Sunday, January 15, 2006

Woeful Tale of a Weekend 

If high-tech PR people want to know why some consumers hate technology, call me. I just spent 12 hours this past weekend trying to accomplish two seemingly simple tasks -- transfer data from one laptop to another and upgrade a wireless network. It was a travesty.

My wife runs her PR business from an office in the house, and her Dell laptop was getting old. She bought a new laptop and asked me to transfer her data from the old one to the new one. At the same time, the wireless Linksys network in the house has been in need of an upgrade. It didn't reach every room because the signal wasn't strong enough. So, I decided to upgrade the router to a new Linksys model that extends range and speed and to install security since it would be seen around the neighborhood. So far so good. The last mistake I made was to try and please my wife who wants a remote printing feature that would allow her to send documents from anywhere in the house to her HP 882c Deskjet. I purchased a Linksys print server because I didn't want to mix gear. Compatibility is an issue with network gear.

The first thing that went wrong was the software program used to transfer files and software from one computer to another. The copy of Alohabob I had from three years ago failed to work. It needed an upgrade, but the company doesn't sell downloadable upgrades, and the company had been sold recently to another firm. I ran to the computer store where I was told they didn't have Alohabob, but the salesperson waved me in the general direction of software aisles on the other side of the store. On a hunch I went over there and found both Alohabob and Laplink. I purchased Laplink because it used a faster USB cable. I loaded Laplink and tried to register it, so I could use it. I couldn't. The web page wasn't working and the web page provides a key that unlocks the program. I checked every web page I could think of related to Laplink: They were all down. This cost a couple of hours. How the heck can a company run a business that forces one to use its web page, then not keep the page up 24 hours a day? Worse, how can a company offer phone service only five days a week with a web page that goes down. Laplink does. I took Laplink back to the store, told the clerk the tale and swapped for a copy of Alohabob with USB cable, which had appeared on the shelf. (The clerk later checked the site himself and told me it was still down.)

I took Alohabob home and tried to swap data. (I have done this before.) It didn't work. In Alohabob's favor, there was a mild warning that there could be compatibility problems if one transferred data from say "jhorton" to "horton." The program stated the possibility: It didn't say it would happen. It happened to me. I lost another two hours trying to get the damn program to work before in one last desperate attempt, I changed the names to make them identical. Data began to pour from one laptop to the other.

While Alohabob was idling, I turned to the router upgrade. Linksys has tried to make router installation idiot-proof with a CD-ROM that details step-by-step what one should do. There was one problem. The instructions assume one is putting in a router for the first time and not upgrading a router. The instructions didn't work: There were no other instructions. Fortunately, Cisco, which owns Linksys, has 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service, so I called -- to Chenai, India, it turns out. Accents weren't a problem, but the solution to router incompatibility was. The tech and I spent an hour and a half on the phone picking through problems. The tech dismissed the CD-ROM immediately and worked a backdoor route. Even setting up WPA security was a headache. The system wouldn't work at first. We had to take it out, set up WEP security, which did work, remove WEP, return to WPA and for some reason, it worked the second time. Don't ask why.

By 11:45 Saturday night the transfer finished between the two laptops. I buttoned them up and went to bed thinking the print server couldn't be a headache in the morning. Little did I know. The print server didn't work. Again, it came with a step-by-step CD-ROM that I followed six or seven times in a row. Nothing. Getting a tech in Chenai this time was a headache. They were all busy. It took an hour. Finally, a tech took me through several resets of the system and several checks then said the print server was defective, and I should take it back. It was 11 am when I packed everything up, got the receipts and returned to the computer store to the same clerk who looked at me skeptically. Another broken piece of technology? I told him what the tech told me. He took the printserver back, but I had enough. My wife isn't going to get remote printing, partially because the tech told me some printers are still incompatible with Linksys printservers, but Linksys hadn't tested all printers yet, so it wasn't clear if my printer is an incompatible machine. O goody.

So there you have it. Twelve hours of fun and profit for a simple technical upgrade. High-tech PR publicists, spin your way out of this one.


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