A Windows 10 experience during Hurricane Irma

By Ben Alonzo 0 Comments

I spent day and night going through weather data, continuously working for various clients before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. This required multiple computers and was also a chance to test out Windows 10 in a mobile command unit. I didn’t really have high hopes for this Orwellian OS, especially after previous testing. Disasters are a time to test your technology resources and this was no exception. What I found was very disappointing, but not surprising. This is just to share that experience with other Windows 10 users.

Surviving Storms with Technology

Hurricane Irma was a test for US infrastructure and individual preparedness. I was no exception to this and knew that my mobile data, computers, weather equipment, radios, and disaster prep kit would get tested. Thankfully, this wasn’t a major hurricane when it hit my location. Due to our poor infrastructure and lack of resilience for our power grid, most of us found ourselves without power well before the worst of the hurricane hit. Many of us serve in critical emergency response, media, weather reporting, and communications roles. Some of these roles don’t end during disasters or holidays. Irma quickly provided numerous ways to test out laptop battery life, Windows 10 performance, security, stability, and reliability. I encourage others that have similar findings to publish them.

Windows 10

The way I would describe Windows 10, especially the basic consumer edition that comes with most new desktops and laptops would be dumbed-down, restrictive, creepy, unreliable, and full of security issues. I’ve previously written about some of the security issues I found (emphasis on only some because there are numerous beyond what time allows me to speak about here). Because much of the equipment we use is new, many of these manufacturers do not supply approved drivers for any other operating system, which makes us use Windows 10. There are very little other options without costing so much time and effort to make it work.

Windows 10 comes preloaded with bloatware and advertisement tiles. There are even default options that serve advertisements to you. You bought the software, but it still wants to sell you things. Very few people have the technical knowledge of how to customize all of these options.

You’ll spend hours turning off all of the default security risks, advertisements, data collection, location sharing, and other crap. Crap is the best way to describe these potential security risks. These added functions certainly cost more processing power, memory, and battery life. Why compromise your privacy as soon as you buy a new computer? What was Microsoft thinking? This will work for many people, but not for anyone that understands the value of data privacy and such default functionality.

Windows 10, at least its popular consumer edition, makes it very hard to use for critical purposes. This is the reason why I’m sharing this information. I can see various managers, directors, reporters, emergency officials, doctors, nurses, and all kinds of people using Windows 10 during some kind of emergency. There are some things they should consider or at least be prepared to deal with, especially when seconds count.

1. Windows 10 antivirus is overly restrictive, full of false positives, and often locks external drives and USB thumb drives. There’s very little control over this and it’s frightening to think that someone without technical knowledge may run into this problem and wonder why they cannot access important files they immediately need. We were in need of important GIS software files and production files, but Windows Defender was automatically blocking random files and extensions as soon as the drive was plugged in. When disconnected from a network, the Windows Defender live program gives you several warnings, which are misleading and cause you to cancel the command to launch a program. This is unacceptable. Windows 10 already gives you a warning about opening an executable file, but the added language of sorts that states something like “you’re not connected to the internet so we can collect data about what you’re launching” is unacceptable. If you don’t pay attention, you try to launch a program and then end up cancelling that command. Nothing happens. This could be a serious problem in an emergency. In an emergency, launching programs and accessing files is an immediate need. No unnecessary delays are ever acceptable.

2. Windows 10 is hell-bent on automatic updates and “maintenance.” It doesn’t care whether you’re communicating in the middle of an emergency or natural disaster or watching a SpongeBob episode. Ironically, during Hurricane Katrina, one of the computers being used seemed to lock itself and refuse to reboot, mentioning that it was performing updates. This took about 20 minutes and delayed our emergency operations. There’s no specific description of what it’s doing and little to no way to completely disable this double-sided sword. Your computer can suddenly do this and become completely useless. This also drained the battery even more during the disaster.

3. Windows 10 removes control from users. As scientists and tech educators, we want people to become more knowledgeable and take more control over their computers, data, and privacy. Windows 10 seems to make it even hard for people to take control. People that know how to make edits to the registry have to do so due to no other ability to stop some unwanted functions. Imagine having to go into the registry to stop unwanted behavior during an emergency. By the way, one false move in the registry system and it could cause data loss or failure to boot into Windows.

