November 15, 2007

Automatic Data Loss

A better default

I know what you're going to say. "Save early and often." And you're right.

But computer systems should be built that help to overcome our weaknesses and magnify our strengths. And if one of your weaknesses is that you don't always save your documents before you go to bed for the night, there's a little bitty monster inside your Windows installation that's waiting to take away your data.

As I said in an earlier post, I usually write blog posts in Google Documents for later posting, then paste them into a blogging client. This is great for me, because Google Documents autosaves, and my data is available everywhere.

Well, once in a while, when I think I'm writing a quick off-the-cuff post, I don't do that. And if it becomes a longer post than I expected, I sometimes forget to save[1].

Forgetting to save and letting it sit overnight is bad. There could be a power outage, and you'll lose your document. You should always save! BUT - your computer also shouldn't sabotage you. Last night, that's just what my computer did to me.

I failed to save a blog post, left it open on my computer and my computer downloaded updates from Microsoft and restarted my machine without asking. That's because my computer is set up to automatically download and install Windows updates. And an automatic restart is in there, too.

If you object to automatic restarts of your machine (and there are many reasons you might) it's pretty easy to disable the automatic update. I prefer to let my desktop machine download the updates for me and then ask me if I want them installed[2].

It's easy to change your update settings. Right-click your "My Computer" icon and choose "Properties." Your Automatic Updates options should be under the Automatic Updates tab of the Properties window.

Set it to the setting that's most appropriate to your habits.

fn1. My blog client sucks at saving. It inserts extra line breaks between every paragraph when you re-open a saved document. Yet another reason I use Google Documents.

fn2. Your situation may vary. On my laptop, I prefer to just be notified of updates, because downloading over the WiFi slows me down too much. I want to choose when the download happens.

Posted by James at November 15, 2007 8:46 AM
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Yeah, I discovered using Google Docs for my NaNoWriMo project, but we're starting to use them at the studio as well. Certain documents we both need to be able to edit (like a list of stuff to order from our supplier) used to be one word doc on the studio desktop. So if I was at home I had to email myself reminding me to edit the thing next time I was in the studio. Or even if I was in the studio and Brian was on the computer, I had to write on a post-it reminding myself to update the word doc.

Now its so much simpler.

Plus, the autosave is awesome.

Posted by: David Grenier at November 15, 2007 10:22 AM

The researchers here talk about technology transforming your world and the way you think. I was sayign to Ryan yesterday that Google's tools have made certain things intrinsic to my work now, so I don't even think about them anymore. The ability to share and collaborate on a document, for example.

And I never worry about having a document at home that I am writing at work. It's online, so it's just there.

Some people say "it becomes second nature" but really, it becomes your new nature to expect documents to autosave, to be ubiquitous, collaborative, etc.

Posted by: James at November 15, 2007 10:28 AM

This happened to me about 2 nights ago. I have to change my settings. Luckily, I didn't lose anything.

Posted by: Sara at November 15, 2007 10:40 AM

I ran into this while running a perforoming test on some software at work. Thanks Microsoft! We disabled THAT feature right quick.

Posted by: briwei at November 15, 2007 12:37 PM

Apparently, I would need administrator rights to change what's pre-checked--Turn Off/red shield (which is, I hope, not the same as a red shirt).

I use an iOmega external hard drive, but I have to remember to log out of Outlook for it to run. I rarely do, which negates the purpose. I always shut down at the end of the day, too, so it's not like I can set it up to run on Friday night at 7.

Sometimes, the reminder I've set in my calendar works, and I remember to get out of Outlook. I'll have to try harder, I guess.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 15, 2007 1:11 PM

If it's not your personal machine, then often the IT department will force you to stay up to date with the latest system software patches, because they involve security updates.

In that case, you just have to put up with the restarts.

Posted by: James at November 15, 2007 2:18 PM

Yes, I love when I've got 5 windows open and several documents and then I get the "software installations are looming/we're shutting you down in 5" message.

I'm WORKIN' here, people!

Posted by: Patti M. at November 15, 2007 2:54 PM

Does the reboot occur no matter what you happen to be doing at the time? Or does it wait until the machine has been idle for x minutes? It's obnoxious, regardless...

Back when I got my laptop, I had a dialup. The system update was only half finished when I needed to shut down. According to Microsoft, this was perfectly fine and the download would complete next time I turned the machine on. This turned out not to be true, and I ended up having to do one of those Restore Point things. It was the first time I'd ever done one of those, and I had to spend a long time on the phone with some nice Compaq/HP people in India who ultimately advised me not to let it download updates without asking me first.

Even after I got DSL, I kept that setting just to be on the safe side.

Are the automatic restarts are something new? I've never heard of those before. It's always *asked* if I want to restart. (If you tell it you'll restart later, that prompt will keep popping up until you give in. If you just let that prompt sit there without dismissing it, at least it doesn't keep interrupting.)

Posted by: Julie at November 15, 2007 3:40 PM

The automatic update restarts happen when the computer is idle. Actually, the control panel lets you schedule when they happen.

So it would probably tell you it was about to restart and give you a chance to cancel. Unless you're not there, at 3 in the morning or whatever.

As for the system that an IT department uses, they probably have the power to force a reboot no matter what you're doing.

Posted by: James at November 15, 2007 3:47 PM

I completely understand how you feel about automatic updates. Personally, I detest them and have set my computer always to ask me first before updating anything. I'll never forget how annoyed I was when my computer automatically downloaded the newest version of Mozilla, and I lost ALL of my bookmarks. grrr!

Posted by: Xi at November 16, 2007 8:24 AM

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