Practical solutions are “not an option”

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As I look at problems in Experts Exchange and then attempt to offer solutions, I am surprised by how often I see solid, legitimate solutions rebuffed by the asker with some variant of “Reality is not an option
A bit of background may be appropriate to begin this article. At the time I write this, I have been a member of Experts Exchange for 6 years (starting mid-October 2008). I started Experts Exchange at a time when I was putting a Vista Business computer into consulting service production. I needed a replacement VPN client for the Juniper XP client software I had been using and I had found Soft Remote by SafeNet. I licensed it but I could not get it to work. I went to a consultant I knew from my own consulting work, he went the internet, found a solution, and we got Soft Remote working. I asked my friend where he found the solution and he showed me Experts Exchange. That was my first introduction into this technology site.
I joined at that time, decided the pay the Premium Member freight on an annual basis and I was a paying Premium Member until July, 2012 when I had earned enough points for the (then) new program that awarded me free membership forever. It depends on whether you believe the Bible (four score and ten) or modern science if “forever” is shorter or longer for me!
I answer questions primarily to help people, but Experts Exchange attracts me because good work is rewarded and constant moderation ensures that questions get closed and rubbish is put in the trash bin. I recall my first solution at Experts Exchange, that is, my first Good Answer! Someone was moving from Server 2000 to Server 2003 and I had done just that at a client a couple of years earlier. I recommended SwingIt and two days later I got this Good Answer! email. I started to realize that consulting work had made me learn how to solve all kinds of problems and I began to turn this knowledge into solutions here. I help others (sense of community) and points are a form of recognition.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. A gusher full, in fact. Now, a half a dozen years later, I see patterns of questions and solutions. Straightforward questions are always neat: “I can’t connect computer A to computer B”. Turn on Network Discovery and File and Print Sharing, I say. “Oh, right. Thank you. That did it”. Good Answer!
But now let us take a look at the dark side. I see questions like “My Computer doesn’t work, please help me fix it”. A half dozen or a dozen posts later, I say “Nothing has worked for you so back up, format and reinstall Windows”. Now I have been around a long time, and researching black holes is almost always a waste of time. My clients do not like it at all and if reinstalling Windows is faster, then let’s get on with it, they say. But the answer here comes back from the asker: “Reinstalling Windows is Not an Option”. Why I ask?

Because, says the asker, I discarded the software and license keys and I would have to repurchase my software. There must be a registry key that will fix this mess with one click! Wishful thinking. The member abandons the question and a cleanup volunteer deletes the question because “there is not enough information to confirm an answer”. Members like this waste our time. Other members would rather we gave our time to them for solutions that help them, and such members happily reward us.
If you are reading this, there are always options.
First, read my article on Trouble-Free Computer (here). In this article, I talk about backing up documents and software, common sense approaches to avoiding viruses, and common sense approaches to modernizing software when upgrading operating systems.
Back up your software, back up your documents, and keep a record of your license keys, software authorization files, and purchase receipts. People who say that reinstalling Windows is not an option because they don’t have their software are deluding themselves. What happens when the hard drive fails? Not if mind you, but when. People in this mess are not hapless victims; rather they made their mess through their own carelessness. Please do not be one of them.
Network connections (wireless connections, normally) cause another kind of question. Wireless connectivity is subject to local conditions such as walls, metal shielding, interference, and local power management. Microsoft loves to turn off your wireless to save the battery. That you may be working when this happens does not matter to them. So the first approach in answering a question like this is to review wireless settings. Once settings have been worked out and verified and the problems remain, there are two general causes: network cards are incompatible with routers, or either device is defective or limited in its capability.

Solution: Replace the network card or router or both. I have spare routers in the basement that have limitations and spare network cards in the cupboard that have limitations. Nonetheless, I can quickly isolate a problem device by substitution. I have seen lots of these problems, and I chuckle when someone says replacing a device is not an option. Better, I guess, to have problems and complain about it rather than substitute a device and fix the issue.
Viruses and malware present a fertile field of problems and related troubleshooting in Experts Exchange. I don’t get viruses and so I am not a real expert in virus elimination. But I read the threads by members who are expert in virus troubleshooting and they will often say the same as I will say. At some point, if the viruses are bad enough and/or you have root kit viruses, back up your documents, delete all partitions, format and reinstall Windows. This is almost sure to guarantee success.

