back to article The Ghost of Windows Past haunts a street corner in Bermondsey

Bork goes big in the latest edition of The Register's 12 Borks of Christmas, with Windows reporting problems in the southeast London district of Bermondsey. Bermondsey Windows message Click to enlarge Snapped by the passenger of eagle-eyed Register reader Duncan, the offending display can be spotted on London's Jamaica Road …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Knock on wood, I've only had two hard drives fail on me in nearly 30 years of PC computing, starting out with a '286 back in the early-mid nineties before anything more than 28.8 Kbps modems were a thing. If I recall correctly, that machine had a whopping 5MB hard drive. :)

    I won't bother naming the brand that failed; it was that brand because until this past year, it was the ONLY brand of hard drive I bought. This year I gave WD a shot for a media drive with one of their super-size 5400RPM jobs that goes to sleep far too often. Seems reliable enough, but it rarely spins up 'cause who has time for videos when there is work a'waitin'?

    I'm hard on the drives, too, constantly pounding on them with builds and databases. The most abused were the ones in my media capture systems just before Y2K, and even THOSE drives lasted 2-3 times longer than their warranty period before I tossed them because they were too small to bother re-installing in the latest box.

    But I do one thing that most people don't: I leave my computers running 24/7, and disable "sleep mode" on my spinning rust when I can. It is the start and stop friction that wears out bearings and causes drive failures; enterprise drives never shut down and don't fail nearly as often, despite the fact that there is really no major difference between most "enterprise" drives and most consumer drives save for the controller board and the warranty on it.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: I leave my computers running 24/7, and disable "sleep mode" on my spinning rust when I can

      I must admit I generally do similar. Problem comes when there is a need to power down. The big question is whether it will power on and spin-up afterwards. That's when I've found hard drives to be at their most vulnerable.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Disk failures

      Usual mode of failure is "now to small to be worth bothering with". Two failures from extreme old age and two that died young probably because I put them both in the same cheap box. When I switched to a box rubber supports to isolate the drives from each other the early deaths stopped. These days I do not bother with a box and just place drives on the sponge packing they used to come with (requires a cat-proof space).

      1. TKW

        Re: Disk failures

        Cat-proof? I promise you, it's cat-resistant at best

    3. Martin Summers

      "I won't bother naming the brand that failed"

      Come on, we all know it's more than likely Seagate.

  2. tin 2

    contact the computer manufacturer to determine if you need to repair or replace the disk

    As if! Who writes this stuff?

    1. Yes Me Silver badge

      Re: contact the computer manufacturer to determine if you need to repair or replace the disk

      Surely you know what that means in English:

      "Do not, under any circumstances, even think about contacting Microsoft".

      Also, Register, what is this new nonsense with <font size="50">RIDICULOULSY BIG FONTS</font>? Some of us look at this stuff on proper computers, you know, not on stupid little smartphones.

    2. Winkypop Silver badge

      Re: contact the computer manufacturer to determine if you need to repair or replace the disk

      No need.

      I get calls from “Microsoft computer support” all the time!

      Those chaps always seem very keen.

  3. Grunchy Silver badge

    I like XP, Win7

    You know what I like about ‘em?

    Microsoft stopped messing around with them and they never change anymore.

    It has finally become like the old times when a software product wouldn’t ship until it had been perfected, because back then they were baked into a ROM and updates were impossible. Nowadays software is 100% hacker product that will only be patched when frustrated customers find all your crap bugs for you. Also the patch is more opportunity for sleazy software vendors to introduce new advertising / spy monitoring / root kit / defeaturing.

    Example of how destructive such modern garbage coding can be: Ariane explosion 1996. Or crashing a 737 Max.

    1. ShadowSystems

      Re: I like XP, Win7

      *Hands you a pint, clinks rims, & drinks with a happy glugging*

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I like XP, Win7

      Win7 was the last version of Windows that worked for me.

      I learned many years ago at Uni that the purpose of an OS is to let you do stuff and by keeping out of the way as much as possible you got stuff done.

      W9/8.1 and 10 came along and with every release and update and patch the OS became more front and centre. They just got in the way more and more.

      That was it for me. I bailed entirely from Windows in 2016 and have not regretted it one little bit.

