Monday, September 03, 2007

About Dad's PC...Episode (what one am I up to...?)

I don't remember anymore.


So last night Dad gives me a call and is asking for some help.

He upgraded his Sunbelt Software firewall version and bought a new 2-yr license.  No problems, but when he did the upgrade, he shifted it back into "advanced" mode somehow.

Dad gets confused with understanding if he should allow/disallow these things so he wanted it back in "simple" mode; no outbound filtering, inbound connections only.

No problem.  He and I fired up our copies of ShowMyPC and were connected. (BTW, this was the first time I tried it in Vista and it worked like a charm.)

I quickly was able to make the change and he was good to go.

Famous Last Words

Or so I thought.

Since he has been having a long history of issues with XP Home Windows Updates breaking on his system we decided to to test it, and immediately I noticed the following weird behaviors:

  1. The Windows Update icon in his Start menu was now showing a "generic" icon and not the pretty globe icon it normally does.

  2. Launching that icon brought up two Windows Explorer session windows.  More on this in a moment.

  3. It prompted to install a new Windows ActiveX control, which I did.

  4. It then (eventually) failed to display the standard "Express/Custom" page, and instead presented a unable to run error status.

We tried rebooting, and the same things were observed.

I disabled the firewall (though I am certain it wasn't the issue) and the problem persisted.

I checked his IE7 plugin settings and verified that the Windows Update Active X control was wasn't listed anywhere.  Hmm.

I reset the default settings globally for IE7.  Same problems.

Forcing the Windows Update Agent to Reinstall

I then tried to reinstall the latest Windows Update version manually, but it kept saying it was already at the current level.

So I did a force reinstallation of the Windows Update Agent:

I opened the Command Prompt and forced a reinstall with the following command:

C:\Temp\WindowsUpdateAgent30-x86.exe /wuforce

(I had saved the file in his temp folder off the root for easy access.)

That reinstalled the Update Agent, but didn't make the problem go away.

A Closer Look

So now I went back and looked at why two Internet Explorer windows were opening.

Turns out that the primary window was IE7 which the update was attempting to occur in.

The 2nd window was (ready for this?) a IE6 session! 


I'm not making this up.  It said so in the "about" section.

That might explain why it kept failing...couldn't make up it's mind which one to use?

So I went into the Add/Remove programs list and uninstalled IE7 to roll it back to IE6.  That was fine, but the updates still failed.

Time Out

By now I had gone through two cordless phone batteries and I think Dad's calling-card balance was almost zero'ed out as well.

I had some ideas but it was time to go to bed for the night.

Day Two - Options

Next morning I remote attached to his PC and we talked on fresh batteries.

I laid out his options as I saw them.

  1. It seemed clear that he still has ongoing system corruption on his XP system.

  2. I could schedule a trip to visit to recover his data, wipe his drive and do a fresh/clean reinstall of XP.

  3. I could continue to try to troubleshoot this to get his updates flowing "normally" but there was no guarantee that the problem wouldn't return again. I was game if he was.

  4. I could show him a "clever" workaround to ensure his Windows Updates could still be applied until I could do step 2.

  5. Since his system was several years old and very sluggish due to a moderately powered CPU and limited RAM, maybe it was time to do a system upgrade anyway....then we could wipe his pc and he could donate it or we could reload the system fresh and use it as a "guest" pc in his house.

The Mission Plan

First I would do option 4.

Then I would plan a visit and we would move to option 5 and pick a new system out.

Executing the Mission

I needed a way that Dad could (fairly simply) get his Windows Updates each month, but would completely by-pass usage via Internet Explorer since they weren't playing well at all with each other and are now in a permanent state of "time-out" from each other.

Here is what I did.

  1. I downloaded SlySoft's freeware application Virtual CloneDrive.  As I installed it I explained that it would allow us to mount "virtual" CD image files and not need to burn them to media.  It installed quickly with no issues.  I showed him how it worked (mount/unmount) and to keep it VERY simple, set it to associate all ISO type files automatically with the program.

  2. I downloaded heise Security's - Do-it-yourself Service Pack.  a.k.a. "Offline Updater". I made a "Updates" folder in his My Documents folder and unpacked it there.

  3. I ran the updater program, showed him how to select the XP/English options and deselect the default German option.

  4. I explained what it was doing as it wget'ed the update packages and then rolled them into an ISO file.

  5. Once done, I showed him were the ISO folder it saved the update pack was located and double-clicked it.

  6. Virtual CloneDrive auto-mounted the ISO and the Offline Updater went to work.

  7. It updated approximately seven Windows updates and rebooted.

  8. Verified Dad took good notes.

  9. Done!

I encouraged Dad to do this a day or two after Microsoft's usual Patch Tuesday each month.  We should only have to do this for a month or two total. Then we should have a new Vista machine picked out and configured.  Hopefully that will end these issues once I wipe and reload the XP system from scratch.

Goodness knows, sometimes that's what it takes....



The Guru said...

Okay, I still want to know how he manage to get both IE6 & IE7 running simultaneously. That's just funky!

Claus said...

Funky indeed!

I'm actually a bit concerned as it might be an indication of some bad system corruption or at the least with his updates catalog again.

I have heard of "standalone" installs of IE7 and played with it myself back in IE7 beta days but this was a real normal upgrade of IE, but it seemed to leave a ghost of it behind. Really weird. I have never run into that before.

Had I not been chewing through cordless phone batteries, it was late, and I didn't want to take the time walk Dad through the advanced troubleshooting I was doing remotely, I would have fired up Process Explorer and Process Monitor and done what would have been some neat investigations.

Alas, this will have to be the one that got away....for now.

The Guru said...

Since I cain't find a link (your nav bar seems to be broken) to e-mail you directly I'll ask here...

How easy is Show My PC to install and for that matter use? I too do troubleshooting for my folks and it would be so much easier if I could see what the heck is going on without having to be there. You can conact me via my blogs Contact Us option.