Taking time to do it, err, right

Posted on Jan 17, 2005

Last weekend I installed Microsoft Windows XP twice. The two machines in question are very similar in specification - ~700Mhz Pentium III processors, 256MB RAM, IDE disk, etc. The first install (on the slightly faster machine) took around eight hours. The second install took just under an hour.

Why the difference? The second machine is not, and will never be, connected to the internet. On that basis a straightforward installation of XP with Norton anti-virus thrown in is good enough. The machine will run a handful of educational software packages and nothing else.

The first machine had a similar start in life, XP then Norton, but then the two diverge. Norton needed to Live Update to grab the latest virus details (incidentally, my wife, who used to look after networks of Windows XP systems for money, swears that a virus definition file that is more than a few days old is a serious risk). That’s a pretty quick process really, taking ten minutes or so. Installing Norton before connecting the machine to the internet is vital though - past experience suggests that vanilla XP machines at our house have about ten minutes of peace before they are attacked.

Then on to Windows Update. Downloading the twenty-four security patches that I need before I can install Service Pack 2 takes quite a while - not helped by the occasional blip in connectivity courtesy of BT Openworld. Then on to download Service Pack 2 and wait for the whole installation process.

Given that this machine is permanently connected to the internet it’s reasonable to get virus definition files updated daily and allow Windows Update to download patches as necessary. In the near future I’ll be building another XP machine that will be connected to the internet only occasionally over dialup. How is that going to work? I can pre-installed Service Pack 2 before sending the machine off, but it seems that it won’t be possible to get much work done for the first twenty minutes of being online at 57.6kbits/sec due to the need to ensure that the next ten minutes is safe.

I doubt that Microsoft is alone in suffering this problem - being the most prevalent provider of operating system software means that you are the most obvious target for the idiots. That’s not to say that Microsoft haven’t had poor practises in the past (hey, they have to be getting better, right?) and some shoddy software - but then we all have some shoddy software somewhere.

Mostly I find the experience of installing and patching XP depressing. My time is obviously cheap, else I’d find a better way.