Sunday, April 30, 2006


IT and Productivity

About a week ago, I installed the videolan client media player. There were a number of good reasons for choosing it, but mainly it is open source and plays lots of media formats.

The installation started badly: when I chose to change the installation directory from the default, the Windows directory tree dialog stopped responding. Hmmm, they didn't test their installer? Oh well, I restarted and accepted the default installation directory. All went well, and the player works very well.

Then I tried to change the target directory Firefox uses for downloads. Again, the Windows directory tree dialog stopped responding, and I had to use the task manager (ctrl-alt-del) to terminate the application. Oops, the installer broke Windows? I tried again a few times, with the task manager open: when I called the directory tree dialog, the application (Firefox) appeared a second time in the list of active applications! Strange.

Later, I wanted to move some files using Windows Explorer. Once again, the directory tree dialog stopped responding.

I decided the best course of action was to use the Windows administration utility to roll back to a prior configuration (restore system to a saved configuration) just prior to the vlc installation I thought was to blame. However, that did not restore the directory tree dialog function, so I went back to a configuration called "Software Distribution Service 2.0" (from 16 April). Bingo! Windows Explorer was healed!

My relief was short-lived. Windows Update insisted on downloading and installing some security updates; they re-broke Windows Explorer!

I decided to proceed logically, uninstalling the updates one by one to find the culprit. My first choice was KB908531, and that was it. A little research in the Microsoft Windows support forum led me to the fix. It turns out that this update has this bad behaviour on machines where HP Share-to-web is installed, and all it takes is an additional registry key to fix! For Windows XP, it is:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell Extensions\Cached]
"{A4DF5659-0801-4A60-9607-1C48695EFDA9} {000214E6-0000-0000-C000-000000000046} 0x401"=dword:00000001

The problem was known by Microsoft for over a week when I noticed it; I get mail from HP regularly to pitch their products and services. If they want to manage their relationship with me the customer, they ought to have notified me of this bug and the fix to apply. Shame on them as well as on Microsoft.

Silver lining? I got some practice applying (and cancelling) system restores and update uninstalls. Great. I had to spend about half a day on this mess, although I am fairly IT literate and fluent in US-English; I pity a lot of other, less fortunate, customers.

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