PEBKAC

Uninstalling cookies

PEBKAC means “problem exists between keyboard and chair” Also known as human error. I am regularly surprised by the vitriol exhibited about faulty software and poor testing and dumb corporations when it comes to computer use.

I was the Chief Technology Officer for a multi-national billion dollar software company for over ten years. I’ve got a background that may provide some insight.

A personal computer, is just that, personal. Back in the days of the mainframe, everyone had a dumb terminal. You could only do with it what you were allowed to do, and while it was never really pretty, and sometimes felt very ancient, your terminal never got a virus, never got hacked and never required you to pay sums of money in the form of Bitcoin to get your computer back.

in fact, early personal computers were also very secure entities. They became insecure when we connected them outside our fortified spaces. This is called the Internet. The Internet was created to make information sharing easy. Perhaps the creators were naive, or just good folks, but nowhere did they envision that the Internet could be used with mal-intent.

Commercial software goes through robust testing. The larger the company, the more shareholders, and the more robust the testing. This does not mean that there will not be bugs. Computer code is more complex than it has ever been to support multi-dimensional touch screens, incredible graphics and real time connectivity. An old word processor that did a brilliant job of word processing might have been less than 16 kilobytes in size. Now we want graphical everything, and flying pink hippos and every darn thing and a simple word processor can now exceed 1 gigabyte of operational space required. With increased size and complexity comes increased probability of a bug.

Makers also have to accept that users may not be keeping their computers up to date. There remains an attitude of “not broken, leave it alone” Malefactors love and depend on this attitude. The more backward compatible software has to be, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong.

We are beginning to see that major software manufacturers are limiting the level of backward compatibility of their products. This is a smart business move, because if the OS maker is no longer supporting or patching the operating system, the bad guys can attack at will.

Not to be a nob, but if you are running a Windows machine at anything less than Windows 10, you have an open door policy to being hacked. While there are fewer attacks against macOS than Windows (it’s a volume game), macOS still faces attacks and older versions are no more safe than older versions of Windows.

Let’s also face the fact of buyer impatience. We want it all right freaking now. We expect three or four updates a year, not one every three years. This means that there is less time for testing before release. Makers know it and while the engineering teams do not like it, they do not get to decide on ship dates.

Hence PEBKAC. Users do not keep their machines up to date. They do not use Firewalls, They do not keep their antivirus and anti-malware up to date. It’s tougher because some of the bigger protection suites are so bloated they make a good machine unusable. You know who you are Symantec.

Users also are happy to install without inspection all manner of cruft from the internet. These do not come from large companies with shareholders. They are quick releases from small makers who may not have the skill or the interest in keeping them secure. Presets are a good example. The maker may have all good intent, but presets get loaded at application launch time and if one is bad, it could break the operation of your software. You see an Adobe product failing and blame Adobe. Sure it’s possible that Adobe did screw up, but it’s much more likely that some thing that you have added to your machine yourself is causing the fault. Yet when the screeds start, very few people are willing to do a completely clean install, they want everything just as it was. It is numerically impossible for any software maker to test all possible configurations. Expecting them to be able to do so is foolhardy. So is expecting a maker to tell you the details of everything that they have changed. Unless you have a deep understanding of the code design, such explanations must be so high level as to be meaningless.

“Photoshop is completely broken on my machine and it worked fine until the latest upgrade”. “everything was working great until I installed Mojave on my Mac”. Yes makers can introduce bugs, most often when trying to fix something already broken, or causing problems. What most users are willing to consider is that there are other considerations and that the fault for the flaw rests with us, because of other stuff we have installed.

I’m not suggesting that everyone have a dedicated test machine, physical or virtual that is always completely clean. We do this for schools, basically ripping out all changes every single night, because every day machines get infected and corrupted and fixing these problems is more time consuming than simply wiping them and putting down a clean system image. I recommend that every computer user do at minimum daily backups and a regular full system image of a functioning and working system. This won’t repair issues caused by bad software interactions, but will get you back to stable very quickly.

Also recognize that most Uninstallers are mostly useless and therefore harmful. They leave behind all manner of junk. Why? Because there is no money in uninstallers. I’ve seen uninstallers from very big companies that just erase the main application, leaving cruft all over the place. If you are the type to try new software, you should BUY a commercial grade uninstaller designed to reverse engineer the installer and remove all the detritus an install creates.

Open the hood on your recent model car. What do you see? A giant expanse of plastic covers? Gone are the days where a shade tree enthusiast can do much of anything without a sophisticated computer, proprietary software and a lot of specific training. You aren’t doing a home tuneup anymore, so why would anyone expect that they can plumb the depths of an operating system, let alone the depths of closed source software. Just because you have the skill to build a computer from components does not mean that you can do deep level diagnosis on an application or operating system.

As creatives, we tend to use very large and powerful applications. We also tend to then lambaste them with add-ons and plug-ins and presets and all manner of potentially malformed junk ware, but never place any responsibility on what cruft that we have added voluntarily. Let’s all smarten the hells up and we will see a lot fewer problems.


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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, watching and listening and until next time, peace.