Will I Ever Learn? More Vista Reliability Woes

In my recent return to blogging here, I tried to provide some hard-learned and -earned guidelines on how to keep a Vista system running reliably, 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 values:

  • Avoid unnecessary installs: if you don’t really need the software, don’t install it on your Vista machine.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: if a Vista machine is working OK, there’s no compelling need to add the latest and greatest driver the day it becomes available.
  • Hide unwanted updates: If you know you need to steer clear of certain Windows Update items, or simply don’t need them, use the “Hide Update” right click menu entry to make them disappear. Then you’ll never add them by mistake.
  • If an app or the OS asks you to reboot your PC, do it ASAP: Waiting to reboot for a time that’s convenient for you risks system instability, crashes, and odd behavior. Don’t stall; reboot as soon as you possibly can.

In the last couple of weeks, my production Vista system has seen the reliability index drop from a comfortable value well above 9.0 (where I like to keep it) to a pretty dismal 6.42 (where it sits this morning, giving me the evil eye and a flippant gesture). Let’s talk about how this happened:

  1. 3/9/09: I’m writing a story on iTunes for Windows for Digital Landing and decided to install it on my production PC (“It’s from Apple. How bad can it be?”) Alas, while the Cupertino gang may be just peachy at Mac software, their Windows stuff leaves something to be desired. I wanted iTunes, but I also got Apple Mobile Device Support, Apple Software Update, Bonjour, and QuickTime as well. Something in that combination crashed Explorer.exe and my desktop along with it. Strike 1.
  2. 3/12/09: Vista hangs up on me for the first time in three months, and I have to hit the reset button to regain access to/control over the machine. Nothing in Event Viewer to give me a clue as to why. First entry for that day is the “unexpected shutdown” that gets me charged with a 0.45 point hickey for the shutdown. Strike 2.
  3. 3/14/09: Windows Home Server connector and related stuff starts getting wonky. ClientInfo.exe (the local reporting element that tells WHS what my machine is up to) stops working. Again, nothing in Event Viewer. I get charged 0.38 points for the app crash (interestingly, Win7 doesn’t appear to impose penalties on machines with wonky software) without any real idea about what’s going wrong. Strike 3.
  4. 3/19/09: Explorer crashes on me again but this time I get charged 0.58 points. Still nothing useful in Event Viewer. Strike 4.
  5. 3/21/09: I sit down at my PC with a blinking cursor on the screen, and nothing else. Mouse works, but it doesn’t respond to the keyboard. Try remoting in across the network, still no joy. Disruptive Shutdown number too gets charged 0.47 points. Strike 5 (say? what kind of baseball game is this anyway?)
  6. 3/22/09: Another blank/black screen another disruptive shutdown, but when I reboot TrueImageMonitor.exe (part of Acronis True Image) and WHSTrayApp.exe (part of the WHS connector) stop working. Charge the machine 1.44 reliability index points. Strike 6.
  7. 3/23/09: Explorer.exe goes bye-bye yet again. I lose it, dig into the Reliability monitor and see my problems go back to the day iTunes hits my machine. Out goes iTunes (plus Apple Mobile Device Support, Apple Software Update, Bonjour, and so forth, all of which must be uninstalled separately!), along with a bunch of other stuff I’ve installed over the past few months and am no longer using. Bye-Bye! Take another 0.14 points off the index, to close at 6.42.

Going forward, I have a perfectly good test machine that I can remote into easily, and for which I make a clean weekly image. From now on, everything I don’t intend to use for production purposes goes on the test machine. I’m hoping to find myself back up in the 8-9 point range in another two weeks or so. It’s amazing how fast the index can decline and how slowly it usually goes up, in an eerie parallel to financial markets. I will take a lesson from this, and implore you to do likewise: violate suggestion 1 above (if you don’t really need it, don’t install it) at your immanent peril!

A slow upward climb and a precipitous descent

A slow upward climb and a precipitous descent

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