Sunday, October 7, 2012

MediaShout #epicfail

Every once in a while a software program, and those who write it, have the opportunity to really mess with your life. Yesterday was one of those days where my schedule, along with that of our worship pastor, was majorly disrupted by someone failing to do their job with a piece of software we use that is critical for our Sunday operation.

I started the day at the soccer field with our son, 2 sets of grandparents and 1 set of great-grandparents. Eric was playing well and the family was enjoying the game and the sunshine despite the cool, breezy weather. As I’m cheering Eric on our worship pastor texts me a picture of an error message he is getting with MediaShout on his office computer. MediaShout is presentation software that we use in all of our worship spaces for projection graphics, background, lyrics, etc. on the projection screens. As a church we do this quite regularly.

I wasn’t able to figure out his problem via text message so I headed towards his office thinking it would be a relatively quick fix. As any IT person does, I Googled the problem and the first hit I got was this link.

The lead story is about the Activation Error that we were getting. The details of this issue, affecting all instances of MediaShout are available here.

Since they don’t go into any great detail to explain the actual issue that gives me license to explain it the way I see it. It would appear that some software engineer somewhere along the way didn’t do this job and then the quality assurance person who is supposed to help the software engineer get it right also failed to do their job. As a result the software was released with a time/date bug that on a Thursday night, software that is used at churches all over the country on Sunday would stop working because it couldn’t tell if the software was legally activated or not.

I understand, to some degree, the need for software companies to have activation routines in order to prevent software piracy and theft. However, when your activation routine prevents EVERYONE, legal and illegal, from using your program then you have completely missed the boat.

To their credit MediaShout did release a patch however the patch was less than simple for many to install. A quick check of Twitter indicates that many ministries opted to forgo MediaShout completely and go old school back to PowerPoint or some other creatively engineered solution as time didn’t allow them to fix the problem in just 48 hours with 24 of those hours being a Saturday. (Some churches even have services where they use this software on Saturday nights.)

In my case I started working on the problem during the rest of the game and realized that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. The installer would fail at different points each time I tried it on our various presentation and back office machines. Our kids wanted to take the grandparents to a train museum/restaurant for lunch so I stopped working and had a great time with the family before coming back around 4pm to give it another go.

By 10pm we were back in business and things today are working as they should. When you write software for churches it has to work every Sunday. When it doesn’t work those of us who support churches really get jammed up. Unfortunately MediaShout has yet to release a cause or detailed technical description of what happened, why it happened, and what they’ve done to prevent this from ever happening again. Until they do we are all left to wonder what’s going to happen next weekend.

My personal sob story aside, I trust you haven’t run out of tissues whilst reading this, here are some tips for the fix that I hope help anyone else struggling with this upgrade.
  1. One of the things that got me into trouble was some old Group Policy Restrictions related to security permissions for the Windows Installer. These permissions have been set for at least 5 years dating back to our Server 2008 upgrade. Until yesterday we haven’t had any problems with them. It would appear, based on a chat with a MediaShout employee on their forum that MediaShout made some changes to the Windows Installer which required more rights. The challenge was figuring out what policies were hindering the install. Being a Saturday while I was working on this no developers were available to help.

    As a result I went through our GPO’s and removed everything one at a time until it finally allowed the installer to work. The error message I was getting was that the “Installation was Forbidden by System Policy.”

    While I can’t tell you which specific policies fixed that problem I can tell you that your Windows Installer policies from 2008 might need a pass. I was able to allow MediaShout to install without compromising security by updating those older policies. The policies are located here:
    applicable policy name/Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/Windows Components/Windows Installer

  2. The next issue was related to drive mapping. MediaShout apparently is very fragile when it comes to its installer. MediaShout will say it is Microsoft’s problem as they just use the Windows Installer but again, the only program I’ve ever had an issue with is MediaShout. I would get past the System Policy issue and then get an error that the Drive Mapping was invalid. I could see that the drive map wasn’t invalid however as it was there on all our machines. We use MediaShout on a network so all the users share the same library of backgrounds, effects, songs, etc. I found 2 workarounds for this. First, I disconnected the existing map and manually recreated it. That worked on some machines. On other machines that didn’t work at all so then I would copy the MediaShout 4.ini file from its location and place it on the desktop. Then I deleted the original copy of the file. MediaShout would then install and when it was done I would copy the ini file back thus restoring all my settings and customizations. 
I realize if you had been working on this it wouldn’t have taken you 6 hours but I’m not that smart and a ton of time was spent rebooting and waiting to see if anything had worked.

Despite all this I am a fan of MediaShout as a presentation platform. It works well and is easy for our volunteers to use. I do believe they need to invest more time in their installer and making it more universal and not so fragile. It should be able to work through some of the install issues better than it does. Whether I continue to be a fan will be determined by their honest answers to what they did this weekend and how it impacted their customers. At the least they should send all those affected a Starbucks gift card.