Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Oh Help! and Bother!

"Oh, help!" said Pooh. "I'd better go back."

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh. "I shall have to go on."

"I can't do either!" said Pooh. "Oh, help and bother!"

I spent most of the weekend installing Norton Systemworks Premier 2005 on one of my computers. The machine is an older Compaq desktop that I try to get my wife to use so we don’t fight over the keyboard on my Dell. It is, by todays standards, not a very fast machine but is sufficient for email, web browsing and editing Word documents, which is all she ever does. It was running Systemworks 2003 (for Norton Antivirus, mostly) and the subscription for updates had run out.

What I should have done is pay to renew the subscription for another year but Symantec has gotten rather greedy about renewals and I couldn’t help noticing that I could buy the latest, greatest, “Premier” version of Systemworks on eBay for only a few dollars more than Symantec wanted to continue providing updates for the 2003 version for another year. My Scotch heritage got me in trouble again and I bought the latest software.

Sunday morning my wife pointed to a stack of miscellaneous stuffola in my office and asked me to go through it. On the top of the stack was the Systemworks disk from eBay. I thought, Ok, I’ll install that, file the papers under it, straighten up my box of unnecessary and obsolete computer cables and still have time to take the recycling to the collection center before lunch. It was a plan – a good plan I thought, consisting mostly of items from my honey-do list with the recycling part thrown it to allow me to escape from the house for an hour or so.

Thirteen hours later (with two hours taken off for supper) I finally got a clean install of Systemworks.

I have several theories for what I should have done first. Uninstalling the old version first is a likely candidate. Alternatively, making sure I installed the new version in the same directory (or at least on the same disk) as the old one might also have helped. But we will never know because what I did was to put in the new disk and click “install”.

Things went pretty well for about 45 seconds. The installer warned me that it was going to install something, and then it told me it had found an old version of Norton Antivirus and was going to uninstall that. It clicked and whirred for a while, with various files appearing in the status line, and then it beeped and displayed a dialog telling me it couldn’t find a file. I hit the “retry” button a few times and then, since it was just uninstalling the old program at this point, hit “ignore.” It went on and at the end of the install it displayed a message that the installation had failed and a link to a page on the Symantec support site telling me what to do about my install having failed.

In the next couple of hours I ran not one but two online virus scans to make sure the install hadn’t failed because of a virus, downloaded three different programs from Symantec plus one from Microsoft, made repeated use of msconfig, regedit, various obscure control panels, restarted my (rather slow) machine at least thirty times (including a few in the oddly-named “safe mode” that allows you to do dangerous things) bookmarked dozens of obscure Symantec help pages so I could browse back to them to see what to do in step 7-b after I needed to reboot in step 7-a, and cursed Symantec for making a virus checker that is harder to uninstall than any virus.

The Winnie-the-Pooh quote I started with (where Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door) is a reasonably close transcription of the error messages I saw repeatedly for the middle five or six hours of the process. One of Symantec’s help screens would walk me through the process of downloading another tool to try again to uninstall the last fragment of Norton Antivirus 2003 then would instruct me to reboot and try again to install. The installer would get about two-thirds of the way through and issue an error that the install had failed and it was attempting to uninstall. It would grind for a few more minutes and tell me that the uninstall had failed, too, and would direct me to yet another Symantec help page that might as well have been entitled “Oh Help! and Bother!”

Remember that I got into this mess in the first place by being too cheap to renew my subscription. Symantec charges $30 for phone support so I wasn’t about to call them. I did consider (endlessly) the possibility of throwing away the Systemworks disk and installing something else. The thing was: what was keeping Systemworks from installing was the near-impossibility of uninstalling the old version. Until I got that uninstalled I couldn’t install anything, and once I did get it uninstalled, I might as well install Systemworks – after all, I paid for it.

If you go to the Symantec online help site for installation failures and follow all of the “If method 1, 2 and 3 fail to work go to this page” links on all the pages you will finally get to the page that worked for me. It tells you how to restart in “safe mode” to delete all of the old install directories, use regedit to manually delete all the old keys from the registry, and download and run the “Microsoft Installer Clean Up Utility” (msicuu.exe) from Microsoft. And Eureka! A clean install!! … except.

Now the program will launch and some parts will run but very, very s-l-o-w-l-y. Some parts either don’t run or run so slowly that I never waited for the screen to load. The whole machine is stuck in the mud. Press CTRL-ALT-DEL and wait three minutes for the task manager to pop up.

Back to the Symantec help site. (Four minutes to load the browser) Browse, browse, something about the firewall blocking a script that LiveUpdate needs. Try this: Start->Run Type “regsvr32 c:\winnt\system32\jscript.dll” Reboot for the millionth time. It seems to be running. Good enough, at least, for four in the morning. I declare victory and go to bed.

The annoying thing is that I didn’t have to go with Norton. My ISP will give me Computer Associates EZ-Armor for free. I actually spent money for Systemworks (admittedly a no-box, eBay cheapie) because it does a good job. They had earned a degree of goodwill by intercepting hundreds of viruses, many of them newly-written ones that were getting by other scanners. But now they have used that goodwill up.

Most likely they will be able to earn some of it back over time. Like I said, Norton Antivirus does a good job of intercepting virii.

… but I would like my weekend back, please.

1 comment:

Calvin said...

Thanks for sharing the story. I learned something I didn't know before (the Microsoft Installer Clean Up Utility” (msicuu.exe) from Microsoft thing). I'm going to download that and keep it handy because I have had similar problems before.

I feel your pain re: losing yur weekend.