But some members protest that reinstalling Windows is not an option because they don’t have backups or because they require two or three days to install all the software and set it up. They are deluding themselves. Their machine is so badly infested that reinstallation of Windows is the only solution. And anyway, what happens when the hard drive fails?
Make no mistake about viruses and malware. They do not attack you. You invite them in by clicking on bogus links. I understand these links are socially engineered to attract you but do not fall victim. Use your good common sense. There is no link that will make you rich, no link that will make you beautiful, no link that will speed up your computer, and no link that will rid your computer of viruses. Do not click on these links. You will only invite trouble and land here looking for help. All anti-virus applications are rear-guard applications that protect only after zero day exploits have been released. You must always keep your guard up.
Legacy software is another huge issue. A person’s computer wears out, so they head down to Staples and purchase a shiny new Windows 8 computer. Their first mistake is that they have not stopped to realize that Windows 8 with no qualifier is Windows 8 Home and is not suited to business use. Their second mistake is that they assume that Office 2003 that they had with their XP machine (both now dead) will work with Windows 8. Maybe it will, but more likely it will not and further, it will likely cause problems.

But upgrading Office is not an option, we are told. This is another question that becomes abandoned and then deleted by a cleanup volunteer. Time is money and you will save much time by upgrading software when upgrading operating systems. Yes, I have a shelf full of Office 97, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010 and now 2013. But my Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit laptop works just fine with Office 2013.
Windows XP was a good operating system. I used it for five years before Vista even showed up. But it is a 32-bit operating system, limited to 3 GB of memory, and (by any reasonable standard today) slow as a turtle. It is also dead. At my last look during this past week, Windows 8 / 8.1 has shot up to about 18 percent market share and XP has dropped down to 18 percent market share and dropping. Most XP machines are now in homes and with consumers; businesses are getting rid of them. A lot of these machines are also getting older. Security patches have stopped coming and virus writers are having a field day wrecking XP systems and stealing information.

So when the computer inevitably breaks and does not work, I suggest all of the above to the member having major problems with XP and say “time to move on”. The member says “I have built up software and methods that are limited to XP and upgrading from XP to a newer operating system is 'not an option'". Really!  And what happens when you are forced to upgrade? More wishful thinking.
But Vista doesn’t work. The newspapers said so! Rubbish. Vista works very well and 64-bit Vista is much faster than XP. I used it for 18 months in consulting production, including hooking up radio dispatch network gear at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. Vista never let me down. Ever.
Nonetheless, Windows 7 came along and now has over 50 percent market share. Vista is down to 3 percent. Windows 7 Pro 64-bit is a good operating system. But people continue to have self-made problems. “I need a lot of memory for this new application and installed 8 GB. I only see 3 GB registered. What happened?”  Do you have Windows 7 32-bit, I ask?  ‘Why, yes” replies the asker. So then that is why you can only see 3 GB. Upgrade to Windows 7 64-bit.

