Microsoft software: an example

The “I hate Microsoft brigade” vs the “I love Microsoft brigade” have debated for eons the merits of the company. The argument will rage until you and I are long gone. Personally, I don’t hate Microsoft as a corporation, I’m by no means their biggest fan, but I have no reason to hate them and it’s irrefutable that they created the computer industry as it is today. But I do have issues with some of their software. It’s a boring subject, so I’m not going to bang on about the evils of the Microsoft and laud the wonder that is Apple. It’s a pointless no-win argument – some people like Microsoft, some people like Apple. You choose, and you do what you want.

But here is a good example why Microsoft software has a bad reputation.

The other day, I was getting fed up with slow network access to one of our development SQL servers, so decided to set up a local install of SQL Server 2005 on my workstation. No major problem, other than possibly decentralising dev work. I had a copy of SQL 2005 Development Edition (bundled with VS2005) , but everytime I ran the installer, it failed. Checking the log files provided no useful information, instead with messages such as “installer failed. Unknown error occurred.” Great.

Nowadays, you can moreorless guarantee that some poor dev somewhere in the world has encountered the same problem as you, and through the wonder of The Google and forums and blogs, you’ll quickly find a solution to your problem. Indeed I found an explanation to my particular problem.

The installer for SQL Server 2005 was failing because my computer was running Microsoft Office 2007 and as a result, the Office Web Components for Office 2003 (OWC11) weren’t installed (and the SQL Server 2005 installer couldn’t install them.) Essentially, an enterprise scale, databasing application is entirely dependent on a seemingly insignificant little extra for web components for Office 2003. I’m keen to know, then, if that means that installing SQL Server on a Windows Server requires these components? I’m bemused by the fact that SQL Server needs Office 2003 Office Web Components at all, but that it killed the whole installation process is more worrying.

Fortunately, it’s quick to fix by installing OWC11 manually and the re-running the SQL installer. However, I think it’s a good example of how Microsoft, in their design of Windows, their software and their deep-seated dependencies on these types of libraries, have created much of their misery. It makes me wonder what really needs to change in the core design of their systems and software before strange bugs like this can be removed (or at least handled more gracefully.)

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