PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

No visible means of support
October 1998

Those of us in the IT game for the past ten years have evolved with the times and take a lot for granted - no more so than in the case of the growing complexity of support for event the humblest of "entry level" office computer systems. Some things have got simpler (modems pretty much work without a struggle these days, printers are far less grief than they used to be) but most things have got wickedly more complicated, and so the problem of support is growing for those smaller enterprises and individual users who have no permanent IT staff.

In fact, the problem of support for companies with permanent help desk and support staff is out of control in many instances, and especially where the bean counters have obstructed progress and insisted that 4 year old PCs be duly used until they are written off the books when any sane MIS policy would junk all hardware over two years old - or at the very least be retired from anything approaching front line productivity use.

Ten or so years ago, just about everyone that wanted to use a PC was an anorak of some degree, and capable of living with the foibles of the relatively simple DOS software environment, albeit that folks like Lotus did their level best to make life difficult by using arcane copy protection schemes that had consequences elsewhere in the system. (Those were the days, kids today don't know what a 360k floppy looks like…)

Ten years ago, software companies had support lines that were staffed (more often than not) by helpful people who new the products (software companies in those days tended to have a relatively narrow product line).

Ten years ago, a PC was measured in terms of "IBM PC compatibility" by its ability to run MS Flight Simulator and Lotus 123. Somewhere along the line, Lord Gates headed IBM off at the pass, and the issue is nothing to do with IBM any longer - it's all about Windows certification.

Top of the lists of the "things that bite you in the fundament" is the Windows registry. The temple keepers of strange and ancient religions would be proud of the mysteries that Gates & Co. have wrought in otherwise coldly rational technology through the device know as "The Registry".

In case you haven't seen this (for it reasonably well hidden from the unwary, this is what it looks like:

<registry1.gif: Errr.. wossat?>

The registry is like the connection between the brain and the spinal column of your computer. It's a database that contains all the stuff that the operating system needs to know to connect the applications software to the hardware. It contains many strange and awesom incantations, and enticements to performs unnatrual rite. Such as the one here - namely -

Edit String: {4D36E96C-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}

You of course do so at your peril. It would be like trying to rearrange a few nerve ends to tune your biceps at the brain stem.

Let's remember what the Registry replaced, allegedly to make PC management better and simpler/ It replaced things called INI files, which we all duly cursed in Windows 3 as these contained weird and unnatural things like (from my NT4 system):



BookTitle[1]=The Chambers Dictionary


BookSearch[1]=1 1


TextWinSize=510 236 1055 870

EntryWinSize=237 366 476 1001


ResultWinSize=65 158 520 358


Hang around. This isn't so weird and unnatural is it? At least, not compared to

Edit String: {4D36E96C-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}

In fact, it's positively intuitive, located in Windows directory and called "chambers.ini".

Look through it. You could be forgiven for thinking that that this was a file that had something to do with a Chambers Dictionary application, located on drive L. Elementary, my dear Watson.

So we have replaced the intuitive and obvious, with the arcane and obscure in the name of progress. Yup, that's about right for this mad game.

But worse is yet to come, one of the reasons that the registry was installed was to enable Windows to track what's been installed, so it can be more easily uninstalled!

You mean there's this dirty big (my registry is 6Mbyte large, and it's hardly going to make any record books) database, over which you have no control or any viable means of analysing - other than by sharing the blind faith that Microsoft and all the software writers who share this blind faith, will have got it all 100% right - when just one bad entry in this 6Mbyte will prevent your system from booting at all..?

And you are going to run programs that reach in and remove bits of it, not quite at random..?

That's the idea.

So when you de-install that shaky application, and it removes something that another program needed and it all goes wrong, what are you left to do? Restore the last backup? What backup?

Windows is updating the registry all the time - many programs store the details of the last position of the windows when you close them. Just imagine what can happen if the system hangs, or the power is pulled while this thing called the Registry is being written to disk…

Imagine trying to manage an organisation of thousands of users faced with this challenge. The only answer is to rule the users with a rod of iron - and dumb everything and everyone down to the bare minimum of everything.

No wonder Microsoft promote Windows 95 and now 98 as a games and home user system. The biggest game of them all comes bundled free by Microsoft, and it's called …?