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Reader: Thanks for Nothing!

A cautionary tale from a reader about installing software to your computers.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 10/12/2006

From: An Unhappy Reader

Subject: Thanks for nothing!

Hi Joel,
I took
your advice and installed CleanCache today and wasted the rest of the day and probably much of tomorrow as a result. The installation and "cleanup" caused an error in my Fidelity Advisor Channel software. At first, I uninstalled CleanCache and did a system restore to no avail. Then, I tried to uninstall and reinstall Advisor Channel (with a support person on the other end of the line) to no avail. I'll have to wait for a senior person who has expertise in the in's and out's of the newest version of Fidelity's software. So far, at least three hours of wasted time. (I should bill you at $200 per hour.)
The sad thing is that everything worked beautifully before I took your advice to attempt to "improve performance." The obvious lesson is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" I'll make it a point to stay away from these tech advice columns in the future.

Wow, that one hurt. The last thing that I want is to create problems for readers. My goal is to make recommendations that improve advisors' lives, not complicate them. For the most part, I succeed, but there's always room for improvement. It's too late for this reader, but by addressing his e-mail, we can prevent this sort of thing from happening to others.

Before recommending a product, I put it through extensive tests myself, often on multiple computers, to judge how it performs. If it performs well, and if I like it, I recommend it. This should not, by any means, lead readers to believe that I am infallible, or that each and every product will perform for them exactly the way it performed for me. Ultimately, some responsibility rests with users to exercise judgment and proceed with due care. Those who do wish to follow my recommendations should always read the documentation, paying particular attention to any "known issues" that may apply to them.

There is an almost limitless combination of hardware and software on computers that readers are using today. Because each computer is somewhat unique, it is always possible that your computer will react differently than mine, because your hardware and software are different from mine.

I take it for granted that readers understand this important fact, but obviously some don't, so I am spelling it out now. In this particular case, the reader's Fidelity Advisor Channel software was apparently adversely affected by the CleanCache software. Because my test machines did not include Advisor Channel, I did not encounter a similar problem; hence, I could not alert readers to any potential problems.

The larger question is: How can we prevent this from happening to others in the future? I will provide some guidelines that can minimize the risk of a serious problem.

First, do not make changes to your systems during peak work periods. Set aside some quiet times to upgrade your computer or add software. If something does wrong, you will have ample time to fix things.

Second, before you make changes to your computer, create a restore point. In Windows XP, an applet called Windows System Restore acts like an undo command. Every time you install an application or run a utility, odds are that your system settings are being altered. If changed settings cause a problem, system restore can undo changes caused by the application. System restore does not alter data files; it only alters system settings. If you revert to the settings of an earlier time, all of your documents and e-mail will be retained, but programs and settings that were added and altered will not.

To create a restore point in Windows, click Start, then select All Programs, then Accessories, System Tools, and System Restore. Then, choose "Create restore point" and allow the wizard to guide you.

You can then proceed to make your software changes. If you experience a problem and uninstalling the program does not correct the problem, you can follow the same steps outlined above to start a system restore, only in the last step, choose "Restore my computer to an earlier time" and let the wizard guide you.

Third, if you're really skittish, consider making a disk image. Imaging software essentially makes an exact copy of your hard drive. This means everything: the system files, applications, and your data. If you create an image of your drive, and encounter a major problem after installing software, you can restore your system to its former state using the disk-imaging software. Restoring from an image can take a bit of time, but it is much better than the alternative, and if you are working with high-quality software, imaging is highly reliable.

There are numerous disk-imaging software packages, but two strong performers dominate the market: Acronis and Norton Ghost.

In summary, whenever you install new software to your computer, there is always a small chance that something will go wrong. Computers aren't perfect. At a bare minimum, you should create a restore point before you make changes to your system. When making major changes, or when an extra level of comfort is desired, a disk image is the way to go. 

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