The return of the vista

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Eventually you do get bored with cursing your ISP and eventually it’s time to talk to someone in the tech support department to try and find out what’s really going on with your link.

Having bought your broadband service via a third party means you have to call them first, and after they admit they haven’t got a clue what you’re on about, you get a trouble ticket followed by a call from your ISP, in our case Telstra rather than BigPond, having opted for the “business-class” ADSL offering.

First off, the caller wasn’t really a techie but somebody whose job it is to screen calls to their techs so they won’t get hassled by nongs. Fair enough from their perspective but a tad annoying when you’re not a nong, but then who on earth would ever think they were a nong? OK, having passed the nong-test, we got a call from a real live Telstra tech. We explain our problem with their new 2-Wire modems. (That’s the brand name not how many wires it uses. Well, all right, it might also be how many wires it uses. But that’s not important right now.)

Regular readers will recall the 2-Wire modem was using PPPoA instead of the usual PPPoE on the ADSL link and that had our replacement Netgear router a little perplexed. It knew about the PPPoA but it wasn’t all that happy to connect without a few more parameters plugged into the blanks on the configuration web-page - answers to which had so far eluded everyone, including the tech who just called. When we finally explained that it wasn’t us that required PPPoA but the 2-Wire thingy, our friendly tech said the DSLAM at the Telstra exchange should automatically switch to whatever we wanted.

He also told us that with Telstra’s direct service, unlike the BigPond service, they couldn’t care less what you hang on the end of the ADSL as long as it doesn’t fry their kit at the exchange, and as long as you don’t call them for help when it doesn’t work. The Telstra techie told us they only supplied the link, and he’d remotely kick the DSLAM into automatic mode just in case it was being a bit picky. He said if we plugged in our kit and set it the way we wanted, then the exchange should comply. Hmmm. That didn’t happen last time we sat and stared at the blinking lights for what seemed like an eternity.

Now it’s not that we’re inherently distrustful of tech advice, but we were faced with a four-hour drive in order to test the latest advice, so it was with some degree of trepidation that we loaded up the Jeep and hit the highway. We’re talking about the Pacific Highway on the north coast of NSW, a road which politicians of all flavours have been using to get elected and re-elected over many decades with promises of upgrades. However, we were soon reminded that use of the term ‘highway’ requires a large degree of literary licence. We’re guessing that “glorified goat-track” wouldn’t get them as many votes.

It took a few minutes with the Netgear connected and trying to establish a PPPoE link before it succeeded but the Telstra tech was right – this time the exchange complied with our wishes and everything worked as advertised. It’s really nice when tech stuff actually works as advertised but it’s hard to explain why after all these years we’re still so surprised when it does work as advertised. But I’m sure you know the feeling.

About the only fault we’ve found with this particular Netgear modem is the way it can totally hang itself if something goes wrong with the wireless side of its innards. Basically, we stopped using the WiFi because too many failed connects from either dopey staff or local ne’er do wells would cause the entire router to freeze. Not good. However, we knew there was a firmware update, which claimed to fix the problem, so we downloaded and installed, and discovered that all our settings weren’t destroyed after all, despite the warnings that they would be nuked. And a few attempts to hack away at the WiFi no longer caused routericide.

The other reason for the road trip was to revert the PCs to their original Windows Vista setup, now that the software guru responsible for the ERP system had taken all of five minutes to spot the error in his code which had been causing the invoices to wander all over the page. Fortunately, we’d been smart enough to use Storage Craft’s ShadowProtect to take a backup image of the Vista PCs before we’d rolled them back to WinXP, in anticipation of one day being able to move to Microsoft’s latest offering. And this was indeed a good idea, as we soon had the first PC back to where we’d left it a couple of weeks earlier.

The bad news came when we realised that the Vista PC we’d decided to image just happened to have a hard drive ever so slightly larger than the rest of the tribe, which of course couldn’t be restored to a smaller drive, what with it being an image and all that. Yeah, OK, we understand the problem as described on the support website and we’ll even go along with blaming Microsoft for not releasing the intimate details of their disk formatting, but it didn’t stop the level of cursing and swearing rapidly rising to a level not heard since the director’s cut of Pirates of the Caribbean.

But all things to do with technology are surmountable, if you throw enough time and money at the problem, and we had time a-plenty, what with it being a weekend. Grrr. Fortunately, re-installing Vista from scratch doesn’t produce the same evel of pain that doing the install thing with XP always causes, and after loading up one more PC we were able to clone the little guy to his same-sized hard-drive brethren without any further drama. Well, one minor drama. The freshly minted Vista-PCs all downloaded the latest updates and after that, PCAnywhere wasn’t going….anywhere. That was a showstopper for a short while, since the city-based support team needs to be able to reach out over the VPN to train the new staff.

But, the old been-there-done-that déjà vu nostalgia pheromones kicked in and we just de-installed then re-installed PCA and everything worked as advertised. There’s quite a lot to like about Vista and Windows Server 2008 when they’re working as advertised. And when they stop, at least we’ll be able to reach out and give them a good kick in the arse now that the VPN is working, and failing that, we can access them via the Internet and the Aten IP-KVM, just so long as the Telstra link is up. Murphy? Who’s he and how come he got to make his own laws? Anyway, what’s wrong with a leisurely four-hour drive up the glorified goat-track? Now you know why the primary network support tool around here is a Jeep.
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