Perplexing Internet Explorer Problem

I recently ran into one of the most perplexing computer problems I’ve experienced in a long time. Naturally, the resolution turned out to be head-smackingly simple.

It involved Internet Explorer 7 on Cynthia’s computer (Windows XP). It began opening two or more windows when you clicked on a Favorite or typed an URL in the address bar. The new window(s) froze and I had to go to Task Manager, find the IEXPLORE.EXE process and End Process Tree to get rid of them. If you clicked a web link in Outlook Express, some 60+ blank IE windows popped open all at once. Oddly, if you ran IE from the quick launch icon and clicked a link on the initial home page, it worked normally.

After hours of Googling and experimenting with fruitless scans and solutions, it turned out all I had to do was re-install Internet Explorer 7.

If I had taken the time to think about the symptoms in context, it would have been obvious what to do. Earlier in the week I had re-installed Windows XP because the computer mysteriously stopped booting. (I am still not sure what happened, but when I shut down the computer to install a memory upgrade, it froze during the shut down, so I just turned it off. After that it wouldn’t boot again until I re-installed Windows XP.)

Re-installing Windows XP (with Internet Explorer 6) over the existing installation of Internet Explorer 7 undoubtedly threw something out of whack. It also messed up Windows Update: While diagnosing the IE problem, I found that there were some 80+ Windows Update patches waiting to be installed, but they all failed to install until I downloaded and forcibly re-installed the Windows Update Agent.

My First Look At Vista

I installed Windows Vista on the new development computer I’m building. This is the first time I’ve even seen Vista running. I figured that with the impending release of the first Vista Service Pack, now was as good a time as any to jump into it. (I also wanted to try out Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2, which I think requires Vista – I might be wrong about that though.)

Up until now, I have not heard much of anything good about Vista. I’m starting to see why, but I’ll get into that later.

First, the good: Vista is very pleasant to look at. All the fancy window animations and glass effects and so forth are pretty dern cool. Unfortunately none of that stuff does much to improve productivity. It just turns the mundane drudgery of opening and closing windows into more of a video game experience (it’s sort of like the extra-fancy animated computer screens you always see in science-fiction shows). (Update: I’ve, um, turned most of the fancy animation stuff off.)

The SideBar is pretty cool. It’s basically the same thing as Apple Dashboard and/or Konfabulator – it just lets you plop little widgets onto the desktop, like a clock or calendar. It’s mainly just eye candy, but it’s pretty neat. I liked the concept of widgets a lot in Konfabulator but I never found anything useful enough to justify eating up the extra CPU cycles on it. Basically your main categories of widgets are clocks/calendars, weather reports, todo lists, performance monitors, and various unconfigurable branded news readers or streaming media players, none of which are particularly needed on the desktop all the time. I expect to get bored with the SideBar and turn it off just like I did with Konfabulator.

(As a technical side note, I am not entirely clear why gadgets and widgets have to be made out of XML, HTML, and/or Javascript. What’s wrong with, like, real programs sitting on the desktop? Just wondering.)

I had been prepared for Vista to be slow, but it’s actually pretty snappy on a 2.0 GHz dual core with 2GB of memory and a GeForce 7200, a system I wouldn’t consider bleeding edge by any means.

Okay now for the bad.

The User Access Control popups are a serious WTF. There are so many of them that you simply have no choice but to disable them, or else expect to blindly click “Okay” on every popup you see without even reading it (and there will be tons of them), and God help you if a “please confirm reformatting your hard drive” confirmation should appear. I even got a UAC window trying to view (not even edit!) the desktop font DPI settings. OMGWTFBBQ! I am dead serious with the following statement: Getting a virus is a much more pleasant experience than confirming UAC popups all the time.

It’s also somewhat challenging to find things in the new interface. The default Start menu is different from anything you’ve ever seen before. I don’t know if it’s a copy of the Mac interface or what, but it’s definitely not the old Windows interface. Even if you go back to the “classic” Start menu, the Control Panel is entirely different. It’s not “Display” anymore; now it’s “Personalization.” I had to go to Google to figure out how to change the network workgroup name. All the Explorer menu structures and navigating methods are different. You’re pretty much learning a whole new user interface, about as drastic as it was going from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a hassle for those of us who want to dive right in, and/or have to switch between different operating systems all the time.

Drivers are a problem, too, just like when we all tried to migrate from Windows 95 to Windows NT 4. Vista doesn’t recognize my external USB DVD burner, which was quite strange, because I was able to boot the computer and install Vista from the very same device. After that, I had to find another IDE CDROM drive to put inside the machine in order to install the motherboard LAN driver. My MicroTek ScanMaker 4900 doesn’t have a driver for Vista, either.

My sentiments echo what everyone else is saying. I can’t say I’d recommend Vista at the moment. After a couple of weeks, I haven’t encountered anything yet that’s made me think, “Hey that’s much better than it was in XP!” So far it’s just been a lot of, “Why’d they change that??” and “Why doesn’t this work??”

I’ll stick with it at least until the Service Pack though, if for no other reason than to increase my own personal knowledge base.

Computer Upgrades

Parts for my new computer came in last Monday (the 8th). I had a micro ATX case sitting around from a year ago which I was going to put my motherboard in (because I wanted front USB connectors, which my current case doesn’t have), but it turned out my current motherboard wouldn’t fit. So to avoid wasting the case, I was finally forced to buy a new motherboard. :)

So I’ve built a new development computer (2.0GHz Duo Core, 2GB, 250GB drive running the brave new frontier world of Windows Vista). Next I’ll take the old development computer (2.4GHz P4 1GB) and turn it into a media computer/database server for the living room. I got a spiffy “media” case (which is basically just a tower case turned on its side, like the old-school desktop cases) and a nifty wireless keyboard/joystick/mouse contraption which should work well for that purpose.

While I was ordering parts I also got another 1GB memory for my purple gaming box. I noticed that I was running out of memory quite a bit with Company of Heroes.

Project Complete

Late September, I was assigned to help a colleague at work finish his project on time. That consumed most of my life until mid-October, but now I’m trying to catch back up.