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Much ado about nothing?

My first reaction to the stories about an alleged bug in Windows 7 CHKDSK utility that might "derail" the launch of Windows 7 was that it is probably just another mountain being made of a molehill.  After doing a little reading and research, I am beginning to doubt if the bug is even worth calling a molehill.  That's because all the "research" that had supposedly replicated the bug didn't actually replicate the bug and all they did was verify CHKDSK's normal behavior.

Randall C. Kennedy who supposedly replicated the bug admitted that he wasn't actually able to get any of his test systems to crash yet he still called for a halt to the launch of Windows 7 in his InfoWorld blog.  Others like Jason Mick who accepted Kennedy's analysis as gospel concluded that Microsoft was trying to pass the buck and that this "underlying file system issue" would likely delay Windows 7.  But it is clear that Kennedy and others citing him haven't really thought it out nor are they qualified to determine what constitutes a bug.

To get to the bottom of this, we first need to understand what CHKDSK is and what role it plays.  CHKDSK is a Windows disk checking utility that repairs hard drive errors.  Even if the tool has some incompatibilities with a small percentage of hardware, that should hardly derail the launch of the much awaited Windows 7 operating system.  CHKDSK using the /r switch looks for bad hard drive sectors and tries to salvage any good data that it can.  Most people don't even run CHKDSK much less with the /r switch because they simply don't get hard drive errors.  Even when they do have hard drive errors, they probably don't even notice unless it is something severe.  But even if there is a bug in the way the CHKDSK utility, it is not a flaw in the underlying file system.

But as the president of the Microsoft Windows Division Steven Sinosky pointed out, the mere fact that people are replicating the heavy memory consumption behavior of CHKDSK when using the /r switch doesn't prove a thing.  That's because CHKDSK is supposed to use maximum resources to repair a corrupted hard drive as soon as possible and that users shouldn't be doing anything else on the system while they wait for this to complete.  This makes a lot of sense because you certainly wouldn't expect to drive your car while someone is changing out the oil.  The priority here is to complete the repairs as soon as possible and this is precisely what CHKDSK does so it consumes all but 50 megabytes of available memory to finish repairs as soon as possible.  Then when it completes, it releases the memory so that the user gets the system resources back.  Since there was no crash replicated, it was silly for Randall Kennedy and everyone else to call this a bug much less a critical bug that would halt the launch of Windows 7.

Now for the very few people who actually get their Windows 7 machines to crash, there is a very likely possibility that the underlying firmware, drivers, or hardware isn't completely stable.  I know this first hand because one of my computers and a friend's computer that used to run fine on Windows XP refused to run on Windows Vista due to some memory problems.  Because the bad memory was near the end of the addressable memory space and Windows XP never used that much memory, the problem never materialized in XP until we used an OS that consumed more resources.  I had to download MemTest86+ and burn a bootable CD using ISO Recorder 3.1 which I booted to inspect my memory.  In both cases, my friend and I had to get Corsair and Kingston to send us new memory at no cost.  Anyone who owns a computer should be running this test anyways just to validate their own hardware.  MemTest86+ also managed to fail when my friend had a faulty CPU so it indirectly detects some CPU problems as well.

Another lesson I've learned in the past is that it is always a good idea to update motherboard firmware when you want to install a new Operating System.  It is simply a fact of life that older motherboard firmwares may not handle newer CPUs or newer Operating Systems very well.  Even if you're not going to install a new Operating System, it's a good idea to inspect your hardware and update the firmware to make sure your hardware is completely stable so that there is less possibility of silently corrupting data.

So can we conclude that there is no bug in CHKDSK?  We can't say for sure but we should definitely not conclude that there is a bug.  Microsoft has been testing 40 machines over night since yesterday and they haven't replicated the problem yet so it's starting to look like a hardware, firmware, or driver issue in some rare configurations.  We can conclude for certain is that this issue if there even is an issue will not derail Windows 7 launch.