      Windows is going backwards at a great rate of knots.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: I like XP, Win7

      "introduce new advertising / spy monitoring / root kit / defeaturing"

      Damn right. Happens with depressing regularity on Android. Proper app gets bought by some shady outfit and festooned with adverts and spyware, or the dev gets greedy and does it to themselves. With no official rollback either. And people wonder why I turn off auto update on everything I can.

      I still run XP. It's limited in what it can access due to its age, but it runs the programs I want just fine. I can't justify spending a couple of hundred for a machine that will do the job a smidgen faster, assuming it doesn't just say No and refuse to run things. What I have works, for me, and because it's a forgotten dinosaur, nobody screws around with what it does behind my back. No updates that mean printing suddenly and mysteriously stops working, just when I need it to work...

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Re: I like XP, Win7

        Android: what's wrong with the web browser? Why, o why o why do you need an app for stuff that you can do on a web browser? Oh, yes, I remember: so they have more control of your data and can access more stuff than the web browser will give them.

        * Would you like to turn on location tracking, says the browser (recommended: yes)? No, fuck off.

        * Would you like me to send you alerts, says the browser (recommended: yes)? No, fuck off.

        Can you do that with apps? Well you let them access all that lovely data they say they need to read. I DON'T install any apps (other than Firefox). And then I decline to share anything. With a browser I have (some) control. With an app I have no control.


  4. cyberdemon Silver badge

    What I want to know is

    Why do people insist on using Windows for public signage?

    If the output is a framebuffer device separate from the administration console, then it doesn't need to splurt all the gory details of its latest hardware/software error for all and sundry to point and laugh at.

    It also helps if you don't use an OS that needs constant OTA updates (lest it splurge a reminder on your bork screen), can't live without a swapfile and never, EVER stops thrashing the disk.

    1. spireite Silver badge

      Re: What I want to know is

      Answer is, they shouldn't.

      But, having worked for a Global type of company, the lowest common denominator is perceived support.

      By that I mean, Windows is easy to support - Linuxes are perceived not to be.

      Windows 7 was the flavour of choice, cos it just worked. But, given the newer signage doesn't have Win 7 drivers, it's dying there too.

      Win 10 was overkill so, Linux was the direction - mostly Ubuntu flavoured., powered by NUC stuff, usually with SSDs in more recent years

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: What I want to know is

        Wouldn't some sort of custom build of Android be the most suitable for this sort of use case?

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge

          Re: What I want to know is

          Not really, no.

          Android still needs endless updates for stuff that would never be used by a digital signage system, is a right pain in the arse to build, doesn't easily support external framebuffer devices, and has too many features that would need to be turned off e.g. power management, lock screen, home screen, notifications, telephony, user accounts.. etc. It could possibly be even worse than Windows.

          The obvious solution would be embedded Linux (e.g. Yocto), with the signage application (perhaps based on a HTML5 renderer) writing directly to a raw framebuffer device. And I suspect/hope that the only reason we don't see any of those, is because they don't display hilarious giant size error messages when they go wrong, and so do not go on to be featured in "Bork! Bork! Bork!" (or indeed the 12 Borks of Christmas).

          When they do (rarely) go wrong, the screen would just freeze with the last displayed advert or go blank, and nobody except the service technician ever notices.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: nobody except the service technician ever notices.

            I bet many employees of companies featured on these rotating ads are primed to report frozen screens - frozen when their ad is not being displayed.

            Do these displays have some kind of audit trail of how many "impressions" each ad has had, in order to defend against such claims?

            1. spireite Silver badge

              Re: nobody except the service technician ever notices.

              Yep, when I was in this stuff, it was a case of wrting data to a log file, and tailing it up to some endpoint with logstash or similar, and pump it into a backend. Whack it through a BI tool, or Excel (shudder).... that was as good as proof you were going to get, Most software will also take screenshot of the video card so you know what the machine is doing. Doesn't mean it's displayed to Joe public though

              Some might have cameras pointing at the screen, for that validation.

          2. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: What I want to know is

            "When they do (rarely) go wrong"

            They'll open a sort of console like window in the foreground and then spew some rubbish so you'll know it's a device running Linux and VLC gibberish gibberish gibberish.

