Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Rinse, Lather, and Reboot

Today I helped my brother-in-law wipe and restore his laptop in response to a stubborn piece of malware or three. To prevent things from recurring, I thought I'd get all the patches installed, turn on the SP2 firewall, configure Internet Explorer in "High" security mode allowing exceptions only for Windows Update, install Firefox as the default browser, and instruct him to use it exclusively.

Downloading updates after a new Windows install is a huge hassle. First, Windows Update needed to download a newer version of itself. Then it needed to reboot the system. Next, it downloaded 29 updates totaling 60 megabytes. I figured that must be the infamous Service Pack 2. Okay, we'll just let it go while we go have dinner, come back to it, and we'll be done. Nope. When it finally finished 40 minutes later (we were on my parents' 256kbit DSL line), I rebooted it and it promptly popped up the Windows Update screen saying we needed to download SP2--an even larger download than the one we just completed. What on earth were those other 60 megs?! Anyway, I let it download SP2, but I had to leave halfway through. At least I got Firefox set up before I left.

I guess I have my system on auto update and I've never noticed how enormously bloated Windows updates have become. I don't have a particularly fast connection (I also have 256k DSL), but at least it's always on and Windows can sneak in its downloads while I'm away from the computer. My question is, what on earth are dial-up users supposed to do?!

It wouldn't be so bad if you could just push a button and download all the updates in one shot, redialing in case the connection is lost, and disconnecting once all downloads are complete. You could just set it up to run overnight. And hope your ISP doesn't mind. But since Windows makes you download updates, reboot, download more updates, reboot, ad infinitum, that strategy wouldn't work. It'd take days for dial-up users to get all patched up.

Microsoft likes to blame lazy unpatched users for the spread of worms and the like, but they certainly don't do much to make the job tolerable. Why are the patches so flipping huge? Haven't they ever heard of binary diffs, like the old DOS games used to use?


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