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Got XP sp3? :-)

Working in high tech can give you a twisted sense of humor. :-)

I probably had mine BEFORE working in high tech, but then you get into the whole “chicken and egg” thing – are mostly maroons accepted into management or do some good folks become maroons because they work in management, etc. :-) We’ll have to ask Dilbert’s boss….

Today, McAfee released a security update that quite spectacularly caused tens of thousands of PCs running Windows XP sp3 to crash or repeatedly reboot. (I guess the main nontechnical difference between the two is that it is more fun to WATCH a PC repeatedly reboot. :-) ) See, I TOLD you that your sense of humor can become twisted! :-) You can read all of the gory details about the mechanism and companies and organizations that should know better, in the CNET report.

I learned a long time ago that I never seem to ask the same questions that most people do. My first question was, “Why are people running Windows XP sp3?” (As in, “Gee, doctor, it HURTS when I run Windows XP….)

My second question was, “How long has Windows XP been AROUND?” :-)

One of the companies that employed me had standardized on Windows XP (which was funny enough at the time [there goes that twisted sense of humor again], considering what the company did for a living). I could tell you stories, but I won’t. That was a number of years ago. They paid me a salary, and I knew that they would never change.

According to Wikipedia, Windows XP was released in 2001 (the same year as the HAL 9000 :-) ), which was NINE years ago. Supposedly, the “XP” is short for “eXPerience.” (Not “eXPired” or any of the other bad jokes that you may have heard….)

So, my third question was the same as my first, “Why are people running Windows XP sp3?” :-)

As with the case of Adobe, Google, and “the silent 32″ other companies that were compromised in Silicon Valley by an attack (using IE6, which shipped with XP :-) ) originating in China, I wonder why people are not embarrassed by running a NINE-year-old operating system when Microsoft has released TWO major upgrades since then. (I am not saying that people SHOULD have moved to Microsoft Vista or Windows 7, but they COULD HAVE. I might have offered them BETTER alternative places to move, but I don’t run their hospitals, police departments, universities, school systems, etc.)

(Note added April 26, 2010: Most refrigerators [and other household appliances] and automobiles aren’t designed to last nine years anymore [some do, but they're not designed to! :-) ]. I  found it hard to believe that any intelligent Windows user [oxymoron?] could make the comments that I read on CNN’s site this morning about the incident. Computer software is a FAST-moving field [even Microsoft managed TWO major upgrades in the NINE years since XP was introduced :-) - kitchen appliances and automobiles are slow-moving in comparison. I think that some people ARE actually embarrassed that the McAfee gaff showed how foolishly they manage their PCs, and others, like the CNET editor in Portland, OR [or her management, whoever is responsible] SHOULD BE! McAfee poseted that the mistake affected 0.5% of its enterprise accounts and even fewer of its [much smarter :-) ] home users.)

Instead, the University of Michigan’s medical school (University of Michigan is a good school, despite the fact that I went to Ohio State and the University of Wisconsin) admits that 8,000 of its 25,000 computers CRASHED. Police in Lexington, KY shut off their patrol car machines as a precaution. Rhode Island hospitals turned away non-trauma patients at emergency rooms.

OK, McAfee is mortified. It should be. But university hospitals, police departments, and other hospitals SHOULD ALSO be ashamed (if not hanging a sign around their necks reading, “Kick Me, I’m Stupid!), because these groups DEAL WITH PEOPLE’S VERY LIVES…. What in the heck are THEY doing running NINE-YEAR-OLD operating systems (even with patches) when the software manufacturer has what it claims to be TWO better alternatives out there, on the shelves?

I think that it is time to hold CIOs accountable for the software running in mission-critical situations, PARTICULARLY when human lives are at stake. Such people do not embarrass easily and are quite reluctant to admit their mistakes. But like all of us, they can be replaced.

Enterprise users should hold their information systems management AS responsible as McAfee:

  1. for running such old software in the presence of more modern (or, other,  BETTER) alternatives, and
  2. for not sufficiently TESTING the McAfee update before rolling it out to so many users.

According to the CNET article:

“… with Sonny Hashmi, the deputy chief information officer of the District of Columbia calling it a “huge disruption,” adding that McAfee is now on his “blacklist.” An engineer in San Francisco said that, thanks to McAfee, “the wait at my work is two days and growing to get your laptop back.”

My suggestions would be to FIRE a chief information officer (CIO), or the deputy :-) that would allow, through possible negligence, such a “huge disruption” to occur. Such “thinking-judging” individuals can almost NEVER accept responsibilities for their own actions and often need a scapegoat. As for “getting your laptop back” – the reason is that information systems areas try to deal with the tide of Windows viruses and Trojans by “locking the machines down” so much that real work is inhibited, and the control freaks in information systems are the only ones with administrative rights to the machines.

I know. I worked at one place (only one) where I did not have administrative rights to my own (the company’s, actually – I would not have purchased one :-) ) Windows machine.

Sometimes, it takes a HUGE mistake, like McAfee’s, to show how large and widespread the UNDERLYING problem really is….

(Note added April 25, 2010: McAfee has apologized for its “antivirus update disaster.” The fact that it was a “disaster” and not just a minor “whoopsee” is the fault of all of the executives managing the many users of the outdated Windows XP sp3 (or just Windows XP in general). The people who were harmed by systems management at the various companies, hospitals, universities, and social services (including police) have yet to receive an apology from information systems (and business) management who are not doing their jobs. I have a feeling that we will wait for a VERY long time to get an apology from THESE folks .)

-Bill at

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