Windows tech support

Got a call from my father-in-law last night. He was unable to boot his Windows ME computer — the first clue to what it might be was that he’d installed two Windows Update patches the night before. Now it would boot, but would freeze during start-up. He’d see the cursor, but the PC would stop responding to the keyboard, mouse, etc.

I had him boot into safe mode, tried to do a scandisk — but that failed because it would restart 10 times and then kick off an error message. We tried removing Norton System works (as Erik notes, it’s worse than most of the viruses it tries to innoculate against), but that didn’t help.

The last check was to see what was trying to load on start-up. We removed the items in the start-up folder, then ran msconfig to see what was auto-loading on start-up. He gave me a list of every item that was listed, which I then checked against this list of start-up items (what a fantastic resource!). We were able to identify all but one item in the list and disable all that weren’t critical — but there was still one item — KB891711 — that wasn’t listed.

C|Net’s forums had a recent entry mentioning this item — sure enough, this relates to a recent Windows Update patch. And it turns out that when this is left to load on start-up, it causes Windows ME to freeze. Bingo.

Disabling this item from msconfig did the trick: he was able to boot up and was back to using his computer as normal.

Curious that Windows Update would render a computer unusable. And I can only imagine the utter frustration people would feel that either a) don’t know about safe mode, b) know about it but don’t know how to use msconfig, or c) just assume they’ve got a virus and give up.

Then again, depending on your definition of virus, Windows Update sounds like it might be a candidate after all…

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