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Inherent mistrust of Microsoft
By 3minence on 8/7/2009 9:20:57 AM , Rating: 1
Part of the problem when an issue like this appears is the lack of credibility MS has on these issues. Whenever something occurs their reaction is to try to deny or minimize it. Be it the Home Server bug or the RROD, they appear to desperately avoid acknowledging or taking responsibility for the issue. It's seems only after the point they can no longer avoid it that they step up to the plate. So when this issue came up and MS said "it's by design", I immediately was skeptical.

Having said that, I must Applaud the Win7 team which has been very open and upfront. MS's efforts to win back peoples trust with Win7 is good.

Oh, just so the Apple fans don't get too big of a head, I still trust MS more than I trust Apple.

By InvertMe on 8/7/2009 11:00:57 AM , Rating: 1
I work with Microsoft on a daily basis at work. They are by far the most reliable and consistent vendor I work with. IBM by comparison is difficult to work with, offers poor solutions to problems and can be very unresponsive.

So my guess is your "Inherent mistrust of Microsoft" is probably something in your head more than anything based in reality.

RE: Inherent mistrust of Microsoft
By Smilin on 8/7/2009 12:18:41 PM , Rating: 4
I'm do not agree that MS avoids responsibility or denies. They've been quite transparent on this for example.

Sometimes the public response merely needs to wait until the problem and it's scope are determined internally.

Take the RROD for example: There were forums posts and blogs griping about it for some time...but even if there aren't problems the forum posts and blogs would be griping. With that in mind the only way MS is really going to spot this is when they start getting a trend at tech support.

So once this trend was spotted what did MS do? They made it right to the tune of a billion dollars, even extending warranties of machines that were out of warranty just in case they got hit by this issue (which would otherwise have not been covered).

What about the Zune 30 issue? They spilled the beans on that the same morning and had debugged the issue by that afternoon. No denial whatsover.

The only real secrecy I see out of them is leading up to patch tuesdays. Spilling the beans on a vulnerability that is soon to be patched wouldn't be responsible.

MS has a long term vision of consumer trust and they take the hard road sometimes to reach that goal. Few will recognize this let alone give them in that regard I agree with you...earned or not some folks doubt them.

RE: Inherent mistrust of Microsoft
By 3minence on 8/7/2009 12:37:05 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, MS has been transparent on this issue. MS has been very good withWin7. But MS has not always been very good. I have worked with MS products for a very long time and they have been involved in many shady deals and ducking of responsibility. I have seen first hand the antics of their lawyers. Yes, they finally acted to make good the RROD problem, but only after they had no choice.

Again, it appears that this particular issue is being totally blown out of proportion. MS has been very responsive and open with Win7. Maybe MS is has truly turned over a new leaf and I and others should give them more benefit of the doubt. But because of their past actions I think we have the right to be a little skeptical.

RE: Inherent mistrust of Microsoft
By erple2 on 8/10/2009 1:01:14 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree. It is clear to me that you don't work in the software business, or if you do, you don't develop any kind of complicated software that any appreciable number of users use.

Any time we get a trouble ticket in from a customer, the first thing we do is to try and replicate the situation. If we are not able to replicate the situation, we don't (yet) confirm the ticket as a "bug". We then go into the software (source code) and start looking for the types of behaviors that are seen out in the field. As you can guess, this can be very time consuming and difficult. If we do finally confirm the behavior that the customer is seeing, we open a bug and work it normally. If we are never able to replicate the problem, then we're left in a weird state - we can't replicate the bug, so we can't effectively debug it. That's not to say that we don't "try" a couple of things to see if we can avoid that situation in the future, however.

I can imagine that with hardware, that's even more difficult to deal with, if only because there's a much larger lag time. Plus, you can't just "make another build" quickly or cheaply.

Until we're able to actually see the problem, we can't mark the problem as a "bug" and start tracking it internally through the software life cycle.

I suspect that a lot of the "bad blood" that people have with any software company is that their problems are not reproducible. And having a bunch of people on blog and forum posts saying that there's a problem doesn't mean that there's any real problem. That's the inherent problem with blogs and forums: people post because they're angry or upset at something, not because "there's nothing to see here, things are working fine". The intertubes needs a vetting process.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer
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