Thursday, September 20, 2007


Microsoft stealth patches can melt your laptop

by Larry Geller

Two weeks ago I arrived at a meeting over at the State Capitol to find that my beloved Tablet PC had been left on inside its padded case. It was very hot. The screen was scrambled and I figured it was a goner.

dollar Of course, I kicked myself for being so stupid as to not having checked properly to see that it was off before rushing out of the house. My brain was simultaneously processing where I will get the money to replace what has become my constant little companion.

But guess what—I learned today that this is happening to other people also! And it's not their fault! It seems that it can happen because Microsoft has been caught updating the software in your computer even without your permission. If you have a laptop running a Microsoft OS, you should at least know about this.

Basically, even if you have told it not to, your laptop can update its software from the Microsoft site. To do that, it can awaken if it is in standby mode and tucked away inside its padded case. It doesn't turn off again, though. So your computer could bake in there. At least, when you take it out to use it, you could find the battery dead.

Even if the laptop is not in its case, you might find the battery dead unexpectedly and of course, just when you need to use it (my wife found her battery inexplicably run down one day this week).

Not only can this be hazardous to the health of your laptop, but upgrading software without your permission appears to be a violation of Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA).

The situation is more fully described in this post from the blog Nynaeve:

I am not a happy camper.

Today, I got in to work and unpacked my laptop from my laptop bag and discovered that it had gone into hibernation due to a critically low battery event. That was fairly strange, because last night I had suspended my laptop (fully charged) and placed it into my laptop bag. Somehow, it managed to consume a full battery charge between my putting it into my bag last night, and my getting in to work.

This is obviously not good, because it meant that the laptop had to have been powered on while in my laptop bag for it to have possibly used that much battery power (a night in suspend is a drop in the bucket as far as battery life is concerned). Let me tell you a thing or two about laptop bags: they’re typically padded (in other words, also typically insulated to a degree) and generally don’t have a whole lot of ventilation potential designed into them, at least as far as laptop compartments go. Running a laptop in a laptop bag for a protracted period of time is a bad thing, that’s for certain.

Given this, I was not all that happy to discover that my laptop had indeed been resumed and had been running overnight in my laptop bag until the battery got low enough for it to go into emergency hibernate mode. (Fortunately, it appears to have sustained no permanent damage from this event. This time….)

My Tablet PC survived also, after I restored a lot of settings and checked the hard disk.

For those concerned, the comments to the above blog post have several suggestions on what to do about this. Probably Google will reveal much more.


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