets deleted, so you need to take a copy of it when the dialogie box pops up. This is what I found in the one I opened (along with a lot of other stuff):

<CREATIONDATE>06-24-2003 07:41:42</CREATIONDATE>
<PRODUCTNAME>Microsoft� Windows� Operating System</PRODUCTNAME>

<CREATIONDATE>06-24-2003 07:32:51</CREATIONDATE>
<PRODUCTNAME>Microsoft� Windows� Operating System</PRODUCTNAME>

<CREATIONDATE>06-24-2003 07:46:22</CREATIONDATE>
<PRODUCTNAME>Microsoft� Windows� Operating System</PRODUCTNAME>

There were three entries for drivers with the date of the Automatic Update.

This made me realise that the uninstalls hadn't worked, so next I decided to re-install XP SP1. Not easy; when you try and do this from the Microsoft site, it realises that it's already there and doesn't offer it as an option. Instead I downloaded the full service pack and installed it from my machine (actually SP1a because it's minus Microsoft's Java VM - I expect you know why this was removed, but wait a minute...).

Still no fix.

Then some light. When my machine rebooted again, and after I submitted another error report I was taken to the Microsoft online crash analysis site. What a good idea - shame it didn't work earlier. Although it said the crash was caused by a driver failure, it didn't know which one. By now I had a good idea, though. The beacon in my increasing glooom was a link outlining how I could restore my system to an earlier point in time. If you remember NT, you'll know that this sounds like the "Last known good menu". This is much better.

System Tools -> System Restore.

You click on the date before you applied the updates and that's it!

It worked.

I don't know which of these updates was causing the problem, but it was one of them:

System Update V4

Feedback welcome.

And the moral of the story? Don't install Automatic Updates from Microsoft.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?