The asker protests: Upgrading to 64-bit is not an option because my old games and old software won’t work in 64-bit. So what happens, I ask, when vendors stop selling and supporting 32-bit operating systems? Sounds of silence.
At the beginning of this November (2014) Microsoft has stopped making Windows 7 available on new machines. Since Windows 10 is on the horizon, I could argue that this is a mistake and Windows 7 should be made available until Windows 10 is released. Nonetheless, I now see Windows 8 / 8.1 market share growing. But Windows 8 doesn’t work, we are told. The newspapers said so. Again, rubbish. I have been using Windows 8 / 8.1 for over 18 months now and it works perfectly well. See my article on Ways to Improve Windows 8 (here). Yes it is different, but you can adapt Windows 8 to your way of working (I do) and you can change so as to adapt to Windows 8 (I do that also).
So you see, there are always options. Some options take time and effort, some options cost money, and some options require common sense. But there are always options.
  1. You can back up software and documents. This is extremely simple.
  2. You can purchase modern software as you upgrade. Yes there is some expense here, but new subscription models mitigate this upfront cost.
  3. You can use your good common sense and avoid viruses. It is not at all difficult to avoid viruses.
  4. You can get a more modern (and faster) router, a more modern printer (that supports your new computer).
You can fix and adapt to almost anything. Not an option is a distinctly unhelpful way to think and usually does not solve any problem. Please do not fall victim to this way of thinking.
If you are a consumer, remember that the initial cost of any computer is just a part of the overall purchase. Remember to budget for new and compatible software for the computer. Perhaps purchase the computer with licensed software included. If you are in business, time is money (ask your manager) and wasting time in black holes looking for a silver bullet to avoid a proper fix wastes time.
There are always options.

Expert Comment

I don't know if I've every used the term "not an option". However, I do sometimes post questions that are very focused towards getting the me to the direction that I am leaning towards.

I don't use experts exchange (or other forums) to design strategy, rather tactics. I've got a bigger picture of cost, goals, history, restrictions, resources, etc and I have a single piece that I am getting hung up on. I may resolve that piece or avoid it be changing the overall project or expanding the scope. However, if believe that we there is a solution, I am going to try to focus on solving that one piece (provided there isn't a disproportionate cost (cost can be measured multiple ways)).

I realize that there are always options. But sometimes I think we don't consider every option the forum because we've already considered and ruled out those options. And sometimes we bounce around for option to option (myself included) when we need to focus on the singular problem at hand.

Great discussion.
LVL 103

Author Comment

@Jack5Back - Thanks. I, myself, try to make things work sometimes. Inevitability I must move forward.

Expert Comment

Excellent article.
I've been playing with PC's since before they were really PC's (Started on an Olivetti Programmer 101) and have always been aware that the HARD DISK WILL FAIL. I've dealt with 3 this calendar year with ages ranging from 6 years to 4 months. Good to see it emphasized in this article. I suspect many users are unaware.
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LVL 103

Author Comment

Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate it.

Expert Comment

by:R. Toby Richards
This is a great article, but I think you're not taking into effect what I call the 8th OSI layer: The political layer. I often find myself saying that "this is not an option." The reason is that people above my pay grade have told me that it's not an option, and I am unable to convince them otherwise.

As the network/system administrator of the court system in a single county of California I would constantly complain that we needed to replace the DOS application--written in 1987--that ran our Civil department. This was not only because DOS was never meant to handle a 6 GB single-file dBase database, but also because it was preventing us from upgrading to anything beyond Windows XP.

Now, the reason that we could not upgrade to a modern application wasn't even particularly monetary. People at the highest levels of the California state government had put all their eggs into developing a new application that would run both Civil and Criminal departments. The product was scheduled to come out in 2001. Every year the product was coming out "soon". In 2012 we were still waiting for it. The problem here is that the careers of these giants among the State government hinged on the success of the home-grown product. Any attempt to upgrade our Civil or Criminal systems would be seen by the highest authorities as a sort of treason. Heads would roll.

In such a situation, I could tell you with all validity that upgrading our DOS application or client operating system was very definitely "not an option". Nobody at my county level (which goes up to my boss's boss's boss's boss (all of whom are classified as "at will" employees) would even consider a new Civil system because it would put their careers into serious jeopardy.

Fortunately, the legislative branch of government cut funding for the home-grown project in 2013, and we were able to do an upgrade to a third party project. Until that time there were 12 years of "not an option" rhetoric from those of us at a position where we would use Experts Exchange, and correspond with folks such as yourself.

Your article is fantastic for MOST situations, but I have to say that if you maintain that "not an option" is wishful thinking, laziness, or resistance to change 100% of the time then you aren't in touch with the political engines of large organizations.
LVL 103

Author Comment

Through my own decisions and ingenuity, I don't work for Government but only businesses. I can usually convince smart business people to keep moving forward. I do thank you for your wisdom.

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