Uhhh….is this thing live?

[Updated 3/12/09: new bullet added. Oy!]

I can’t believe I let three months go by without posting to my own blog. Just goes to show you how the unpaid volunteer work compares to the jobs for paying customers. Nevertheless, I’m going to try to climb back on this horse and ride it a bit further down the road. I hope you’ll drop in, and come along with me part of the way occasionally.

Let me start this “back in the saddle” posting with a screenshot of my primary production Vista system:

High point hits on 2/8/2009 at value: 9.80

High point hits on 2/8/2009 at value: 9.80

As I write this blog, my reliability index has fallen as low as 7.76 in the last 30 days, but currently sits at a comfortable value of 9.31 (I’ve been on an upward trend since 2/16, at which point a failure in rundll32.exe pushed me down to that low value).

Why am I telling you this? Because I think I’m finally starting to understand what it takes to keep a Vista system running smoothly, with reliability levels at 8.5 or higher, all the time. Based on my experience since my last regular blogs in December, 2008, here’s what I now try to do to keep my production system up and running at a high reliability level:

  1. Avoid unnecessary installs: As I look at my recent system history, I can’t help but observe that most of my declines strike when I either install software to write about it, when I have to work with alpha or beta wares, or when I succumb to the “let’s install this cool-looking utility and see what happens…” urge. Since last November, I’ve set up an environment in my office where I can use the Vista Remote Desktop Connection to remote over to a test machine, and do this kind of stuff over there instead of using my production unit for such purposes. These days, only software I’m pretty sure of makes it onto my production machine.
  2. If it ain’t broke…: I like to keep my drivers current, but I’m learning that willy-nilly driver updates can pose problems, too. Lately, I’ve waited a month or so after release of video card updates to make sure they’re stable (NVidia often released drivers in spates, where I’ve seen wave after wave hit every three weeks or so: adhering to the one month rule keeps me reasonably current, but behind the well-named bleeding edge), and been more cautious about chipset, USB, and audio drivers as well. Result: a more stable, less temperamental system.
  3. Hide unwanted updates: When Windows Update offers you something, you don’t always have to take it–except, of course, for critical and important security updates. With other stuff you can right-click the entry and select “Hide Update” from the resulting pop-up menu and fuhgeddaboudit (case in point: all those language packs for Vista that I’ll never, ever miss).
  4. If an app or the OS asks you to reboot, don’t wait: I just got burned [3/12/09] by Spyware Doctor, which asked me to reboot after downloading some extensive updates. I demurred, and went off to do some other stuff for a few minutes, figuring I’d reboot when I took my son to school in about 10 minutes. Wrong! Spyware Doctor turned itself off, and about 2 minutes later Explorer crashed, leaving me with no way to gracefully shut down the machine. After installing a driver, I wouldn’t have hesitated to reboot. Now hard experience teaches me that when an app, especially something security related, asks to reboot, you should agree on the spot. Sigh.

Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other.
Benjamin Franklin

It’s also occurred to me recently that installing and using virtual machines on my PCs (even on test machines) provides a much cleaner in and out for alpha, beta, and other untried software, and for the “let’s try it, and see what happens” installs I can’t always steer clear of. I’m going to try that on my test machines, all of which I’ve outfitted with 4 GB of RAM, to give virtual PCs enough room to breathe on the real hardware upon which they must run.

In closing, here’s my reliability plot for the last 30 days. Even as I try to practice what I preach, I’ve been bitten by the occasional disruptive shutdown (which follows a Windows hang from which no recovery strategy will work) and the rundll32 failure (which is probably related to Explorer showing videos as thumbnails rather than icons, or perhaps to  my periodic use of Windows Photo Gallery). There’s no getting away from the odd hiccup here and there. Remember: this is still Windows Vista we’re talking about.

Most recently reliability trend is "slowly upward."

Most recently reliability trend is "slowly upward."

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] and tried to provide some guidelines to help ensure stable operation. That blog is entitled “Uhhh…Is This Thing Live?” and offers these four suggestions to help boost Vista reliability index […]

  2. […] and how I might be better able to maintain stable, long-term operation (for more discussion see my March 12 Blog […]

  3. […] (and Bemoan) When I restarted my blog in early March, I penned a screed entitled “Uhhh….Is This Thing Live?” to recount some hard-learned lessons about how to keep Vista stable and operational. These […]

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