4. Windows 10 attempts to rewrite, modify, or aggressively suggest default program handlers. Before Irma, we setup the default programs we know work best to display and edit our data. Windows 10 had other plans and continued to switch defaults. It was necessary to reboot several times during the emergency, especially when we had to switch to another backup battery system. This is done to ensure uninterrupted power and safely switch power sources. There was no commercial power and the laptop batteries were low. Every time we switched to a new 5-hour brick, Windows 10 seemed to reset default handlers. Part of the reason why we also had so many reboots was the fact that Windows 10 kept locking files from point #1 above. This is also unacceptable.

5. There were numerous times when the Windows 10 system wrongfully suggested “restoring” Windows. This would have made an already natural disaster even bigger. Apparently, the Windows 10 troubleshooting system has major bugs. We can reproduce this behavior consistently, but don’t want to mention how it happens here because it may cause our readers to lose the ability to boot Windows 10. As you can imagine, this is unacceptable during a critical time when you need a reliable operating system. This accidentally happened to one of our systems a day after Irma and it forced us to reimage the entire computer. We believe that Windows 10 was in the middle of a forced update, was operating on the internal battery, and corrupted itself, resulting in failure to boot into Windows.

Part of me wants to be positive, but Windows 10 is just too full of privacy issues, advertising systems, takes away control from users, forces updates, behaves inconsistently, has driver issues, offers a misguided threat detection system, and is too aggressive with program handling. I’m not one of those people that refuses to move beyond Windows 7. We use about 10 different operating systems at work – I like most of them.

It’s worth mentioning that other people may have different experiences with Windows 10. There are businesses and agencies using Microsoft products, some without the exact same problems. However, problems have been reported and reproduced all over the place. Hopefully, Microsoft will improve this operating system model, before it goes onto Windows 19, 21, 55, Rambo MMCLVI, etc. I will admit Windows, in general, has a lot going for it, particularly with plug-play devices, drivers, and older compatibility. Nearly everything you find at common department stores is compatible with Windows. The same wasn’t always so for other operating systems.

I have no problem buying Microsoft products, if they have something more to offer than the alternatives. My hopes is that one day Linux (and other open and free software systems) will meet and exceed the needs of office, video, audio, communication, printing, scanning, copying, GIS, wireless, gaming, and other users over Microsoft products. The more choices consumers have, the better off we will be – options are good.

There are other minor things that happened, which seemingly make Windows 10 an unreliable operating system for critical users. It was important to mention some of the biggest things above. There were some other observations that actually were positive. For example, our Windows 7 machines worked perfectly fine before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. In addition, our Linux machines worked perfectly fine before, during, and after Hurricane Irma.

Technology Lessons Learned

The lesson learned here is actually good: test your equipment before disasters and take note of how they perform in an actual emergency. The Windows 10 behavior was kind of expected, but this was just a confirmation. It’s always a good idea for critical officials to have multiple operating systems and computer resources, especially as a backup to a primary workstation. Times of emergency call for real-time data collection, visualization, and distribution. Anything that delays information, destroys data, or lowers battery life should be seen as unacceptable for critical use.

About Author: Ben Alonzo is a scientist, tech expert, professor, and director of ULTRATechLife.com. He’s currently CEO of the media and tech firm Storm Sector. Ben holds an M.S. in Geoscience, M.S. in Nutrition and Health Sciences, and a B.S. in Geoscience. He’s a highly-rated professor that teaches several courses at multiple colleges, including earth science, environmental science, oceanography, meteorology, and public health. His diverse background spans numerous science fields, enterprise network and computer systems, healthcare, telecommunications, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, computer programming, and web development. Ben holds numerous professional licenses and certifications, ranging from information technology to healthcare and emergency medical technician. He’s been writing about science and technology for over 10 years. You can also see some of his past articles on the Houston Chronicle, eHow, Sciencing, Hearst, and other news networks. In his free time, he loves to scuba dive, travel, and write guitar music. More about the author.
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