Investigating Blue Screen of Death

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-02-14

Microsoft's Week Involved Battery Complaints, Falling Mobile Share, Security

This week, Microsoft wrestled with complaints from a subset of Windows 7 users about poor battery life for some laptops running the operating system. Some of those users reported experiencing battery life as short as 15 minutes after upgrading their laptops to Windows 7, while others received a "Consider replacing your battery" warning.

A Feb. 8 posting on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, ostensibly authored by Windows President Steven Sinofsky, suggested that the fault lay not in the operating system but in the batteries themselves.

"Every single indication we have regarding the reports we've seen are simply Windows 7 reporting the state of the battery using this new feature and we're simply seeing batteries that are not performing above the designated threshold," Sinofsky wrote. "It would stand to reason that some customers would be surprised to see this warning after upgrading a PC that was previously operating fine. Essentially the battery was degrading but it was not evident to the customer until Windows 7 made this information available."

Allegedly, Windows 7 has set a threshold of 60 percent degradation for the battery, and displays its "change battery" warning once that threshold is crossed. Microsoft insists it is unable to reproduce cases where new or newly new batteries spontaneously failed while powering laptops with Windows 7.

By Feb. 12, some 116 comments had been left on Sinofsky's post. A number agreed with Microsoft's assessment, while others thought it insufficient.

"My laptop has this message," one poster wrote. "It is completely accurate. All this warning message shows is that Windows 7 is more intelligent than its predecessors."

"The problem here is that the same behavior occurs using new batteries from multiple vendors-likely not a battery issue then, which leaves the OS or something else in the hardware or driver realm," wrote another commenter. "The problem with that is that the same behavior does not occur with other versions of Windows, which would seem to discount any problem in the charging circuit, and again leaves either the OS or something else in the hardware or driver realm."

"Well, I have a Dell Latitude D820 that up until now never had a problem with its battery. After using Win7 for a month it's displaying 'Consider replacing your battery messages,'" wrote a third. "Seems to me like Win7 is detecting that the capacity of the battery has been exhausted when in actual fact it has not. Consequently the OS shuts down prematurely. I updated the BIOS to the latest hoping it would fix the problem but there's been no change in behavior."

In the days leading up to Sinofsky's announcement, Microsoft announced that it had been exploring the issue with OEMs.

"Some of our customers running Windows 7 have reported different battery run times depending on their model, usage, PC settings and more," a Lenovo spokesperson told eWEEK in a Feb. 8 e-mail. "We are working with Microsoft to investigate this."

A commenter from the Microsoft Windows Client Team left a Feb. 8 message on the Microsoft Watch discussion forum, stating that the battery life issue "appears to be related to system firmware." That appeared hours before Sinofsky's post went live.

Microsoft claims to have received 12 incident reports on battery life through its own channels, and another eight through "various forums." Each of those reports, the company claims, was directly attributable to "degraded batteries." Even if those complaints are the tip of a far larger iceberg, the problem is still likely a very small percentage of the 60 million Windows 7 licenses that Microsoft claims have been sold since the operating system's release on Oct. 22.

Investigating Blue Screen of Death


Microsoft also spent part of the week investigating reports of the infamous "Blue Screen of Death" appearing for some users who installed one of the company's Patch Tuesday security updates. The problem, Microsoft apparently surmises, either stems from the MS10-015 patch or an interoperability problem with another component or third-party software.

"Our teams are working to resolve this as quickly as possible," Jerry Bryant, senior security communications manager lead at Microsoft, wrote on the Microsoft Security Response Center blog. "We also stopped offering this update through Windows Update as soon as we discovered the restart issues. However, those using enterprise deployment systems such as SMS or WSUS will still see and be able to deploy those packages."

By disabling the NTVDM subsystem, users not choosing to install MS10-015 can leverage a workaround for the CVE-2010-0232 vulnerability.

On Feb. 15, Microsoft will offer a big piece of mobile-related news at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress, which the company is keeping under wraps but which many pundits and analysts expect to be the unveiling of its Windows Mobile 7. That announcement will come days after research firm comScore's Feb. 8 report showing that Microsoft's share of the U.S. mobile operating system market declined exactly 1 point, from 19 percent to 18 percent, between September and December 2009.

Minor updates to Mobile 6.5, featuring tweaks to areas such as touch-screen support, have already begun appearing; on Feb. 2, the Sony Ericsson Aspen smartphone debuted with Windows 6.5.3 as its operating system. But many analysts are suggesting that Microsoft will need to make a more radical move to boost its share of the mobile OS market in face of competition from Apple's iPhone, Google Android and other operating systems. Rumors floated this week that Microsoft may also try to solve its ills in the mobile space by acquiring Research In Motion, maker of the popular BlackBerry, but at least one analyst has discounted this idea as one with a substantial negative side for Microsoft.  

"While there is often speculation about MSFT's interest in purchasing RIMM, we think the likelihood is slim and that MSFT's near-term focus is on gathering support for its upcoming release of the Windows 7 mobile platform," Mark McKechnie, an analyst with Broadpoint AmTech, wrote in a Feb. 11 research note.

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