Computer System Software
Norton/Symantec has a really pretty product called SystemWorks. It has all kinds of seemingly useful programs. I installed it on my computer and it worked ok. Then, my computer started to crash at random.
I thought there was bad hardware and swapped out every part including the motherboard, cpus, memory, power supply, disks, cards, etc. to no avail. I was thinking the problem couldn't be a hardware problem and had to be a software problem. Then I decided to search the web for "BAD_POOL_CALLER". It is a windows xp kernel error where free'd memory is free'd again. It relates to a device driver. After installing windows "Support Tools" and downloading and installing windows "Debugging Tools for Windows", and running dumpchk and kd (kernel debugger), it became clear that the problem was symtdi.sys. I had no clue what this was. Searching the internet, I found it is the "Symantec Redirector", which intercepts data (network traffic) so that Norton programs such as AntiVirus can process them.
(While downloading the "Debugging Tools for Windows" Norton kept telling me there was a virus in the files. Not so likely...)
The problem was that the software had a bug causing a kernel error causing my computer to crash. This is a very very bad kind of bug. No software should be released with this kind of bug. If released, it should be fixed very quickly. I know that it has had a bug for at least two months, because I run the Norton live update which is supposed to update software. But perhaps you can excuse computer crashing bugs.
Rule 1: Don't make the computer crash due to poor software. Much better to have the program crash with an error message. Even better to write correct software. If your software crashed the computer, fix it quickly and distribute the fix.
So I tried to uninstall SystemWorks. It wouldn't uninstall. It first said I needed the cd. No problem, I put the cd in. Then it said there were running programs. I tried to stop the programs, but I couldn't. I eventually reconfigured SystemWorks to disable the programs (which was not explained when I was trying to uninstall the software). Finally I uninstalled SystemWorks. But no! It left Norton antivirus and a bunch of garbage files in my computer. There was no way to uninstall antivirus, because it wasn't registered as a uninstallable program. (By the way, uninstalling SystemWorks didn't uninstall Symantec LiveUpdate nor Symantec LiveReg.)
So I tried to remove the files and directories myself. Some were being used, and after some effort, I was able to get rid of them all. But the software was still in my system. When I tried to install free AVG antivirus, I got 16 bit Windows errors related to Norton files.
Rule 2: Make it easy to correctly and completely uninstall your software. Don't leave programs installed. Don't leave files around. If you want to keep some stuff around, ask the user if it is ok, but default to remove everything.
While I am discussing SystemWorks, I had a problem Norton System Doctor (part of SystemWorks) it in an earlier installation. I sent Norton a question describing how the cpu usage sensor always read "busy". After some email exchanges, they said uninstall the software, and reinstall it. I wanted to know what had gone wrong and how to fix it. To their credit, when I reinstalled it (with a fresh install of Windows XP, it did work).
Software shouldn't break and act funny. Perhaps I have too-high standards. Perhaps commercial software is written under high pressure, and some bugs are acceptable. I have been writing software professionally for over 20 years. I have written life monitoring software (for medical devices). I have written software for NASA. Now I won't claim that I have never had a bug in my software, but through good design and testing, none of my software has had serious problems for long when deployed.
While running Norton AntiVirus, I got an error message saying my system disk was full. Turns out AntiVirus uses a temp directory to uncompress files to and perhaps for other stuff. With older versions, you could specify a disk to use for these temp files. With the 2004 version, it just uses the 'windows temp' directory. If you have a relatively small system partition, you are just *^%$ out of luck. A big step backwards in functionality.
When I switched to AVG and scanned my system, it ran much faster than Norton Anti-Virus, and it found a virus (in a file which I never used) that Norton did not detect. Since reinstalling the OS after formatting the hard drive, there have been no more crashes of any kind. It is almost as if Norton SystemWorks is a virus, crashing the computer at random intervals. Instead of getting it from the internet or from email, you get it by spending about $50.
Well, like a fool, I decided to install part of SystemWorks. I wanted the undelete file feature. I selected it from the configuration, and it was installed. But an error popped up. It said "Access Denied" for two of my partitions. I went to the Norton web page, and after lots of thrashing around, I was able to fix it for one partition. After several more hours of thrashing, I found out that the file x:\Recycler\NPROTECT had bad protection on it. I deleted it, and the error message went away. Everything was good (or so I thought). The problem was that when you right clicked on the recycle bin the option "Empty Norton Protected Files" would not appear.
