Windows DLL Hell needs more fixes, says MS MUG

Microsoft making some progress, but could try harder

The exquisitely titled Microsoft Manufacturers User Group (MS MUG, oh yes) has sent Microsoft its first feedback report on DLL Hell, and the verdict seems to be that the problem, which is probably the primary source of failure in Windows installations, isn't going to go away in a hurry. MS MUG is a working group including major manufacturing companies and Microsoft, and was set up last year to address issues associated with the application of commercial software technology to manufacturing automation applications. Sure, it sounds dull, but the DLL Hell issue, and quite a few other matters that MS MUG is dealing with, are relevant to a broader range of Windows users. Its first report deals with DLL Hell, version management and related issues, including the high costs businesses face in keeping on top of Microsoft's release cycles. In the past Microsoft hasn't differentiated properly between new OS releases and service packs, which means that business "must continually validate Windows-based systems containing the new releases." Microsoft says it intends to switch over to a dual track approach, separating new software from bug fixes, but "the MUG expects that manufacturing customers will continue to experience a relatively higher degree of software churn due to the need to keep pace with both operating system and application software upgrades." But MS MUG predicts that the dual-track release schedule will likely result in what are effectively annual product releases from Microsoft, and if the company continues its practice of only supporting the current release of a product plus its predecessor, a given product's supported life will fall to only two or three years. "At a minimum," says MS MUG, "the group strives for support a full 5 years beyond when a product is replaced in order for it to be cost-effective in manufacturing applications. This will help manufacturing organizations to effectively plan and test migrations and ensure minimal production impact." Its verdict on DLL Hell is that recent and impending developments improve the situation, but won't eliminate the problem. DLL Hell stems from applications installing alternative DLLs over existing ones which may be critical to the operation of the installation, and in the absence of anything you could even loosely describe as version control, this process has been trashing Windows systems since 3.1. Windows 2000 has Windows File Protection (WFP), which stops key system files from being overwritten, and an equivalent of this will be present in Windows ME. Microsoft has also been giving its operating systems the ability to run multiple different DLLs of the same name, allowing different applications to use the particular version they need. Putting all the software you might need into a big pile of bloat strikes us as a particularly Microsoft fix, but what do we know? MS MUG suggests that this DLL-redirection and side-by-side versioning is a band-aid, rather than a real fix, and points out that "implementation of this functionality... still requires systems administrators to intervene to resolve the issue and eliminates the main benefit of dynamically linked libraries: the ability to save memory by sharing code space." Further information: MS Manufacturers User Group

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