Windows, the Disposable Operating System

I guess most of us have known this for many years. Still, now even the creators of Windows have admitted it: ” Microsoft Says Recovery from Malware Becoming Impossible. “When dealing with rootkits and some advanced spyware programs, the only solution is to rebuild from scratch. In some cases, there is no way to recover without nuking the systems from orbit,” Said Mike Danseglio, program manager in the Security Solutions group at Microsoft.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Robert X. Cringely wrote:-

Last week, a Microsoft data security guru suggested at a conference that corporate and government users would be wise to devise automated processes to wipe clean hard drives and reinstall operating systems and applications periodically to deal with malware infestations. Microsoft is talking about a utility from SysInternals, a company that makes awesome tools. The crying shame of this whole story is that Microsoft has given up on Windows security. They have no internal expertise to solve this problem among their 60,000-plus employees and have no interest in looking outside for help. I know many experts who could give Microsoft some excellent guidance on fixing and securing Windows. There are incredible developers Microsoft could call upon to help them. But no, their answer is to rebuild your system every few days and start over. Will Vista be any better? I don’t think so.

Operating System


I find that sad. Like many of us, I own a large collection of music and movies, which are still usable 20+ years later, but the data on your PC will be lucky to survive a year or two without a backup. Some copy protection systems will even forbid you to make backups or transfer to another PC, so when your PC finally dies, your stuff goes with it. The only good side is that you will be forced to buy your music/movie/game collection again, and some media exec will finally get that 3rd yacht.

For that reason, I don’t use Windows for anything serious these days, but when I do, I always create separate partitions on my hard drive: one (C:) for Windows and programs and the other (D:) for all my stuff. Each time Windows became unusable, mainly due to ‘WinRot’ (A special feature that slowly degraded after about 12 months of use), I could safely wipe my C: drive and reinstall Windows and programs without losing anything valuable. I used to set up my customer’s PCs in the same way. I suspect many other engineers used similar strategies, but what about someone buying a PC from a shop? Most of those will have everything on the C: drive, so if a wipe+reinstall is needed due to a crash/virus/rootkit/etc., the owners will likely lose everything if they have not done a backup.

I expect many people reading this would regard it as just another PC problem, but I have been using Linux and BSD for about three years now and have yet to see anything like this, although Linux isn’t without its problems. When I upgraded from SuSE 9.2 to 9.3, I noticed a ‘feature’ of SuSE Linux called ‘Update-Rot,’ which silently removed a few critical programs. As this was the free version, I guess I can’t complain, and I managed to get them all back, so all was well.

They say the worst equipment makes the best engineers. Hence, I got a good education from the six years I spent using/fixing Windows, especially recovering data from crippled Windows machines. So here are a few tips:-

1. It’s not a question of ‘if’ your PC crashes; it’s a question of ‘when. ‘ If you are using earlier versions of Windows, it will be much sooner than you think.

2. Keep any valuable data on at least one other device. Many options exist, such as CD-RW, USB drives, and NAS (Network-attached storage). Even an old PC could back valuable data via a network.

3. Identify where your data is. If you use Linux or BSD, most of your data, including email, favorites, documents, music, photos, and even program settings, are usually kept in your folder. If you are using Windows, things are much more complicated, as much of your data will be scattered across several folders or embedded in the Registry.

4. Think security. Only install software if you trust the author and need it. Make sure you have a decent virus scanner and firewall. As an added precaution, use an ‘ADSL modem+router’ combo to access the Internet instead of just an ‘ADSL modem.’

5. There is also a rumor that the new version of Mac OS X can run native Windows programs (a bit like VMWare, Xen, or WINE). Imagine being able to run your favorite programs without the security woes. It could be worth a look when it comes out.

It has been estimated that most companies only last about two years when data loss occurs. I wonder how many companies have been decimated by simple Windows crashes. That’s why I use Linux and FreeBSD: They rarely crash, and if they do, I know I can recover my data quite easily because it’s all in one place.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.