I uninstalled and tried to reinstall the software. Of course, as before, I could not reinstall the software. This time it said Norton software was already installed. I searched the registry and found several hundred references to Norton and Symantec. So much for their uninstall procedure.
I formatted the hard drive, reinstalled the os,
reinstalled selected Norton utilities, and everything now
works. There are a few lessons learned here.
I read at Gibson Research Corporation reviews of different software firewalls. One of the best, and at the time, the only free one. I decided to try it for myself. It worked great. There was one odd problem however. Every so often (like every 24 hours or so), I would lose DNS resolution. That is, I could not resolve a host such as www.ibm.com. Sometimes doing an ipconfig/release ipconfig/renew would fix the problem, sometimes it would not. As time went by, Microsoft wrote a decent firewall with Windows XP SP2. Then, I read at Personal Firewall Scoreboard that ZoneAlarm was not "fully multi-processor compatible". I sent grc.com email asking to explain that, and they said they don't do support for ZoneAlarm. I looked around www.zonelabs.com and could find no info about multiprocessor problems. I called zonelabs, and they said everything was fine with multiprocessors. I uninstalled ZoneAlarm, and I have had no more problems with DNS failures. So I suspect that grc.com was 100% correct, and there is some kind of issue with multiprocessors.
Well, ZoneLabs was selling ZoneAlarm free after rebate. I sent them email asking about multiprocessor problems. Here is what they said:
From: Zone Labs Technical Support
Date: Sun, 11 Sep 2005 08:54 -0700
Subject: Zone Labs Technical Support: SMP and zonealarm
Hello and thank you for contacting Zone Labs,
ZA is not intended for use on Servers or with Server applications.
Za is a consumer based product and is intended for such use.
Here is some more information.
This Information Applies to:
All ZoneAlarm Products
I'm having a problem running ZoneAlarm on a server or in a server based enviroment.
Zone Labs does not officially support ZoneAlarm installations on servers at this time. ZoneAlarm was designed specifically for client applications on an endpoint machine. Please check our website for any developments regarding server support.
NOTE - Links to sites other than zonelabs.com are provided for the convenience of our users. Zone Labs does not provide, and is not responsible for, the content users may find on such sites.
Thank you for choosing Zone Labs,
A Check Point Company
So I asked them what a 'server' was. It turns out that I have 4 dual processor machines. Intel dual pentium pro 200mhz which is for sale. two Asus dual pentium III 933mhz, and Asus dual xeon 1.6/2.4ghz. I like them because they all have ECC memory, and are designed to be very reliable. Are they servers? I guess any dual processor system is a server according to ZoneLabs. Perhaps ZoneLabs have been hibernating for a few years, but there is this Intel thing called HyperThreading. Been around for a few years. All those systems appear to the OS to be Multiprocessor. More recently, Intel and AMD have introduced a thing called Dual Core. All those systems are Multiprocessor. I guess they are all 'servers' and ZoneAlarm is not supported on them.
Wake up and smell the future of computing. It is multi-processor. I knew that before I bought my dual pentium pro system, around 1998. I guess it will take ZoneLabs a few more years to realize it.
Take-Two uses direct-cd, which is another cd writer product from Adaptec, that makes UDF formatted cd's. It requires a boot floppy, unlike CD Res-Q which puts the boot software on the cd, and can boot off the cd. Too bad CD Res-Q doesn't work. The bad news is that it can't see most of my drives. I have a 40gig UDMA-66 drive, and 2 SCSI controllers (one unused on the motherboard), with the rest of my hard drives. Under Windows 98, Take-Two can see the UDMA-66 drive, even the NTFS partitions. But it can't see any of my SCSI controllers (even though they are Adaptec controllers the same guys who make the software). Since it can't see the Adaptec controllers, it can't see the 5 SCSI hard drives, which is a very, very serious bug.
CD Res-Q 1.3 Problems
CD Res-Q is a different story. The idea is to be able to back up the boot disk of your OS, or other disks onto a cd, which can also be a bootable cd. It can backup up to 8 gigs by spanning cd's, and the backup can be compressed. Sounds very sexy. In reality, things are not so good. In order to back up NT, you are supposed to boot to DOS from a DOS disk. So you make a DOS boot disk. The instructions for this are a bit terse, but manageable. Next you can select an entire disk (with multiple partitions), or back up a single partition.
