Having a computer means everything's connected
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
With computers in about half the homes, there?s been
about what will it take to convince the other half to buy in.
Part of the hesitation has been price?a $2,000
computer system is one
of the more expensive home purchases. You can buy a pretty skookum TV +
VCR for that kind of money, for example. As computer prices drop,
that argument becomes weaker.
But many would-be users have a fear of the complexity
of today?s computers.
And to a large extent their fears are justified. Even presumably simple
systems like Apple?s iMac exist in a state of delicate balance between
the hardware and the software. There are just too many complex
that can go wrong.
Here are a couple of problems that I?ve had to unravel
- I upgraded my PC system not too long ago, moving
from a 166 MHz Pentium
to a 400 MHz Pentium-II. I connected it to my printer, scanner, and so
forth, and started installing my applications and the software drivers
to make it work with all those hardware add-ins.
Suddenly, it stopped working?more than half the time, it wouldn?t
boot up properly, claiming to be unable to find files needed by Windows
98?even though the files were right where they were supposed to be. So
I reformatted the drive, reinstalled Windows 98, and started the
of loading everything back again.
And the problem re-occurred. Sounds like hardware,
right? Since the
computer was only a few days old, I took it back to the vendor. We
in a new hard drive, and I again started reinstalling everything. And
problem re-occurred. So we swapped the RAM. Twice. With no luck. And
we tried a new power supply. And a new motherboard. At that point, it
essentially a different computer, but the problem kept occurring.
Eventually, by coincidence, I heard of someone else
with the same problem.
It turns out that the drivers that came with my
scanner didn?t work
right with processors running faster than 300 MHz. Newer drivers were
at the manufacturer?s Web site which corrected the problem.
Moral #1?everything?s connected to everything else.
Who would have
thought that a problem with the scanner drivers could cause the system
to be unable to boot?
Moral #2?periodically check the Web sites for all
your hardware add-ons.
New drivers for video cards, mouse, printers, and all can help with
seemingly unrelated problems.
(And by the way, Vancouver?s Nantron Computers earns
my gratitude for
going far beyond the call of duty in helping me work through a problem
that turned out to have nothing to do with the hardware they sold me).
- After replacing Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 with
the newer Internet
5, suddenly I started to have a problem with my old reliable Eudora Pro
e-mail program. Messages designed to appear as a Web page?with fancy
and effects or embedded graphics were nearly unreadable, appearing as
I didn?t think it was a conspiracy by Microsoft to get everyone
to use their Outlook Express mail program, but I knew that Eudora used
Internet Explorer to enable it to view HTML-formatted messages. I could
turn off the option to do that in Eudora, which let those messages
as boring but legible plain text messages, rather than a
gibberish of HTML commands.
Again, the problem turned out to be a more complex
it appeared at first. The problem wasn?t just an interaction between
Explorer 5 and Eudora?a third program, GetRight, a utility to help in
files over the Internet, was involved. Only when it?s installed along
Eudora and Internet Explorer 5, does the problem I was having occur.
And according to a technical support report on
Eudora?s Web site, even
removing GetRight doesn?t help?its Uninstall option leaves behind a
of commands in Windows? cryptic Registry, that have to be manually
in order to get things working right again. Once that?s done, Eudora
again make use of Internet Explorer 5 to display HTML-formatted
the way they?re supposed to be seen.
I was pointed in the direction of help after posting a
message in the
comp.mail.eudora.ms-windows Usenet group. There are literally thousands
of Usenet ?newsgroups?. And while lots of them are pretty wacky, many
focused on pretty specific computer hardware and software related
Moral #3?when you have a problem, you?re probably
not the only one.
Hunt around the Web sites of your software manufacturers, or post your
problem in the appropriate Usenet groups.
Moral #4?see Moral #1. Once again, the problem
turned out to involve
something other than where the symptoms were. Sort of like having your
toilet back up when you put a piece of toast in the toaster.
In my house, the toaster doesn?t really affect the
toilet. But my computer?s
a more complex system.
The Last Moral ?don?t expect computers to offer home
of use anytime soon.