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Fond and Furious
Jeff Pasternack

Before we begin, I ask you to pause and pay tribute to one of Washington, DC's finest psychoanalysts, Dr. Stefan Pasternack. He is relocating to south Florida in January and among his patients and peers, he will be dearly missed. Long affiliated with Georgetown University and a member of the Cosmos Club and MSDC, Dr. Pasternack's contributions to this city's individuals and institutions should not pass without notice. Tip'o'the'cap to you, sir.

Turning your attentions to my latest technology debacle, I'm fed up with application suites that take over my computer and then fail to play nicely with other applications. I'm sure you have your own examples, but here's one I've coped with since June.

My hard drive alerted me to an impending crash. While disconcerting, I'm happier knowing in advance, rather than having to call tech support with one of those “my computer won't boot” problems. Anyway, I exchanged it under warranty and in April I loaded Office 2000, Norton AntiVirus 2003, Thunderbird (email), Firefox (browser) and Adobe Acrobat 5 (creates PDFs).

In June I upgraded to Norton AV 2004 and Office 2003. The next time I used Word, and every time thereafter, an error message appears, asking if Word should recover my document and send a complaint to Microsoft. Microsoft alleges that Norton and Acrobat are causing the problem. I applied the Acrobat patch first, with no luck. The Norton fix also failed. As the error message only appears when closing MS Office, I resentfully decided to live with it. Quietly, a Debacle Cloud begins to form overhead.

By July I couldn't take it anymore. I knew that un-installing Norton would be messy, but maybe it would work. Wrong. Despite the change in AV programs, the problem persists. I un-installed Acrobat, ran Regclean, rebooted, re-installed Acrobat and the patch with no luck. The MS Office repair routine provides no relief and Debacle Drops drizzle down.

In October I upgraded Firefox and Thunderbird. They remind me of what its like to fall in love with software. Not that its possible, but my hatred for the error festers like boil. A upgrade to a new version of the new AV program.

On October 26, my designer was unable to open a PDF I sent her but, since she uses a Mac, the problem must be on her end. Everyone knows PCs are superior. Folly ducked around the corner, giggling, and the MS Office error plague continued.

I created and email PDF invoices on Halloween. A client says that his invoice doesn't open. He has no choice but to delay payment, happy day, as he doesn't know what he owes us, so sorry. I consider telling him to send $100,000 and I'll refund the difference, if any. Debacle Drops rain down mercilessly.

November 3 saw me bravely trudging through the uninstall/reboot/reinstall/repatch routine with Acrobat 5. No luck. I dumped Acrobat and tried CutePDF. No luck. I ran the Office repair routine and birthed a new error in MSO: Compile Error in Hidden Module: AutoExec. The Debacle Drops rained down as all this uninstalling, reinstalling, patching and repairing has tortured that godforsaken Windows registry and my racing computer was slightly slower than a Dell. Dejectedly, I decided to rebuild the box.

On November 4 I bought a new hard drive specifically for data. With five clicks and one reboot, my Falcon Northwest Mach V is back to its initial configuration. Drenched in Debacle, I had to make The Decision. Evil Empire or Rebel Alliance? I think you know the answer. So here's what happened next.

I have a theory about installing applications after you've updated Windows. Install the messy applications first, clean up the debris and go from there.

I have Office 2000 and the upgrade to 2003. You need to install the former prior to the latter and it feels messy. But as a recently enshrined ember of the Rebel Alliance, I installed a free application called OpenOffice. This suite is similar to Office 2003, minus some features that I never knew existed. Along with being incredibly tidy, it also has a PDF plug-in, so I don't have to buy Acrobat to create PDFs.

AOL and IM
I think AOL is laden with bloat, and yet for $5 a month, I won't part with my email address that I've had email since 1995. So after installing it, I clean up the garbage links to unwanted services. AIM and Yahoo Messenger are also piggish and litter your computer with nonsense to delete, which I do, followed by configuring to taste.

WinAmp 2.91 plays my MP3s. Its simple to use: pick a directory and play the contents. Newer versions of WinAmp are, in my opinion, bloated with other useless components. Oh wait, they're owned by AOL. Huh.

RealPlayer tortured me for years, so I use Real Alternative for the key task: playing RM and RMA files.

Email & Web Browser
I've always had a special place in my home for IE, Outlook Express and now Office: the toilet. Virus writers and hackers love them and users have little defense and no ability to customize them.

I love Firefox and Thunderbird. You can change the appearance (themes) and add functions (extensions) that aren't in IE. For example, one extension lets you copy text on a web site and paste it into a document without reformatting it or install the Adblock extension and block ads from the source. There's so much to love at

Safe Computing
Anti-virus and firewall applications are last because they'll go through a system and catalog all that's there as rightfully belonging.

The Test
From the time I unwrapped the new hard drive to finishing my installs was 6 hours. My Falcon Northwest is blistering fast again, and, more importantly, I am that much more free from the Debacle Drops rained down upon me by the Evil Empire.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at