Thursday, April 12, 2007

Microsoft OneCare dies: XP hangs by a thread

About seven months ago, when Norton Antivirus came up for renewal, I switched to Windows/Microsoft Live OneCare. I was tired of quality and performance issues with NAV. I figured Microsoft, since they owned the OS, would manage the performance/reliability issues better. I thought Microsoft couldn't screw it up.

Wrong. First, the sign-up process was amazingly buggy. Then, from the first day of use OneCare flagged many benign files as suspicious. More recently an update failure uncovered a disturbing number of red flags. Yesterday, OneCare went over the edge.

I'd seen an update notice when I shut down the day before. When I restarted yesterday morning I received the dreaded "memory could not be read" svchost.exe startup message. This is Microsoft's singularly unhelpful way of saying something is wrong with deep in the bowels of the services that underlie XP. In the past it has appeared after I've installed an Office update (due to an egregious and longstanding bug in the Office updater).

This time the problems were deep. I could only use the machine for a few minutes before it became unresponsive. On a power down and restart I couldn't get past the 'applying settings' part of a login, I had to do a soft boot to get further.

I suspected a drive error, but a drive scan was clean. I though of rolling back to a prior system restore, but I discovered I'd disabled system restore when fixing up an old XP problem and forgotten to restore it. I didn't want to reinstall the OS, so my next step was to try uninstalling badly behaved software.

Two applications were at the top of my list. Windows Live OneCare and Adobe Acrobat Professional (AAP has a famously badly behaved updater). I started with OneCare.

That did the trick. Once I'd uninstalled OneCare every problem went away. I purged Windows Defender for good measure.

I didn't like NAV, so what should I do for antiviral software now?

Well, let's assess the risks. I'm the only user of this machine and my email is filtered by an average of three different layers of antiviral filtering (spamcop, gmail and visi). I don't install any new Windows software of any sort on this machine, I do almost all my work on one of our ultra-reliable trouble-free OS X machines. I have an automated nightly backup system. I use Firefox, not IE. My network is behind two different NAT router/firewalls with different vendors and my wireless network is WPA2 with a strong password.

Screw it. OneCare is a far greater risk to me than the world of viruses and NAV is in the same league. I'm going "bare".

Meanwhile, I'm going to start moving the file sharing function off this old box onto the iMac. I run Parallels/Win2K on my MacBook for the rare Windows app I need (Microsoft Access a few sundry others), it might be time to donate my one remaining PC use the MacBook as my desktop.

Update 4/13/07: There's one other bad actor in my software collection -- Dantz (now EMC) Retrospect Professional for Windows. If I had to guess what went badly wrong in my XP install, I would look first at some interaction between Retrospect, OneCare, Microsoft Update and maybe one or two other variables. Mercifully, I don't need to bother pursuing this one any further. Retrospect Pro is the main reason I keep the XP box running, so when I eliminate the box I'll dump Retrospect Pro as well. (EMC, somewhat tardily, has begun offering trial versions of Retrospect. I will test their Retrospect Desktop for OS X network backup product and report on my experiences. I'd hoped to test EMC's mettle by seeing how well and quickly they supported OS X 10.5, but the delay to that release means I'll have to try them on 10.4 instead).

Update 4/21/07: It's one thing to uninstall OneCare, another to kill the OneCare account. The account auto-renews forever. You can't change this online, you have to phone Microsoft to cancel. I tried this tonight. The phone rang a bit, then came a voice .. "Microsoft is closed". Click.

I'll try calling @10am PT Monday. I wonder if there's money in shorting Microsoft ...

Update 4/22/07: OneCare support has the world's most obnoxious hold music. They alternative up-tempo elevator music with two repetitive sales pitches spoken in a cheerfully grating tone. I got to listen to a lot of that today. After a half-hour I went to lunch, when I returned the line had gone dead. So the wait time was probably 40 minutes. I'll try again tomorrow. Has Microsoft imploded?

Update 4/24/07: Waited 30 minutes on hold. Called back and pushed 9,9,9. Got a support-referral person. They suggested I try option 2 for tech support. Got someone there. They said hours for the account services are 5am-10pm M-F PST and 5am-5pm PST Sat/Sun. They also suggested calling Microsoft's Money-Back-Guarantee line at 888-673-8624. They put through to another tech support number. They said I can't stop the account renewal process without support giving me an "ASIS" number. They transferred me to fee-based technical support where I listened to hold music. Then I gave up. I'll try calling billing at 5am PT tomorrow.

Update 4/25/07: I ignore the "get an ASIS number first" advice and and call the billing number again at 8:45am PT. Got through immediately -- but that was a false alarm. I'd hit option 3 twice, and errant key presses bring up a human router. She laughs maniacally when I mention OneCare and sends me back to the accounts line. I decide to wait 10 minutes. After seven minutes of the insanely irritating hold music and repetitive marketing patter I decide Microsoft owes me a copy of Macintosh Office 2007 and I contemplate piratical acts. At minute eight the phone picks up. I'm asked why I want to dump OneCare. "Because it has caused far more damage to my system than any virus I've seen". There are no further questions, and to my disgruntled surprise I get a prorated credit of $32. End of story, except, of course, for a post to Gordon's Notes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just cleaned Onecare off of a client's PC (I'm a freelance computer tech). This thing was horrendus - it freezes the comp when trying to shut down, prevents the add/remove programs list from populating, and constantly crashes other programs. Seriously, it made the system extremely unstable. The poor guy has this thing installed for 3 months...