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Springtime Reader Feedback

It's 70 degrees and sunny outside here in suburban Boston. That means that spring is here -- really, this time, we think -- and the snows of winter are gone again until December. OK, November. Or possibly late October.

Anyway, with flowers popping and allergies in full boom, we're going to let some of our reader e-mails blossom at RCPU. It's been a while since we've run reader feedback, so, like the grass and buds emerging from the blanket of winter, get ready for some e-mails that have waited a while to see the light of day. (Well, one, anyway -- the others are actually pretty recent. But we're running with a metaphor here.)

We start with Andy, who wrote to us back in April about Microsoft's somewhat disappointing earnings:

"The struggle that Microsoft is facing is a problem of saturation. In the early stages of computer technology (like anything new), there is rapid expansion of the user base. But, at some point, that expansion slows. It's hard for businesses to justify more computers, or for most consumers to justify 'new software,' when they aren't using much of what they already have. And until software is able to significantly reduce the amount of effort people expend on chores, or can bring more 'fun' into their lives, the trend is going to be a gradual decrease in growth, followed by an actual decrease in sales (my guess -- five to 10 years of declining growth, followed by five to 10 years of actual decline).

"Microsoft, and many of its competitors, will keep searching for that service that brings annual revenue, but it is going to be a real challenge. I'd like to see the advance of robotics -- actually reducing the chores people are stuck with. But with as little progress as we've seen in consumer robotics (the Roomba is all that comes to mind) over the past 30 years, I am not optimistic. Instead, Microsoft will continue to focus on getting the consumer entertainment dollars (games, video and music services) and expanding its existing efforts in business automation (unified communications should be a good area). I don't see Microsoft having an advantage over other entertainment sources (too much big-company mentality), so I hope it gets its act together and focuses on business automation again.

"Another way of looking at it is the good, old 80/20 rule. Getting the first 80 percent of utility from computers was cheap, quick and easy -- but getting the next 20 percent is going to be very expensive, take a long time and be really hard work. I'm afraid they are still looking for cheap, quick and easy..."

Andy, what you're talking about is what a lot of people have been predicting for Microsoft for a long time: a long, slow, IBM-in-the-'80s-style decline based on shifting models and Microsoft's presumed inability (or unwillingness) to respond to them. We're not convinced that one mildly disappointing earnings report after a solid couple of years of blockbusters is evidence that Microsoft is in real trouble, but we are watching Redmond's new areas of investment very closely.

Unified communications, SaaS and Dynamics seem like three growth areas (among others), at least in the enterprise, where Microsoft can move into some new markets and counterbalance whatever market saturation Windows and Office might suffer in the years to come. We're not ready to predict doom for Microsoft, but we take your points; some of the gravy on the traditional Microsoft gravy train is going a bit sour, and Microsoft is going to have to look for other sources to replace it.

And now, on to more timely territory: the infamous XP Service Pack 3. Before we get to the horror stories, let's address James's concern that we were being too hard on Redmond in our original entry:

"I take issue with you relative to how you really are blaming Microsoft for the issues with XP SP3 (even though you indicate that you are not pointing the finger of blame, but venting). This really is not Microsoft's fault, but HP's and now, it sounds like, Dell's as well. These two vendors created their images incorrectly and with the wrong driver, which Microsoft also informed these two OEMs to not do. Well, they did it anyway. How is this Microsoft's fault? (Your doctor tells you that you have to lose 50 pounds or you are going to have a heart attack. You do not lose the weight and end up having a heart attack, just as your doctor said you would. Guess you'll blame the doctor for you not losing the weight?) I have experienced this issue first-hand (on an HP machine, mind you) and was able to work around the issue and get the machine working again prior to the problem coming to light and in the media as it is now. ALL OTHER UNITS that aren't HP or Dell, SP3 installed correctly for us and are working great."

"So, I am politely asking you, as one computer person to another: Could you please retract your statements about this particular issue being Microsoft's fault and really place the blame where it should be?"

Thanks, James. Allow us at RCPU to clarify here: In all seriousness, we really weren't trying to blame Microsoft for the problems with SP3. Our only point was that regardless of who's at fault (and, we said before, it probably isn't Microsoft), it's frustrating to have to struggle with another service pack that causes problems (after some of the issues with Vista SP1). We're not Microsoft bashers here, as regular readers will attest -- we were just trying to provide a forum in which people can vent some frustrations with SP3, regardless of which vendor (if any) they choose to blame for them. So, really, we didn't intend to bash Microsoft.

With that said, on to some quality venting! Actually, Carl reports kind of a mixed bag so far:

"I've installed SP3 on five computers as of last night. Four were 'upgrades' from SP2. Each was the Pro version and had all post-SP2 updates. One was a clean install. No problems, and I've got Office 2007, full Acrobat and about 50 other apps installed on two of those boxes. No problems at all. One machine is a Dell E521 with AMD-64 dual-core, 4 gigs of RAM, 256MB PCI-Express video, and the other is a Dell laptop with AMD-32 single-core, 1.5 gigs of RAM, and internal video, Ethernet, wireless, etc. Everything, including each of the apps, still works.

"In fact, I integrated SP3 into an install CD, and reformatted/reinstalled clean a second time using that. Still no issues. No reboots other than the usual.

"I am not using Symantec. Two have McAfee and the others are using ZoneAlarm with its included anti-virus. On all the problem machines, who knows what is running, and how the software was installed? Notice that both of my primary test boxes are AMD's. Maybe Intel's the problem?"

Maybe, Carl, but as you said, it could be any combination of things. Lloyd, on the other hand, hasn't been quite as lucky:

"I loaded this on my main machine that runs XP Pro and it killed QuickBooks 2008. When you click on the QB icon it looks like it is starting, and then the indication that it's loading just disappears. On my workstation, it killed the operating system AND a 500 gig drive so bad I could not recover 300 gigs of data. I had to reinstall the operating system and format the 500 gig drive...Don't they check these service patches before they inflict them on end users?"

Whew, Lloyd, now that is a nightmare. We're sorry that you had to live through it, but we appreciate you telling us about it.

Have any more horror stories? Or any other comments of any kind? Send them to

Posted by Lee Pender on May 15, 2008 at 11:54 AM