Problem 1: You can't use CD-RW disks. Sure would be nice, because they can be reused...
Problem 2: Backing up more than one partition doesn't work. I tried to back up my 'C' drive which consists of two 1 gig FAT-16 partitions. CD Res-Q reported the error: 11020, no cd-r drive detected. There is a blank cd-r disk in my drive.
This isn't very good. Both of my partitions would easily fit on one CD-R. Perhaps it has something to do with SCSI, or that I have extended-translation turned off on my controller. But the error message is misleading at best. The program acts as if you can back up multiple disk partitions.
Problem 3: Ok, so I decide to back up the first partition. I turn on max compression, and it starts doing the backup. Shortly thereafter, I get a message on the top left of the screen saying: "Error opening image file" The backup continues. It takes about 20 minutes. It backs up 334 mb of data, writing 185mb (due to compression). It seems to be working fine. I am not sure what the error message means. When the backup is done, it gives me no more details about the error. This is very bad. I don't know what to do about the error. Is it fatal? Has it skipped a file? Have I made a coaster? I have no idea. The CD Res-Q manual doesn't seem to mention this. Plextor tech support doesn't help. The first time I call, I am on hold for 70 minutes, and they have never heard of this error message (yeah, sure). I call again. After only 15 minutes on hold, they say that Symantec really wrote the program, and that I am running the latest version (1.03). They say a new version will be out real soon now.
Still, when you do a real (tm) backup, you should be able to do a 'verify'. There is no way I could find to verify the backup was done correctly. So I have a possible good backup, and possibly a bad backup. Not a good thing for a boot disk backup. Tech support says I should backup the FAT-16 partition(s) from Windows-95. Perhaps that would work, but a good NT admin type will make the boot disk a FAT-16 disk, so you can repair it using DOS. It so happens that I have a copy of Windows-95 on my boot disk. Should you be forced to load a primitive OS in order to backup a FAT-16 filesystem? The way I see it, if it can backup NTFS, it should be able to backup FAT-16 also. Nothing in the docs indicated that you should use the DOS boot to backup NTFS but not FAT-16. Being a good NT admin, I also have 2 other copies of NT on other disks, (I have 6 hard drives).
Tech support answered the email I sent them the day I found this problem. It seemed to be only after I called them twice, and told them I sent them email. They had to hunt for it, which isn't surprising, as it was 7 days old. You would hope they would answer email sooner than that. The funny thing was their reply didn't answer any of the questions I had asked them in the email, and only verified that CD Res-Q didn't work with CD-RW disks. I replied to their reply, and thanked them, and asked them to answer the questions I had mailed to them. No reply....
Tech support said they have been very busy. I think they need to beef up their tech support. I also think that they should know every error message that their software produces, what they mean, and what to do about them. But I guess they don't agree with me. I have never had worse tech support from any company. The drive seems to be top notch, but a company is more than their hardware.
Well I got a response to my latest email to Plextor tech support. It only took 5 days to get a response, but I did get a response on Saturday evening, which is impressive. I will quote an excerpt:
There is a limitation in CD Res-Q with hard drives that have greater then 1024 cylinders. If your HDD's fall into this category then CD Res-Q is not the solution for you.
Well, that isn't so surprising, considering that it is a DOS program. I should have feared as much. I did read the manual before purchasing the drive (and bundled software), and it didn't mention any such limitation. It did say that disks were only supported up to 8gig (the limitation should be removed in a newer release). Since I didn't need any 8gig+ drives backed up, I didn't worry too much about it.
But this extended translation thing is a real nasty item. I turned it off long ago, when I only had FAT-16 filesystems, in order to reduce the amount of wasted space that micro$oft took up. I was assured that civilized operating systems like Linux (which can deal with disks up to 2 terabytes) didn't need it, and that NT didn't need it either.
Looks like I will have to search elsewhere for an elegant way to back up my disks via CD-R. I really think that the Plextor folks should mention such limitations with CD Res-Q...
If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Created with gnu emacs and template-toolkit, not some sissy HTML editor.
both have significant security issues.