The Extortionists

In the mood for a true crime story? Well, here's one... and you're the victim! It's unbelievable, but true; you, me, and all of us are being held hostage!

By DAVID SHAMAH
September 13, 2006 11:00
3 minute read.
computer 88

computer 88. (photo credit: )

 
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In the mood for a true crime story? Well, here's one... and you're the victim! It's unbelievable, but true; you, me, and all of us are being held hostage! It's even worse than that - because this extortion could end up costing us lots of money, time and frustration. But it's a fact: your expensive PC/laptop; all your files, work and e-mail, the hours of toil and trouble you put into your career, are all being held hostage by a couple of lines of simple code that can disappear at any time, with the result being that you will have to shell out big bucks for a new computer, or at least spend time you can't spare on what often ends up to be a wild goose chase! I'm talking about drivers, those little controller pieces of software that we don't think about until it's too late - which is when they disappear by getting erased, damaged by a virus, or subject to other daily PC hazards. Despite their attempts to appear intelligent, the sad truth is that computers are pretty dumb; they wouldn't know to come in out of the rain during a hurricane. And of course, they don't know a video card from a sound card from a modem card. That's where drivers come in; they identify hardware that is part of the computer to the operating system, which can then take advantage of their capabilities. But without those drivers, your PC won't know what to do with those add-on peripheral cards - and some integral functions may be affected as well. So how did those external drivers get on your computer in the first place? Well, if you bought your computer "off the shelf," with basic hardware and software installed, you probably never gave the term "driver" a second thought, even if the dealer told you something like "all the drivers are already set up." If you, or a technician, added a piece of hardware, like an ADSL modem, for example, the driver most likely came on a CD, which installed itself when you inserted it into your drive. Any idea where that CD is now? I didn't think so! Some drivers (like the ones for HP printers) come with update agents, which occasionally scan the company Web site for new versions of drivers, and Windows XP has the capability to scan sites for driver updates and even for initial installations of driver software. But those are not the most reliable backups for your driver collection; Windows often can't find the driver you need or downloads the wrong one; and driver update agents only work if the original driver is functioning properly. Which it might not be if your system gets attacked by a virus or other computer malady, with the attendant software damage caused by such events; and it certainly won't be available if you end up having to reinstall Windows or even reformat your hard drive (shudder!). Now what are you going to do? Call in a high-priced computer tech? Spend hours tracking down the phantom driver on arcane Web and ftp sites? One way or another, you're going to pay! Even worse: Like in any other industry, manufacturers are always looking to make new money - and that means constantly "improving" their products and pushing them onto consumers who already bought their stuff from them in the past. I wouldn't put it past some of them to drop drivers on products two or three generations old (i.e. from two or three years ago!) - in the hope that you will give up in frustration after fruitless attempts to locate the missing driver and buy the new version! Okay, I think I've done enough to sufficiently raise your awareness of the importance of caring for your drivers. But you can beat the system. While there are sites that let you request drivers from others who might have them (http://www.driverfiles.net/), a little pre-planning will save you a lot of trouble. MyDrivers (http://www.zhangduo.com/driverbackup.html) will take care of all your driver needs, backing them up and restoring them at your leisure. MyDrivers is free for 15 days, and afterwards it costs $39. But you really only need to use it once. Install the program, let it scan for drivers, and back them up in all the formats MyDrivers allows you to - as .cab files, as a single installable .exe file, as a backup to a folder. Then copy all the backups onto one - no, make it three - CDs, floppy disks, network sites, whatever. Then take a nice, long nap - the first one you'll be able to take as a free person, no longer under the threat of driver extortion! Ds@newzgeek.com

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