Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Why I don't particularly like Microsoft

I have been attempting to install Windows 2000 on the windows partition of my desktop PC. I booted up a copy of Windows XP using the backup disk for my Dell when I built the PC to test that I could get it to work, but that is not legal (and anyway it will stop working after 30 days). As it happens, the Windows 2000 copy I have is perfectly legal for me to use, and Windows 2000 is adequate for my uses. So fine.

However, the intallation crashes half way through the installation process, and gives me a black screen. Now a sensible installation process would stop rather than crash, but not in this case. As it happens, looking at the on screen text and pressing F6 at an appropriate time allows me to determine that the problem is that the installation CD does not contain an appropriate driver for the IDE controller on my motherboard (a Biostar M7VKB) and so cannot see my hard drive. (Somehow though, the BIOS was able to see enough to start the installation process from the CD-ROM drive, and this is being driven by the same IDE controller.

The solution to this problem is to obtain a driver for the IDE controller from my motherboard manufacturer and install this during the installation process. No real problem, except for that the only means of installation of such a driver is via a floppy. And as it happens, I don't have an internal floppy drive.

Why would I? By today's standards floppy drives hold ludicrously small amounts of data, and people who require portable storage use flash drives, CD or DVD burners, or even portable hard drives. (A USB portable hard drive based on Toshiba's new 1.8" minidrive would be fun). Those of us who wish to transfer files too and from our friends or from one computer that we own to another just use networks a lot of the time anyway. Many new computers these days do not include floppy drives.

However, the Windows 2000 installer will not allow a driver to be installed mid-installation by any other method. A sensible strategy would also allow the installation to take place by swapping the CD from which the installation is taking place out and replacing it with a CD containing the driver. This would work in all installations without fail, because the fact that you are making an installation at all implies that you have at least a CD-ROM drive (as indeed I do). (I also tried plugging a USB floppy into my floppy drive and seeing if that would work, but no. Recognising that drive was clearly something that came later in the installation process than installing the IDE driver.

But somehow Microsoft didn't think of that. The fact that essentially every PC had a floppy drive in 1999 was enough for them.
However, no. (And I suppose from a business point of view they would like me to buy a new copy of XP now rather than use an old but still perfectly legal copy of 2000). That in the future that it would both become less likely that people would have floppies and that they would be more likely to have motherboards with controllers that the software on the intallation CD was familiar with also apparently didn't seem to occur with them. (Another idea would have been to get the network software working first and then to

So if I want to install W2K on this PC, I am going to have to install a floppy drive. The regular place that I buy computer parts from online charges about £4.00 for a floppy drive, but wiith shipping it is about £6.00. The local Maplin Electronics store wants £9.50. Not a lot of money, but I am trying to save money here. The trick is probably to find a friend with an old computer they are not using and ask if I can have a floppy drive. Not terribly hard (the world is full of old PCs lying around with perfectly fine floppy drives that are not being used) but it will probably take me a week or two for me to find one.

This sort of muddled thinking and lack of planning for the future is entirely typical of Microsoft. That they have consistently done things in such a half baked way and have still managed to conquer the world anyway rather baffles me. (Well actually I more or less do understand it - it just depresses me).

(Just for comparison, I tried also to install a Windows XP CD (ie without Service Pack 1) on the same system, and the same thing happened - it crashed half way through and careful checking determined that it could not see my IDE controller. Presumably something was updated between the original version of XP and SP1).

Update: The problem ultimately turned out not to be the ATA driver but instead to be an incompatible ACPI interface. This problem was fixed by disabling ACPI in the BIOS. On the other hand, if I had needed to update the driver, that ridiculous floppy only business would have still been the case.

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