Critical Randall C. Kennedy risks derailing Windows 7 launch

A supposed product bug has old fears surfacing. Is it a bug, a feature, or tabloid journalism?

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Others have had the same results. For example, Bharat Suneja, a senior technical writer in the Exchange team at Microsoft and co-author of the book "Exchange Server 2007: The Complete Reference," wrote on his blog that, after running the command at an elevated prompt:

CHKDSK did consume a fair amount of available memory, but nowhere close to the "massive amounts of memory" reported by the writer [Kennedy]. Needless to say, the much-feared blue screen of death was never encountered. On further testing, I also noticed that CHKDSK graciously released memory when the system required it for other tasks, such as running other programs. This is not very different from how Exchange Server has historically behaved as far as memory consumption goes. Some tasks require more memory, and if more memory is available, perhaps it's intended to be used at some point?

If that isn't enough to quell the uproar, Ed Bott (an award-winning tech writer with many books to his credit, also having served as the editor of PC/Computing and managing editor of PC World) said, "It's arguably a feature, not a bug, and the likelihood that you'll ever crash a system this way is very, very small and completely avoidable." He performed hours and hours of testing, which also did not duplicate the alleged bug.

I agree with Bharat's comments on the use of chkdsk:

As a more-than-reasonably-technically-savvy user, I do not recollect running CHKDSK more than once or twice in almost a decade. Yet, a so-called bug that can't really be reproduced easily -- or reproduced at all -- somehow becomes a catastrophic bug that "risks derailing product launch."

And I agree with what Sinofsky said:

While we appreciate the drama of "critical bug" and then the pickup of "showstopper" that I've seen, we might take a step back and realize that this might not have that defcon level. Bugs that are so severe as to require immediate patches and attention would have to have no workarounds and would generally be such that a large set of people would run across them in the normal course of using their PC.

Overall, it's important to differentiate between what's a bug -- an error condition that can be reproduced consistently and/or a security vulnerability -- which this is clearly not, and a design decision taken by a product team -- which is what Sinofsky says this is. This nonissue fails to meet the bar of a bug or a security vulnerability, and in fact has zero impact on operations. So it's not even a design flaw.

If you trust the blogosphere for your sources without confirming the claims made, you are bound to look foolish. But there is another consequence to this kind of alarmist reporting: the "first to be heard is right" rule. It goes something like this: My sister goes to Costco and is told by a clerk that Windows 7 is bad (because he read it somewhere, perhaps from an article with words like "showstopper" and "critical bug"), so she refuses to buy a system with Windows 7, preferring her old XP machine. Try as I might to convince her by showing her my books and videos on Windows 7, showing her how well it is running on my system, her response is steadfast: "No, no, the Costco guy who works in the computer department [part time actually, he spends the other half of his day at the register] said it was bad." Well, you just cannot battle with that form of logic.

To my colleague Kennedy, I have to say that it is sensationalist tabloid page-click-hunting journalism such as what you have become famous for that is earning InfoWorld the stigma as the Mad magazine of tech journalism. This is somewhat of an intervention, my friend. Let the anger go; use that brilliant mind of yours for good and not for evil.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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