Bundles of joy

As a technology progresses, part of the improvement ought to be that previously difficult tasks become easier. Jobs that might formerly have required third-party software should now be able to be done using solutions that are built in. Often such bundling issues can cause enormous arguments, though – remember all the time and effort wasted over the issue of whether Windows should have a media player built in or not (or a web browser). Of course, we had no problems with a basic Paint program coming bundled, nor a calculator, nor a text editor, but once millions of third-party dollars get involved perceptions can get a little warped.

Bundles of joy

One area where I won’t compromise, however, is in the ability of an operating system to store, archive and recover itself. This is 2007, dammit, not the days when the dinosaur DOS 4.1 roamed the lands. Any OS that deserves my money must be able to both look after my data and itself; requiring third-party tools to recover my base OS simply isn’t acceptable. Previous Microsoft OSes have all been “challenged” in this area. Since time immemorial, Microsoft has been bundling a cut-down version of a third-party backup product with the Windows NT/2000 product family, and to describe it as limited would be too kind. Anyone with pretensions to enterprise-level computer management had to pay good money for an expensive product from another vendor, as the need for support for technologies like auto loaders and multitape drives was inescapable.

With XP Home, the situation is even more dire, as even the built-in Backup program is nowhere to be found. If you go to Add/Remove Programs, there’s no sign of it. Indeed, to get the damnable thing installed, you need to go back to your XP Home installation CD, drill down among the sub-directories to locate the appropriate MSI installation file, run it, and the Backup program will be put onto your machine. That Microsoft makes installing it so difficult could be viewed as an admission that it isn’t particularly useful for the XP Home user once installed…

With Vista, of course, we’re raising the bar. This is a new, ultra-modern 2007-style OS, and so it’s perfectly appropriate to judge it by the needs and risks of today. These days, the home user stores an increasing portfolio of multimedia content on their hard disks: images from digital cameras; scans from their shiny new all-in-one device; music from their CD collections and download purchases; images gleaned from the web; URLs of interesting sites; and an increasing load of email (and let’s not forget chat logs from their MSN or AOL chat facility). This accretion has been termed the new digital life that people have nowadays, and they tend to get very upset if it all disappears.

Now there are two kinds of computer user in the world: those who’ve never lost data, and those who have. The latter group are still numbed and get upset whenever you remind them of the occasion when their “life” disappeared in front of their eyes. When I get a call from a relative asking me to help, I always drop back into my ideological stance: “Vape the hard disk and reinstall the OS, then run the backup program to bring your data back in.” This is usually met by a quiet squealing noise, expressive of the fact that they don’t actually have any backup. “Even better,” I heartlessly reply, “the vape and reinstall will take less time then.” Once they recover enough composure to continue talking, they inform me that all the information was vitally important and irreplaceable. I then inform them that they must be wrong, because “if it was that vitally important, you’d have had a trusted and tested backup solution in place to protect it, wouldn’t you?” If I’m lucky, at this point the phone gets slammed down onto the hook and I don’t get to speak to that relative/friend/acquaintance again for at least six months.

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