Sunday, July 08, 2007

It Lives!

My PC got hosed a couple of days ago. The problem began creeping in around Wednesday. Incidentally, or not, that was the same day that I turned on Ad-Watch 2007 from Lavasoft, the makers of the popular Ad-Aware program, of which this is a part. Ad-Watch is designed to monitor your system's registry settings and other parts of your computer's programs to make certain that some other and perhaps malicious program isn't changing those settings. The idea is to create a real time system that warns you if something is happening under the hood. I've been pretty darn happy with Lavasoft's programs over the years. In fact, I've Beta tested both file definitions and programs for them and I actually own a paid version of Ad-Aware Pro (both SE and 2007).

Problems Begin

On Wednesday, I was sitting on the PC early in the morning when I got to thinking that I hadn't turned on Ad-Watch 2007. I had purchased Ad-Aware 2007 on Sunday, but left Ad-Watch off. My reason for doing so was that I was leery of the program. When I had beta tested Ad-Aware 2007, Ad-Watch 2007 had a problem with using up too many system resources. Several other testers had noticed the problem as well. My reticence about using the program, therefore, was justified. By Wednesday, however, I thought to myself that perhaps I was being silly. Surely the problem had been addressed before the fine folks at Lavasoft released the product to the public! At least, that was my reasoning Wednesday morning, so I turned the program on and set up it's settings to launch in minimized mode whenever the PC was restarted.

My first encounter with a problem came Wednesday afternoon. After leaving the PC on for several hours and walking away from it, I came back to find everything frozen on the screen. I could move the cursor around, but could not access any programs. I ended up rebooting and the problem went away. I put the PC into sleep mode and went out for the night.

No problems the next morning when I brought the PC out of sleep mode. Everything was peachy. My antivirus program, Eset, was programmed to run at 9 AM, so when it came on I left the PC and let it run and went to work. When the co-signer got home that night from work, the PC had once again frozen. A restart and all was fine. I went back to it later to find it frozen again. This time I shut it down for the evening.

When I restarted Friday morning, I found that the PC was completely hosed. I got stuck in a loop. The boot would go through the opening Windows XP screen, then begin the blue Windows screen. But before it could get to the dialog box stating that Windows was starting or to press ctrl + alt + delete in order to log in, it would reboot again. In other words, I couldn't even log on to the PC. It did this about 4 times before I decided that this was not going to be pretty.

Getting back on line

My first mode of attack was to curse Lavasoft. I thought about the issues and decided that Ad-Watch was the likely culprit. Still, I needed to narrow the issues down as it could have been a coincidence. My second approach was more practical - I needed to log onto the PC and unload Ad-Watch 2007. I tried starting Windows in Safe Mode. No go - I got the same results of a looping non-boot that I had gotten before.

Time to get out the Windows XP program disk and boot from it. I've done this before with the PC, so I wasn't worried about using this solution. I booted Windows and went to the Recovery Console. The first thing I did was run a CHKDSK in order to make certain that I wasn't dealing with a dying hard drive. A reboot later and I confirmed that the hard drive was healthy (note to self - time to do a back up; just in case).

The next solution I could think of wasn't pretty. I was going to have to "Repair Windows". Anyone who has been through this process knows that, while it works (and works well - kudos to Microsoft for this!), it's long and will require updates from Microsoft. Starting the repair of Windows XP is relatively simple: just get to the install screen on the XP CD and tell it to repair the product rather than do a clean install. Now, walk away and go make breakfast as it's going to take an hour or so, assuming all works well.

Unfortunately for me, all did not work well. A file on the CD failed to copy over properly. I got an error message saying that the repair was exiting. Reboot from the CD and try again. The second time was the charm, but that meant another hour or so of "repairs". At one point the program asked me to find a file for my NVidia graphics driver. This took about 20 minutes of hunting and pecking. It wasn't on the XP disk. Ultimately I found it on the hard drive itself in the Windows/system 32/drivers folder. Then it asked for another file to uninstall (if I was reading the name correctly) the driver and reinstall it. More hunting and pecking, but less time than for the first file as it was in the Windows/system 32 directory. "Repair" continued.

