Infuriating Windows

The iPod Shuffle may be a fine product, but iTunes for Windows certainly isn’t. I use iTunes on my PowerBook for all of my music and like the vast majority of users, I love it. When I was still studying at Oxford, I spent many hours listening to other students’ Shared Music and when I finally moved out to my own house I had grand designs of putting my neglected PC to use as a music server running iTunes. The idea was that I could simply stream music from my laptop over the network, avoiding the hassle of network shares or suchlike.

As usual, the technology didn’t co-operate. Specifically, iTunes refused to install on my Windows PC. My PC has been through a lot and been upgraded several times, but it’s spyware and virus free and at the time had all relevant Windows patches, including SP2, so I wasn’t expecting any problems. As it happened, the iTunes installer – InstallShield – kept on throwing up the same incomprehensible problem no matter what I did. No amount of fiddling with settings or patiently complying with all numbers of esoteric instructions from InstallShield’s website helped – it just wouldn’t install. In the end I gave up and consoled myself with the knowledge that there were plenty of other people out there with the same problem.

A year later and I find myself facing the same problem with my girlfriend’s computer. I’d noticed that her Windows laptop was lacking some security updates and, like any good geek boyfriend, proceeded to install them (not SP2 though – I didn’t want to try my luck). All went well, and this made me confident enough to download an update for iTunes. I’ll be honest – it wasn’t a critical update and it added no new features, so I really didn’t have any good reason to install it, but I’d been on an update-installing spree at work that week and was still on a high. ‘What could go wrong?’ I asked myself. ‘If iTunes is already installed and working, surely updating it can’t be a problem?’

Such is the hubris of man.

Oh, it installed fine and the progress bar rapidly zipped up to 100% – and stayed there, stuck on ‘Publishing Product Information’, for ten minutes. Clearly it had crashed. I force-quit the installer and tried again: same problem. I restarted the computer and tried again. No luck. At this point I was starting to get worried – it’s one thing to break your own computer, but breaking someone else’s is a much more serious affair, and let’s not get on to breaking your girlfriend’s computer.

Google turned up a few interesting leads that seemed vaguely promising, the most ingenious of which was renaming the iTunes directory while the install was in progress. Unlike the other leads, this actually seemed like it might work but in the end resulted in breaking it even more and littering the registry with a bunch of crap. In fact, the installer refused to even load up any more, let alone reach 100%, and combined with having to work on Windows’ infuriating lack of Expose, I was on the verge of throwing the computer against the wall. I didn’t, because it would’ve been a mess to clean up, but it did cross my mind. Anyway, a few pancakes, a few minutes work with regedit and a restart saw the results of my abortive all-too-clever attempt cleaned up.

By this point, I’d calmed down a bit and was beginning to come to terms with the possibility that iTunes would never work on her laptop again. Sure, it would be an inconvenience hiding out in the Utah desert for a few months until she gave up trying to kill me, but you have to live with the consequences of your actions. Just as I was about to do a final Ctrl-Alt-Delete and kill the installer process for the last time, I noticed that iTunes and iTuneshelper processes were also running – despite the fact that I had manually deleted them and stopped their processes. I shrugged my shoulders in the special way that only Mac users can when confronted with a Windows problem and killed those two processes. And then the installation completed a second later.

I remember standing in front of the laptop astounded. Yes, I could understand why those two processes might have caused a problem, but I didn’t seriously entertain the notion that Windows and/or the installer was so damn stupid enough not to kill them before installing. As I later remarked, I’d almost have rather it not work instead of having my mental model of the universe shattered, once again, by the entirely unpredictable and avowedly non-Lapacian Windows. Almost.

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