            Saw this in town a few years ago as I was going by in the car. I didn't think to get my camera ready (passenger!) because I was actually more impressed that it wasn't a crappy BSOD.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: What I want to know is

      Ecosystem. Digital signage itself is only part of what a digital signage company does. They have to sell the ads, bill for them, and maintain a database of them. It's easier for them to pick one OS to do all that and a decade ago Win7 was a reasonable choice.

      Besides, ElReg would be a sadder place without our Windows borks.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: What I want to know is

        Raspberry Pis are now quite common in this application.

        Dirt cheap, and trivial to repair by replacing the SD card or the whole module.

        It's amusing when you realise the entire RPi costs less than a single Windows license.

        Of course, existing units will be run into the ground before replacement.

        1. spireite Silver badge

          Re: What I want to know is

          Certainly true that the kit as a whole itself isn't cheap.

          The ones that spring to mind because I drive past them regularly are the Storm (now Clearchannel) ones on the Earls Court road junction opposite the large Tescos in West London, but you've got other premium ones on the A4 run from Global and JCDecaux.

          They will be run into the ground until spares cannot be found because they generate the most cash due to 'impressions' and position.

          They are a moneyspinner

    3. Pirate Dave Silver badge

      Re: What I want to know is

      We have a Linux-based signage system at work from MVix. It works fairly well, but still does soil the bed from time to time.

      The thing is, it mostly displays PowerPoint files. That's the thing to keep in mind - the component that displays the image on the screen is only half of the solution, the other half is the backend software that lets the semi-sentient droids in HR determine what is going to be shown on the screen. And, for the most part, they build their slideshows in PowerPoint and import them, in spite of the fact that the MVix software can display text, graphics, and video, and do timed screen wipes, fades, etc possibly even better than PowerPoint does. But it's the familiarity that they want, so they stick to what they know. And it's the powerpoint files that cause the little display computer to crap its pants once in a while. Even in a non-Microsoft ecosystem, PowerPoint is still the root of all evil.

    4. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: What I want to know is

      "can't live without a swapfile and never, EVER stops thrashing the disk"

      Not actually true. The EeePC 901 came with XP, and since it uses an SSD instead of spinning rust, it came with the swapfile disabled. Okay, you couldn't load a bunch of apps at the same time with 1GB of memory, but with 2GB fitted instead, it was perfectly useable (including dozens of tabs on Firefox).

      Personally, I think the disc thrashing is because Microsoft don't use a swap partition. They just maintain a self-expanding file on the regular filesystem. Which, over time, gets horribly fragmented. Voilà, instead thrashing.

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge

        Re: What I want to know is

        Heh. You are right about the pagefile, it is indeed possible to ask Windows not to use one (but apparently performance degrades if you do - according to Microsoft you're supposed to leave the pagefile enabled, even if you have an SSD and plenty of RAM).

        But one thing windows CANNOT do is to run with a read-only C: drive. There is a horrible hack in the so-called "Windows Embedded" to try and disable most disk writes by copy-on-write to RAM, but the physical disk has to be read-write otherwise windows panics.

        Whereas in Linux (especially embedded) it is perfectly normal to set all file systems read-only. There's even a handy shortcut key (alt+sysrq+u) to do it.

        Why in gods name would you put Windows on an Eee PC? Weren't they supposed to come with Linux?

        1. NATTtrash

          Re: What I want to know is

          Why in gods name would you put Windows on an Eee PC? Weren't they supposed to come with Linux?

          Have one here that still works. Over time ended up being used as a "bleached" device when going state side or Kodi box for the little ones. Does it all, never misses a beat, although it does need a walker to get through life. At a certain point replaced the crappy Intel SSD with a (larger and faster) Kingspec one and stuck more RAM in there, which gave it "wings". But eventually, being 32 bit makes its future uncertain. Can't really part with it though due to good memories.

          You are right, it did come with Linux originally. Mine did. But I suppose that "Marketing" at a certain point got the point across that "it will only sell with Windows because that is all $USER trusts can handle Fox says you can do your homework with knows recognises".

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: What I want to know is

            Microsoft realised that the netbook concept could seriously affect their penetration of the home market, so they re-vitalised the already withdrawn Windows XP, creating the Windows XP Netbook edition.

            This was an entirely cynical move, bringing back to life an OS Microsoft had been trying desperately to kill.

            But unfortunately for everybody, even this cut-down, limited version of Windows was too big for the first generation of netbooks (the original EeePC 701 could be bought with as little as 2GB of SSD, and only had 512MB of RAM, although the smallest UK model had 4GB of SSD).

            Because Windows suddenly became an option, people started buying it with Windows rather than Linux, found the devices were too slow and limited, and the devices lost the interest of the public. So the manufacturers made them bigger, more powerful and thus more expensive, and put spinning rust disks to hold the bloated OS, eventually leading to the Ultrabook segment of the market.

            So, Microsoft killed the cheap Netbook market dead by reversing one of their own decisions, and put Linux adoption in the home market back, possibly forever (at least if you don't include Chromebook and Android).

            If only they'd kept their money-grabbing hands off the market, we would have had small, cheap and usable laptops a long time before Chromebooks came along, and Linux would be more accepted. But maybe they achieved their goal.

            OK, I know that the shipped Linux variants on the early Netbooks was quite crap, but I put Ubuntu running on my EeePC 4G up to Lucid Lynx using the internal SSD, and put 12.04 on it running off a USB drive when the SSD became too small. The real killer for this system was the relatively slow processor and SSD, and the size of the screen!

            I do still have an early Acer Aspire ONE still running, because I could upgrade the RAM and also able to put a ZIF to M2 m-SATA adapter to allow me to replace the sloooooow SSD that came with the device.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: What I want to know is

          Mine came with Windows. That's part of the reason why I got it (upgrade from a desktop monster). Also, being cheap and cheerful didn't hurt.

          It was also a great device to take in the car for looking for open APs. No harddisc to jolt, and a pretty sensitive WiFi card. This was in the days when some less clued ISPs used to hand out their ADSL boxes completely unsecured.

    5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: can't live without a swapfile

      The swap file/partition is not the problem. Most likely problem is some program you do not need is wasting a large amount of memory. If you have done a thorough job of pruning installed software then your requirements are bigger than your installed memory - fix either one.

      Years ago there was an internet wide hate campaign against swap space. The symptom was openoffice being sluggish in the morning. The blame was placed on its data being swapped out to swap space. The actual delay was the code of openoffice was huge, had been pushed out of memory and was being recovered from the program and library files - not swap space. The reason why memory had become short was desktop search: some craptacularly coded software was indexing all the non-existent text in every video file it could find while not using madvise to mark all its reads as "do not keep in cache as this stuff will be used only once".

  5. Ceyarrecks

    easy fix:

    problem reading sector(s) on Hard Disk Drive?

    easy fix: SPINRITE will, Will, WILL fix said hard drive,... or restore it enough to recovere important files,...

    if MicroFlaccid is only now mentioning problem, since no preventative maintenance has ever been done, might be too far gone at this point,...

    OH! Discovery! THAT was the plan all along! haHA!

    raise them to never take care of anything,...

    then when all fails,...

    oh. darn. guess you have to buy all new replacements. (as the OEMs drool with $£¥ flashing hungrily in their eyes)

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: easy fix:

      SpinRite is GREAT software, but becoming less and less relevant as time goes by.

      I don't know how old Steve Gibson is now, but he's not been updating SpinRite as disks get bigger and the attachment methods change. It worked with pretty much any IDE drive out there, but could not cope with all features of all SATA drives and controllers (but if you found a system with a SATA controller that still worked, it still was great), and may not work at all with SCSI or SAS disks, and only has limited value for SSDs.

      But if you scan a 500GB SATA (or larger) drive, then the scan and recovery time ran into DAYS, not just hours. The problem is that although it's very well written in single-threaded 8086 assembler talking directly to the disk controller, it does not make full use of modern systems. But maybe you need to keep it single threaded with the head over the same track for multiple reads for it to work.

      We really could do with another Steve Gibson with a deep understanding of hardware, but people like him are now few and far between.

      1. Dark Eagle

        Re: easy fix:

        And given my generation of developers deriding the hardware and assembly, chances of that happening are very slim.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easier fix: replace the dead hard drive with a stock imaged drive which will be updated to present the latest ad cycle anyhow.

    These aren't "high risk" or "high priority" devices that need to be backed up or anything. They're just IOT terminals.

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