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Phrembah (a potato-like mystery)

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Holy Shitolé, Batman! [Aug. 23rd, 2008|08:07 pm]
Phrembah (a potato-like mystery)
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(Whatever happened to Robin, anyway?)

I'm trying to set up a laptop that my mom can use to check e-mail and surf the web.  I want it transparent so she can turn it on and select "Internet" or "E-Mail."  But, of course, I put an anti-virus thingy on it.  Well, between the anti-virus wanting to search for updates every time you turn it on and Windows wanting to search for updates every time you turn it on (and do I dare not let it?) it gets complicated and time consuming.  I thought dial-up service would be fine for now, and it would be except for the damn updates.  They can take a day and a half at 56KBaud.  And when they are going that slow, it makes it hard to tell if they are done or just dead.

Hmmmm . . .

So I brought it home to get it all updated and temporarily happy over a broadband connection.  This was a particularly hideous update.  The Windows XP on it was purchased over a year ago and not used.  One can imagine how many thousands of indispensable "security" updates have been added in that span of time.  And a service pack to boot.

I'm beginning to think dial-up ain't gonna cut it.  She can add broadband internet to her cable subscription for $19/mo plus a $50 hookup charge.  It's looking better all the time.  Hell, if I had to pay for it it looking better all the time.

Good.  The fourth time through the update process it finally found nothing left to update.

Should I buy her a Mac?  They're supposed to be user friendly.  Do they need to be updated daily?  The virus scanner has scanned over half a million "items" in about nine minutes on a machine that has pretty much nothing on it except Windows, AVG, Thunderbird and Firefox.  Dear.  Lord.

Oops.  I forgot.  I put Open Office on it, too.  That probably added a quarter of a million files right there (or maybe 100,000 files and 150,000 registry entries).  Oh, and don't forget the thirty or forty thousand "items" required to run Acrobat Reader 7.0.

This is the kind of shit I'm talking about: It's now scanning a bunch of files labeled "McAfee this and that."  I used the "uninstaller" to remove McAfee, but there's still all kinds of McAfee crap on there (in the Toshiba directories--this particular one is probably not Microsoft's fault) that no one will ever be able to remove short of reformatting the hard disk and installing a non-Toshiba copy of XP or Ubuntu or whatever.

I took the fingerprint reader off.  I took all of the game stubs off.  Except for solitaire (I thought she might like that).  I took everything off I could recognize as fluff.  And that's the problem.  If you're not an IT wiz (and I'm not) how can you tell how much of this Toshiba crap is fluff and how much of it will disable the machine if you remove it?

Yes, folks, we are out of control.  700,000 items scanned on a minimalist installation and we're not done yet.  Now we're scanning tens of thousands of Office and Microsoft Works files.  Office was supposedly never on this machine.  Works was supposedly removed--legally, with their damn uninstaller.  Yeah, right.  Finally, the 740,000 "items" required by our bare-bones installation have been scanned.  Geez.  Here's another grim statistic: There were 8GB used on the disk before the updates.  There are now 11GB used.

We need the Son of Linus Torvalds to write us an operating system that does a few simple things and is purposefully not universally extensible enough to run an entire government.  It would probably have to be tied to particular hardware, too, lest our moms have to spend their evenings searching for modem drivers over the internet on the neighbor's computer.  Kinda sounds like a Mac, don't it?

Hmmmm . . .
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: neo_prodigy
2008-08-24 02:49 am (UTC)
I'm saving up to get a Mac myself if that's any indication.
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From: moriarty6
2008-08-24 04:28 am (UTC)
Long story short: XP's not the problem.

Short story long: It's the bloated OEM crap I referred to in my last comment. You don't need McAfee, Norton, any of that crap. It's possible to uninstall it completely and you should; find a free alternative uninstaller on Download.com and annihilate that piece of crap off your box. Make sure you use msconfig.exe to ensure none of it is trying to start up when you power on.

Here's all you need to do for an XP "net-top" as the kids call it:

1) Install any critical security updates and the service pack. Uncheck anything in the updates that aren't labeled "critical"--they're nice to have but not required, plus it saves time. You'll never notice the difference. Once that's done, turn off Windows Update completely.

2) Turn on Windows Firewall and Data Execution Prevention. They're on by default, but make sure they're on.

3) Get your mom a Gmail account so that she'll never see any spam. Set Gmail.com as her home page so that every time she opens a browser her email is the first thing she sees. Tell her to never, ever, ever click on a link or attachment that didn't come from someone she knows in real life.

