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XP and Routers

A few months ago my dad bought a cheapo PC to watch some videos he couldn't watch on a Mac (some super-secret WMP encoded files or something) and to use some CDs encoded with HTML that only Windows IE could decipher.

Recently, I've acquired Business Plan Pro and installed it, and I bought a $15 ethernet card and installed it. Works great, though it took about two hours to get the PC set up and installed. I quickly downloaded any of the Windows "critical updates" (btw, finding Windows Update took four to five minutes alone), then downloaded and installed FireFox. I instructed dad not to use Outlook or Internet Explorer and showed him how to launch and use FireFox. We'll see how long that lasts…

Today my goal was to hook up the PC and the Mac my parents have had for awhile using the Linksys BEFSR41 4-port cable/dsl router. Both computers got online perfectly fine, but I ran into trouble when I put the router between them. The router would grab an IP address from the cable modem, it'd grab DNS servers and so on, but neither computer could get much information out and back. I pinged the two DNS servers the cable modem was supplying but achieved worse than 99% packet loss (an occasional ping got through) on both machines.

Remove the router and the computers work fine (and ping at better than 1% packet loss). Who knows? I'm going to buy a new router tomorrow and give it a shot.

This is my first in-depth experience with Windows in a year or so. I can't say it went very well. I ran into any number of problems that didn't seem to have immediate answers. Some general observations:

  • Setting up a network is far tougher than it needs to be. WTF is "Repair"? It seems to try to grab a new IP address, but half the time it'd freeze up. If you want to compare wizards, Apple's setup wizard makes a whole heckuva lot more sense than the Windows one (though the Mac version really runs the first time you start up only).
  • It took me five minutes to find Windows Update, and even then I have no idea whether it got all of the critical updates, one of them, or what. I set it to download critical updates in the background and it said it had another 3% downloaded for another update, so… who knows? I do know this: the "web page" interface for downloading updates is confusing and ugly. The Mac gets this right - click little checkboxes, read a short description, click "Install."
  • The machine was easy to get open. I unscrewed two thumbscrews and slid the side cover off.
  • The machine was fairly free of "crap" on the desktop, though I will note that as soon as I got online, AOL launched, MSN Messenger tried to get in my way (it's still in the right side of the task bar for some reason), WinAmp tried to tell me it needed an update or something, and all sorts of other goofy things came up.
  • Window management is a pain in the ass. And that's not even counting the lack of Exposé-like features.
  • Installing Business Plan Pro alone was a 30-minute operation. Installing the app launched what seemed like about ten different installers. I recall clicking the "Finish" button at least five different times. What would be a drag-and-drop install on the Mac instead took 30 minutes, 5 or more "Finishes," twenty or so clicks on "Next &t;" buttons, and at least 15 different windows with progress bars. And $DEITY knows where all of the files went!

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I'm happy to be back on my computer. I hope to get the router working and then I hope to allow my business partner access via Microsoft's "Remote Desktop Connection" so that we can both work on the computer at the same time. I may even give Trillian a try on the PC for the "chat while we work on the business plan" thing. I sure as hell won't be using MSN Messenger.

10 Responses to "XP and Routers"

  1. Which version of Windows are you running?

    As anything except 2000 Server, XP Pro and Server 2003 won't allow you to connect to it. Also, XP Pro will only let one person at a time on a computer when RDC is enabled, so either you or your partner can be using the machine, but not at the same time. (AFAIK, I could be wrong, but I have yet to find a way around this on my network at home).

  2. Damn, I think it's XP Home.

  3. Sounds like me about a year ago. 😉 FWIW, I have a Belkin router off my cable modem serving the connection and network for the PC and 3 Macs and I have no complaints. Does your ISP serve the IP via DHCP or do you have to enter anything manually? The Belkin router included a CD with a Wizard that stepped through the configuration on the PC. From there, the Mac knew what to do and hopped on.

    That is the biggest difference I've found between Mac & PC. On the Mac, I'd skim the leaflet that came with the hardware. Maybe. Plug it in and go. On the PC, you have to follow the directions step by step.

  4. The ISP is fine with routers (Adelphia). The guy on the phone even asked me what kind of router. He could ping me, I couldn't ping him. The router ( grabbed the IP, the DNS info, the router info, etc. It just couldn't seem to handle inbound information from computers. 😛

    Sure would be nice if even $50 routers had a very basic linux install so that you could ssh to them and ping directly from the router. That'd be nice.

  5. That's weird. My linksys router's configuration webpage has a ping option, so I can ping anyone and see if it works from the router. (It's hidden in some weird place, but it's there.) You might want to try upgrading the firmware on the router... mine didn't work until I upgraded it.

    Good luck!


  6. Owen, it's a version 2 BEFSR41, and I couldn't update the firmware. The update failed every time. Thus leading me to highly suspect the router as faulty.

  7. Just try setting up wireless on an XP notebook! YUCK!

    There are so many ways that Mac OS setup is simpler than Windows, or just easier to understand:

    - the filesystem (C:\WINNT\SYSTEM32 anyone?)

    - network setup

    - Control Panels / System Preferences in general

    - Networking setup in particular

    I could go on, but why bother... you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. 😉

  8. If it's XP Home, you can't do RDC at all. All XP Home can do is Remote Assistance. Remote Assistance uses the RDC technology but a remote person can only connect when the person at the console requests it. The request is sent by email with a sort of key file attached which (I think) can only be used by the recipient if they're running XP. When the remote person connects, they share the desktop with the person at the console so it's really just like using VNC. Here is Microsoft's comparison of XP Home vs. Pro. Also, here's an article comparing XP Home and Pro.

  9. For what it's worth, ping and traceroute are no longer gospel when it comes to testing network status. Some ISPs have moved IMCP packets to extremely low priority on their networks. The result is that you can get horrendous ping times even when everything's just fine.

  10. Yes, I forgot, I'm an idiot. Thank you for reminding me, Scott.</sarcasm>. Pinging worked with each computer hooked up directly. It did not work when going through the router. Not hard to figure out.