And "Repair" worked as advertised. It took my Windows XP install back to the point where it was at originally. Which is to say that, since I never got around to creating a slipstreamed copy of Windows XP with SP2 loaded, I was now back to an original copy of XP with none of the updates from the day it was released (note to self: get off your ass and create the damned slip streamed disk! Cynical observation: I'll do that and then upgrade to a new PC with Vista).

But, I was able to log onto the PC. A couple of weird things were happening, however. The resolution on the monitor kept changing on reboot to 800 x 640 (or some such, unacceptable ration). I changed it back to 1280 x 1024 and all would be well. Also, I kept getting an error message about the a DLL tied to the graphics program. Oh, well, problems to be tracked down later.

Time for updates

Indeed. The first batch - before I got to SP2 - was a mere 63 updates. This included one for Office XP, which is no longer loaded on this PC since I upgraded to Office 2003 back, well, in 2003. I had ignored that update in the past and was determined to do so again. Except, that all of this was happening before I had to report to work on Friday. I made an error and checked the box to update to Direct X (whatever version they are on) first. That precluded me performing any actual needed updates and required a reboot. Microsoft Updates wouldn't let me go back and uncheck the box, so I went ahead with it thinking I'll need to do it eventually as it might prevent some security bug in their programs.

So, update complete, reboot, same error message regarding the NVidia DLL, and same graphics problem which I fixed with the display resolution. I had to be leaving for work and was, in fact, verging on being late. When I got Microsoft Updates loaded again I decided not to waste my time with the custom load and clicked the Express button. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

For any average user, this isn't a problem. Except that I had noted that the Office update was bogus and shouldn't be in the list. Express update, however, doesn't allow me to exclude the Office XP update. When I got home Friday night, the co-signer informs me, after we're in bed, that the updates had hung on the Office update and she didn't know where the CD was to stick into the PC. I decided that it could wait until morning.

Sure enough, her report was correct. I found the Office XP CD and loaded it into the PC. Guess what? The damn update wasn't going to search the CD and find the correct file for me. I poked around for probably ten minutes and decided that I wasn't in the mood. I canceled that update and let it fail. It was number 45 in the list of 63 updates. The rest finished fine. Reboot. DLL warning. Graphics error corrected by fixing resolution. Back to Microsoft Updates.

This time I was warned that I needed to upgrade to SP2. Finally! I did the upgrade as requested. While it was working away, I opened msconfig from the Start>Run menu in order to make certain that my Ad-Watch resets had taken. No, they hadn't. Ad-Watch was open. I clicked on the shortcut and confirmed that I had turned it off for restarts and yet, here it was most definitely On. I clicked it out of the file list for start programs. All was well.

SP2 loaded just fine. Reboot. DLL warning. Graphics error corrected by fixing resolution (god, that was getting annoying). Back to Microsoft Updates. Checked to make certain Ad-Watch was finally off - it was. This time a mere 77 updates were required. I remembered to hide the Office XP update. I checked the rest and let it roll. Included was an update to IE 7, which having been using IE 6 again for these updates was a VERY welcome sight. Also included, as I watched them download was an update to the NVidia Graphics driver - uh, oh. Somewhere in the back of my brain was a recollection that last time I ran that update, it hosed the graphics system. I had, like the Office XP update, hidden it from Microsoft Updates so that I wouldn't hose things up again. Of course, Microsoft Updates doesn't remember that I had hidden it because this is a new install as far as it's concerned. Damn, damn, damn. No time to deal with it though as I need to go to work.

I came home last night and the co-signer told me that the graphics were indeed hosed. All of the updates worked and she rebooted, but that the graphics were stuck in 4 bit and at a high resolution. I tried changing the resolution on the screen as I had done before, but that didn't work. I tried changing the color range, but that failed, too. Finally, I recalled going to the Advanced options>Driver>Rollback driver button. I clicked, rebooted, decided that I didn't have the patience for any more that night, and went downstairs to make a dinner for myself.

It Lives!

One repair, one hundred and 30 updates, and one driver roll back later - spread over 2 days - and we're back in business. Some minor tweaks will no doubt be needed along the way. I just did a quick search to see if others have been reporting similar problems with Ad-Watch 2007. I saw a few complaints on the site, some of which are valid (it has grown in size a great deal, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing), but others are just complaint trolls. I added a brief review with my own caveats. My conclusion is that users should use Ad-Aware 2007 as they always have, but beware of Ad-Watch 2007 until the bugs have been traced and repaired.

No comments: