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After all, somebody has to point out the obvious!

Microsoft memory leak 'fix' killing legacy tablets?

If I had a "WTF?!" category for posts around here, this would be in it (* mental note to self... *). Apparently we may be in yet another scandal-ridden episode from the As the Tablet Turns soap opera. I'm certainly crossing my fingers. Two days ago, Microsoft pretty quietly "updated" KB895953 - Memory leak in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and made available a downloadable fix. This is slowly being noticed now by the level-minded tablet folks like Larry, Scott, and so forth. The big Tablet PC Buzz community conveniently suffered yet another of its inexplicable server hardware failures and went offline just as initial reports began trickling in. (Seriously, what with Microsoft bankrolling the place, is it really that hard to find a hosting provider that doesn't have hard drive components go dead every 37 minutes? Sheesh! The place is now definitely on track to join the Pocket PC Passion club.)

The problem this patch addresses is officially described as follows:

"A memory leak in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 causes a gradual decrease in available system memory. This loss in available memory causes degradation in system performance. When this behavior occurs, the user must restart the computer. This problem is caused by a memory leak in the tcserver.exe service."

In lay terms it means this:

"When Microsoft foisted the half-baked TPC Edition 2005 upgrade on tablet users, they also made that Windows XP edition the least stable of them all by including a massive memory leak which leads to lockups, crashes, slowdowns, and otherwise undermines the general public image of Windows XP being a stable operating system."

This is the problem Redmond was still "working overtime" to fix in February, the one that The Register highlighted in January, the one Robert Scoble avoided by rebooting every day anyway, which led to the hysterical "Reboot daily, Tablet users advised" headline. This is the same problem that tablet users have had to suffer through since way back in 2004, "fixed" themselves by developing a batch file to restart a couple of processes to free up the leaky memory. Pretty sad that common folk have to write batch files to fix a year-old coding problem. But apparently the press got bad, a big military customer saw the fuss and complained, or something or other, and some temps from Bangalore were flown in to fix the problem in two hours flat after a year of lots of empty Starbucks containers and denying the problem to the public.

Anyway, the fix is out, Jonathan Hardwick has a cute list of celebratory exclamations, and everything is alright with the world again, right? (Well, not really. Let's all take a minute to reflect on the tragic news from London. A stupid memory leak really pales in comparison to such devastation.) 

But back to the leaky ink. Joe Wilcox is already intelligently pointing out that the fix shouldn't have been made available under Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program:

"I'm somewhat surprised that Tablet PC users would have to validate to get a functional operating system update (right now, during WGA testing, validation is recommended, not required). Microsoft has indicated that users would still be able to get security updates once Windows Genuine Advantage validation is required. Apparently, Microsoft will make a distinction between security and other updates."

Really, isn't this the sort of thing that should have come down as a Windows/Microsoft Update selection instead of a manual download where you have to navigate an extra section just to skip validation? Will just the good guys be protected from memory leaks in the future? Preposterous!

But the scary part comes from so far unconfirmed reports that the fix, ahem, allegedly causes pretty serious problems on what I still consider the original Tablet PC - the Compaq TC1000. Before TPCBuzz went down last night I seem to vaguely remember one person mentioning something about crashes happening after the fix, but who knows what that was, and what was going on in the HP forums. However, there are some rumors that the fix pretty much kills TC1000s - mind you, just many, not all of them. Supposedly, the "fix" causes some sort of massive memory leak/loop, making the tablet to lock up, and causing some boot up problems. Not all TC1000s are affected, and the pattern apparently isn't quite clear yet.

Since the fix does seem to be working on other models, the trouble may be linked to the Transmeta processors on the TC1000, since it's the only commonly sold Tablet PC using that technology. However, Transmeta is pretty much sleeping with the fishes, so Redmond may be having problems getting somebody to answer the phone and come over to help. The mounting public pressure was apparently so stifling that Microsoft decided to write off the poor old first-gen Compaqs just to help the rest of the bloggers with their snazzy new Toshibas. After all, all those poor kids in all those "tablets in education" pilot projects - all the many ones that went with the TC1000 - won't raise too much of a ruckus, right?

I would gladly donate Monica's TC1000 to science and test, but alas - it's in a box, waiting to be shipped to HP for some unrelated repairs. Lately I feel like I'm sending something to or getting something from HP every week, but more on that later. My own M200 seems fine after the patch, but that was to be expected. And of course, this could all turn out to be a bunch of reports from the "unlucky 1%" that get shafted after many updates, but I'll definitely keep an eye on it. Did Hilton even have any TC1000s or does he test with just the newer models these days?

Anybody out there with TC1000 patching horror stories?

Published Jul 07 2005, 10:56 AM by peter
Filed under:



Josh Einstein said:

Peter I'm surprised at you. I know you've always had a bit of bitterness in you (as do I at times) but this post is 90% rubbish.

First of all, don't ever knock WGA. Should only the good guys get patches and fixes for memory leaks? Hell fucking yes. Filthy pirates shouldn't get a god damned thing. Not even a pill to cure cancer if it ever comes out. If you complain about WGA, then you may has well wear a "I love Kazaa" T-Shirt. There is no place for tolerance of piracy in this business.

Second of all, Tablet PC Buzz is *not* bankrolled by Microsoft. It's bankrolled by the advertisers that pay hundreds of dollars per month. We're all pissed about the outages, but here's the harsh reality... it's run by a 18 year old who is just graduating high school and probably wants to - GASP - live his live. That situation will correct itself over time because if the site can't be maintained, can't grow, etc, then someone else will come and take its place and the advertisers will move to it, and TPC Buzz will disappear. But to imply that they are the puppeted hand of Microsoft is inaccurate at best.

Finally, you (and many others) are making a much bigger deal out of this "memory leak" issue that it needed to be. It's a Tablet PC, not a server. If you can't reboot it every other day or so then maybe you need to get some sun. I don't have a problem rebooting my Tablet PC every day. Don't you people sleep? Jesus christ.

End rant.
July 7, 2005 11:25 AM

peter said:

Josh, you know, there is bitterness, and there is being fed up with things that could be fixed but aren't.

You and I can disagree on WGA, but in my opinion this was a critical patch that should have been on Windows Update and not offered as an almost restricted download. And the overall community and the Internet as a whole does not benefit from millions of unpatched machines, pirated or not.

As far as Buzz, whatever the money sources (nobody said anything about being a puppet, but the site isn't broke either), if you are with a host where the hardware craps out on a recurring basis, you just move. It's not hard. Younger kids these days have more stable sites. A lot of people rely on the place, so 18 or not, high school or not, make it reliable, no? There are many affordable, stable hosting companies with good uptimes and backup regimens. Enough said.

And you know, I sleep. I go out. And I don't reboot my tablet every day. I haven't rebooted anything daily since Windows XP came out. It's a solid OS otherwise, and Microsoft should know better than to undermine it with some extra ink hooks.
July 7, 2005 2:32 PM

Jonathan Hardwick said:

Peter - if you know of anyone having actual problems with the fix, Hilton wants to know.
July 13, 2005 12:26 AM

Arthur said:

I just have to agree with you, peter. WGA is the biggest pain in the ass I've ever used. I buy an OS based on the idea that they are trying not to hastle me. But Microsoft soon requires WGA for all computers. Number one, if you don't use IE, you've got a whole hell of a hastle on your hand, DLing some program, running it, typing in your serial key, etc. There are times even IE doesn't work right, and you have to hunt your Serial key down. I use a laptop, and it is a pain to have to flip my laptop over again and again copying down that freaking code. Just b/c I don't like it, doesn't make me a pirate. I just don't want undo hastle and bigger bro looking over my shoulder. My room, my computer, my rules. Easy as pie in my book, but oh well. Maybe longhorn will be an improvement. Until then, I stick with Ubuntu on mine, and XP on my fiance's.
July 13, 2005 12:20 PM

Aric said:

Wow Josh Einstein really doesn't have a clue.

First he's happy to get an OS that doesn't work.

Then he doesn't think it's unfair for users to go to extra effort just to get a working copy they already paid for. (And thinks it's ok to make MY life more difficult because there are pirates out there. Punish them, not me!)

Lastly he seems to think you shouldn't expect anything of 18 year olds.

I would say Josh has led a life of dissapointment, to not expect a working OS from an OS manufacturer, a workable site from an 18 year old, and not minding putting extra effort into getting something he already paid for.

As for Kazza and the like, how else am I supposed to view the new Dr. Who episodes in the U.S.?

I'll close with saying (aside from pointing out that Josh was the only person resorting to swearing here) that IMHO any computer with a TCP/IP stack is/can be a server, and therefore, unless the user specfically wants to, should never need to be turned off, put to sleep, or rebooted. It should be up to the user, not a bug in the OS that determines that. What if I started a download, or a video encode that was going to take 48 hours or 72 hours? Or decided to test a new low volume server for a few weeks on that system? I should NEVER *have* to reboot a machine.
July 13, 2005 8:52 PM
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