Team working on a fix full-time, but no timetable in sight
Microsoft Corp. last week added more programs to a list of those that could corrupt files stored on Windows Home Server, but gave no timetable for a patch to solve the months-old problem.
"We're working on this," said Steven Leonard, a senior product manager on the Windows Home Server (WHS) team. "Getting this bug fixed is the most important thing we're doing, but quality is the most important thing [for the fix]." Both Leonard and Todd Headrick, the product planning manager for WHS, refused to set a release date for a fix.
In an updated support document, Microsoft said Intuit Inc.'s QuickBooks and uTorrent, a Windows BitTorrent client, could also ruin files saved to a shared folder on Windows Home Server. Previously, Microsoft had issued a list of seven software titles, all company-produced programs, that put data at risk, including Windows Vista Photo Gallery, Windows Live Photo Gallery, OneNote 2003, OneNote 2007, Outlook 2007, Microsoft Money 2007 and SyncToy 2.0 Beta.
In addition, Microsoft added 14 more programs to the list that "have been reported by customers as having caused corruptions." They included Apple Inc.'s iTunes, Intuit's Quicken, Mozilla Corp.'s Thunderbird e-mail client and software for Microsoft own music player, the Zune. "However, we have not yet been able to reproduce corruptions," the warning stated.
Microsoft also revealed a new caveat that may put some users' minds at peace: Only Windows Home Server systems with multiple drives exhibit the flaw. "This issue only affects Windows Home Server systems that have more than one hard disk drive added to the server storage," said the revamped document. Windows Home Server is designed so that users can easily boost storage space by adding additional internal drives, or attaching external drives to the computer.
The data corruption issue with Windows Home Server goes back more than two months, when Microsoft first acknowledged that under some conditions, editing a document, image or e-mail stored on the server corrupted the file, effectively destroying it. About a week later, Windows Home Server product managers claimed that the bug cropped up only when the server was under an "extreme load" as it copied large files.
The revised support document now omits any mention of "extreme load." Headrick explained why.
"We removed it because it was kind of nebulous about what that meant," he said. "There are a wide variety of circumstances where we've seen [corruption] when the server is not under heavy load. It's really about the application and how it writes data to disk."
As in December, Microsoft continued to recommend that users swear off editing documents saved to Windows Home Server with any of the 23 listed applications. Leonard and Hedrick, however, expanded the definition of "edit."
"You may want to add the word 'change' to 'edit,'" said Headrick. In many cases, he continued, users might not realize that they are, in fact, "editing" a file, because an application may be appending metadata to a file's contents. He cited the example of digital music files, such as those played by Windows Media Player 11, one of the programs on the reported-but-not-confirmed list. "When you're downloading album art, your actually changing the file," he said. "If you rate a song, you're actually editing the file."
In December, WHS product managers said that the team was hard at work on a patch, and wouldn't rest until it had one ready to push to users via Windows Update. At the time, Headrick said that the group's developers would have something "in fairly short order."
Today, both he and Leonard repeated that there was nothing more important on the team's to-do list, but backed away from any timeframe for a fix. "Anyone potentially losing data, that's very important for us," said Leonard.
"We'll have a fix when we have the quality," Headrick added, "when we can say that [the fix] works on systems of the users who have reported this to us." He also downplayed the extent of the problem. "It's not something that's affecting a lot of users. There's a lot of buzz about it because it is a big issue."
The delay angered some WHS users even before Microsoft expanded the data corruption list and revised the support document. "My patience at the lack of a fix is starting to wear thin, which doesn't help when you've installed over a dozen [HP] MediaSmart [servers] for customers after personally recommending the systems and almost all of them are moaning to me (and rightly so) by phone or e-mail a couple of times a week," said a user identified as Gav Mack in a message to a support forum on Feb. 2. "I can't help but think if this problem occurred with [Windows] Server/[Small Business Server]2003 more resources would have been utilized to get to the bottom of the problem and dealt with fast."
Others said they had given up on WHS, or are using it only to back up other systems, not as a shared file repository. A few even said they had taken to backing up their backups by mirroring the contents of their WHS to another server.
"We're working on this full time," said Headricks. "And we're ready to expand the scope of our testing. And we will continue to update the [support document] when we have more information."