A really small IT shop learns to hate patch tuesdays

I run a small business. For a long time it was just me.

I run a small business.  For a long time it was just me.  Now it's just me, plus my relatively non-technical spouse who helps with customers and coordination.  She acts as my travel agent, processes credit cards, and does all the arrangements for the training classes I run.  She lives on outlook.exe and iexplore.exe natively installed on her desktop PC.  Sure, I could put her on one of my servers, but I can't due to the oddities of Microsoft licensing.  Anyway, that is how it is.  Then each month Microsoft provides her with updates.  Patch Tuesday is always followed by Screaming Wednesday.  Patch Tuesday always breaks something on her PC.  Most of the time it is outlook. 

This week, we had the case of the missing address book.  We could click on the contact folder and see all the contacts just fine.  Open up a new mail message, click on the TO button to open up the address book and BANG.  An error saying, in essence, that the address book was pointing to a file that no longer exists or was moved or has been invaded by aliens.  So I had to delete the address book and recreate it, linking it back to the outlook contacts. (Why does outlook need to go out to an external address book to look back into outlook to see my contacts?  That to me is one of those mysteries like what exactly is in canned spam.) Once I had that figured out I left to go back to my office smug in the knowledge that I had fixed a problem that she would have probably never fixed (short of buying a new PC and asking me to import everything to it.  Which I should probably do because it is old then I could justify buying her the new outlook.  But we're a small company.  She is the CFO.).  Soon the scream fest continued. 

She couldn't possibly send an email because now she couldn't find a name because all the names were sorted by first name.  That was easier to solve, but it raises two interesting questions.  First, why would anyone looking for an email name want to sort by first name?  Second, how could there be enough demand to make that a feature?  Third why would windows update overwrite something to make that the default?  and fourth, why can't I count?  Fortunately, my son handled this one for her (I was tied up fixing my daughters laptop which failed to take a new antivirus program update).  Reminder to self:  son Patrick may not have much experience but he will look and look until he finds it.  Let him.

Oh but if we could be done now.  Windows updates also re-arranged the preview layout.  She prefers seeing 3 lines inline.  Each month Microsoft rearranges this to show her the entire email on half of her screen.  Each month she changes it back.  But not before I hear about 5 minutes of Microsoft bashing. If this were a one off problem, I'd be OK.  But it seems to happen every month. Worst is when I am traveling and she just has to get an email out.  I guess it is time to start using all those great tools "real" companies use right here.

I started by looking at System Center Essentials.  I had been looking for a reason to fire one of these up and take a look anyway.  SCE is the little brother of all things System Center - kind of like Presentation Server Essentials.  It is for small companies.  It handles up to 33 servers and 500 PCs.  It includes the capabilities of SMS, MOM, and Updates Server.  With this, I could possibly centralize the updates.  Well there is a problem with this idea.  I do not have a test environment with her kind of setup.  So I'm not going to change anything except for the delivery mechanism.  Still, I did find I like SCE.  It discovers everything (well except for all those PCs blocking with the firewall Microsoft nearly insists we turn on).  It tells me what patches are missing and will take care of installing them.  I can set automatic or manual approvals.  The monitoring was less than I hoped for.  Unless you have a full time person to tweak the heck out of it, I had a hard time seeing the value in it.  Plus the GUI is very ssssslllllooooowwww to work with.

I could solve it with SoftGrid,  That would be a solution that would isolate the app from the OS, including whatever bad things windows update might try.  But then you have that licensing thing again. 


I suspect I'm not alone in this home PC IT admin dread of Patch Tuesday.  I think I'll just buy her a new PC and Outlook and hope it goes away.




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