Sunday, January 18, 2009

Operating Systems That Make You Go Hmmmmm . . .

Recently I was reminded of an unforgivable quirk in Microsoft's directory system. I had run into this some time ago, but a friend's adventures in trying to transfer files from his daughter's W2000 PC to his XP PC called it to mind again.

My friend, we'll call him "Roger", reported: "So I am backing up [her] computer and it keeps failing. It takes me some time, but I find out that the folder structure she has created on her Windows 2000 machine is not compatible with my XP machine."

Well, I'm not sure that's the real answer there, though. For many generations, Windows operating systems have been able to create file names (and directory names) that the find to be illegal when you go and try to use them.

I found this out some time ago when I was trying to move a directory into my archive folders. It kept complaining about not being able to delete this one directory. On further investigation, I found that I had saved an Internet Explorer bookmark in the directory. In case you don't know, IE saves bookmarks by creating a shortcut using the title of the page in question.

Turns out the page I saved the link to had a gawd-awfully long title that included several characters that Windows finds to be illegal. Now you'd think a well-behaved and rational operating system would not allow me to save a file with an illegal name. You would be right. Since Windows XP is not well-behaved or rational, I was actually able to save this link in the directory that I could not delete.

No prob, you think. Just delete the file. Hah! You obviously know little about computers, my friend! When I tried to delete the file using Windows Explorer, Windows blithely tells me that there is no file by that name. Of course, I am staring right at the file's listing in the Explorer window right in front of me.

No prob, you think, Just rename the file. Well, you siee, Explorer can't find the file, because it's name is illegal. It was the file that dare not speak its name.

This anecdote would be much better if could remember how I outfoxed Windows to delete a file it had created. But, alas, all I can remember was that it took hours of effort.

Our friend "Roger", however, quickly deduced that XP was yowling about illegal names when he took a look at his daughter's directory structure in Explorer. It looked like this:

I think Windows objected to the daughter's enthusiasm for exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!

"Roger," who is either much more computer savvy than I (inconceivable!), or not as familiar with as many stupid computer tricks as I, solved the problem, probably in less time it took me. Here's his terse and efficient explanation:

I had to move the files in DOS. Explorer kept crashing. Save that one for a blog.

Be careful what you wish for, "Roger!"

Being memory-challenged, I can neither confirm nor deny that this was how I ended up fixing my particular problem, although I do remember screwing around in the CMD window and making liberal use of quotes. So it is obvious that the rudimentary, unsophisticated and unpolished reminder of a simpler time (DOS) is somehow able to deal with the kind of mind-boggling conundrums that Windows can create, but not solve.

One final thought: It is a tribute to the parenting instinct that "Roger" did not delete his daughter's hilarious directory tree to save himself trouble in the future. He lovingly preserved it for the ages. Thus, since "Roger" is not getting any younger, there will probably come a time in the probably not too distant future when he comes upon this particularly nasty directory villain again . . . and totally forgets how he dealt with it before.

No comments: