Windows boots SLOW? Unplug iPod.

Stephanie’s computer was exhibiting the strangest symptoms on Sunday. iTunes locked up and brought the rest of Windows XP Media Center screeching to a halt. This has happened before, so she attempted to reboot with Ctrl+Alt+Del, but couldn’t get it to shut down beyond displaying a blank desktop.

After it hung for a while like that, I advised to her to do a hard power off (by holding down the power button for several seconds). The computer shut off, and she powered it back on.

Here’s where it gets janky. Her computer took like 15-20 minutes to boot. And not just Windows. Getting from the BIOS to the Windows startup screen took at least 5 minutes. After the Windows startup screen, the computer just sat, no perceptible noise from the hard drive, monitor blank. Then 5 minutes later her desktop background picture would pop up, but with no icons, no start bar, nothing. Sometimes this would take so long her screensaver would come up before the icons. And when the start bar did load, it looked like the Classic Windows 2000 start bar, not the green and blue Windows XP one.

I immediately assumed she had some sort of virus or spyware, partly because for the first time in my life, I infected myself with an infernal cocktail of trojan/popup/spyware that neither Symantec, AdAware, or F-Prot running from Ubuntu Live CD seems able to detect or diagnose. And yet the popups for and keep popping up, in IE and FF no less!

So I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to access her Windows XP NTFS partition from an Ubuntu Live CD in order to scan her hard drive with F-Prot. Something I’d never done before. I thought accessing the Windows partition would “just work”—unfortunately that would not be the case until I downloaded the NTFS-3g drivers, and not if the hard drive hadn’t shutdown properly. Since hers obviously hadn’t, I wasn’t getting write access no matter what. Frustrating!

Meanwhile I tried the procedure on my laptop successfully, if you stretch successfully to mean F-Prot ran for 66 minutes over 120,000 files but did not discover the source of Vundo or Infostealer or whatever it is that seems to avoid all known forms of detection lurking in random.dll on the pathologically insecure Windows operating system. Mean time to installing Ubuntu on my third computer just got meaner.

The really discouraging part was that anytime I wanted to try something new (install Symantec on her computer, shutdown cleanly, boot into safe mode, etc) required like 30 minutes. Ohmygodkillmenow. At some point in the middle of this process, Stephanie asked if it would help to unplug her iPod, which was recharging in the USB port. Aww, no, I don’t think so I said. By which I meant having never in my life experienced the out-of-the-blue sluggish conditions her computer was exhibiting, I couldn’t fathom a connection between that and her attached iPod.

Many hours later, I’m on my umpteenth reboot when she decides to unplug the iPod anyway, and no sooner had she done that than Windows awoke from its deep catatonic state, booted like it had never booted before, start bar back in all its green and blue shiny goodness. WTF!

I hope someone, somewhere out there learned something from this, because I did not. Google sez: I am not alone.

· Tech