4) Profit!

I'm beginning to think dial-up ain't gonna cut it. She can add broadband internet to her cable subscription for $19/mo plus a $50 hookup charge. It's looking better all the time. Hell, if I had to pay for it it looking better all the time.

At that price, the only justification for not getting broadband were if she were getting dial-up for free, and really not even then. :)

Should I buy her a Mac? They're supposed to be user friendly. Do they need to be updated daily? The virus scanner has scanned over half a million "items" in about nine minutes on a machine that has pretty much nothing on it except Windows, AVG, Thunderbird and Firefox. Dear. Lord.

If you want to give your mom three-year-old hardware just for checking email, but pay $2000 for the privelege, Macs are fantastic.

If you buy a used Mac, understand that you're likely going to have to go through the exact same update headaches as a PC. No shortcuts there I'm afraid.

McAfee and Norton are the TSA of the Internet. It's "security theater". It's designed to make you feel better ("look at all the stuff it's cleaning!") about wasting money on an antivirus subscription that does nothing but react too late to viruses that have already come and gone, and either caught you or didn't. I'm not saying that security is something you should never think about, but the steps I mentioned above will prevent 99% of any malfeasance, and for the 1%, well, that's what backups are for. :)

I took the fingerprint reader off. I took all of the game stubs off. Except for solitaire (I thought she might like that). I took everything off I could recognize as fluff. And that's the problem. If you're not an IT wiz (and I'm not) how can you tell how much of this Toshiba crap is fluff and how much of it will disable the machine if you remove it?

Anything that's not in the C:/WINDOWS folder or subfolders is safe to delete, period. If there's a C:/TOSHIBA or C:/[LAPTOP MODEL #] folder, feel free to leave it alone to be safe, but short of maybe some ACPI functions the XP driver library will replace anything you accidentally remove.

We need the Son of Linus Torvalds to write us an operating system that does a few simple things and is purposefully not universally extensible enough to run an entire government.

He did.

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: phrembah
2008-08-24 05:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for the advice. I haven't used Norton for a few years because it became morbidly obese and I never used McAfee, but this machine came with an evaluation (read: entrapment) copy. The folks at work recommend AVG. It's cheaper, but like you say, it may be entirely for show.

Like all weekend projects, this was supposed to take two hours two weeks ago. I've got it doing what I want for the moment, but I'm thinking what she really needs is a netbook. A store-bought one.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: moriarty6
2008-08-24 05:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, McAfee stepped in after Norton became little more than an embarassing scheme, and now it's going the same way.

It's all entirely for show. This is how most antiviruses work: on a predetermined interval it logs into its main server to update its virus definitions. A virus definition is something that a McAfee employee has learned was a virus and uploaded a fix to, usually after it's already been out in the world and done what damage it can. What I mean is that all antiviruses are reactive in nature; they couldn't be proactive (which is what a consumer needs) unless they had written the virus themselves and therefore knew what it was before it got loose. And by the time you finally download the updated definition either Windows has already released a security hotfix, or you never would have gotten the virus, or, in the possible but rare worst case scenario, you've already got the virus and your computer is screwed anyway.

AV software was useful back when OSes didn't come with things like driver libraries and built-in firewalls. It's precisely because they've become increasingly irrelevant that you see them desperately shoehorned onto new OEM computers.

Forget AVG, btw. If you must have an AV proggie, and I maintain that you don't really need one for a net-top, use the open-source ClamWin.

I've got it doing what I want for the moment, but I'm thinking what she really needs is a netbook. A store-bought one.

Buying a new netbook, unless you're buying something like an Eee PC or something running gOS (which will work great), will just have you doing this cleanup all over again. If you've got it working now, just run with it.

My S.O.P. whenever I buy a new machine is to just reinstall a lean distro of XP right over it. The Windows install I'm typing this on is about 2 GB, for example. And it's not the leanest--I have an XP install disk laying around here that's about 128 megs that's just the kernel and a stripped driver library. You've just got to separate the wheat from the OEM chaff. Which, quite understandably, not everyone wants to do. Which is why Microsoft has such a terrible rep for what's otherwise a perfectly decent OS.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: phrembah
2008-08-24 06:33 am (UTC)
I will try ClamWin if I feel the need. For now, I'm taking your advice and leaving AVG off because it takes so long to load and, if you let it look for updates, then it has to dial-up and it just gets messy and confusing.

Thanks for your input.
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