iTunes 8 and Blue Screens of Death on Vista
by , 2:30 PM EDT, September 12th, 2008
In the Apple support forum, users are complaining that iTunes 8 is causing Blues Screens of Death (BSOD) when an iPod or iPhone is connected. Users are trying to sort it out, and Apple has provided some minimal guidance. One PC columnist believes that it has to do with Windows device drivers in kernel space instead of user space.
Davey Winder at ITWire described the problem and noted that there are 300 replies and about 15,000 people viewing the thread cited above.
The problem appears to be related to the Windows architecture in that, while a poorly written app can crash itself, it shouldn't be able to crash the whole system. That is, unless there are conflicting device drivers.
"A new USB controller driver appears to be the real problem here, because this is installed when an iPod is connected via USB to iTunes 8 for the first time. And that is when the BSOD appears," Mr. Winder wrote.
This time, however, the tail may be wagging the dog. The desire of Windows users to have iTunes 8 is, in some cases, casting the blame on Microsoft rather than Apple. Apple could even obtain some benefit, Mr Winder added, because if iTunes 8 crashes Vista and not Mac OS X, there must be something really wrong with Vista.
Over at Computerworld, Steven Vaughn-Nichols pointed out: "Vista runs a monolithic kernel and, despite all the nonsense about Vista being better because it only runs digitally signed drivers, the truth is that because Vista runs drivers right in kernelspace where bad, bad things will happen."
"Yes, it is true. Drivers tend to be badly written, and since many of them are closed source, you can't just go in there and fix them. But, that's been a given for more than thirty-years now. Smart operating systems, like, oh, say Linux, support drivers in userspace. With this much more intelligent way of doing things, when something goes wrong with a driver, it doesn't need to bring down the house."
The classic problem, of course, is that it's hard to test an app like iTunes with every possible combination of drivers that may exist on a Vista platform. Even so, some users in the forum suggested that because of that, Apple needs to be more open on the Windows side and that more public beta testing is required. Of course, that would have conflicted with Apple's desire to spring iTunes 8 as a pleasant surprise on the Mac side.
It's likely not Apple's intention to propel Vista users into switching to a Mac by writing insufficiently tested software. Even so, the incident is a both a reminder of how difficult it is to write great software for Windows and how compelling the underlying themes of the Apple "Get A Mac" ads are.