Nothing says “I want to keep you as a customer” as much as a kick in the teeth…

When I decided I wanted to start blogging (as opposed to just having WordPress installed on my server and calling it good) I was afraid that I would quickly run out of material. Fortunately, I’ve come to the realization that if I just write about idiocy and bad practice, I will never be at a loss for something to say.

This is the first of three (I know, right?) posts about customer service issues in the technology space. Obviously there are service issues in every industry, but IT is a service industry. Hearing about poor service in IT should be as rare as poor service at a Nordstrom’s.

I’ll warn you now, this one is the most technical and least funny, but I think it is indicative of some company’s attitudes towards their customers.

Recently my wife bought a couple netbooks on eBay for our kids. They have laptops already, but my son’s Acer is like carrying a car battery, and my daughter’s IBM (yes, it’s a Lenovo so old it’s an IBM) has a battery that lasts almost long enough to move it from one outlet to another in the same room. They work fine for home web surfing and the occasional flash game, but my wife was looking for something small enough to slip in their skating bags for trips to the ice rink that wouldn’t displace something else, and also wouldn’t add appreciable weight to the bag.

She ended up with an MSI Wind U100 and an Acer Aspire One. Both older models, both in mint condition.

The MSI was no trouble at all. She formatted and reinstalled Windows XP on it, and after updates, drivers, and installing a few things like anti virus, defraggler, and Firefox, it was ready to roll.

Not so the Acer.

First, the Acer was running something I could only describe as “Bob’s Linux”. Something that was obviously designed to give you web browsing, e-mail, word processing, and nothing else. No biggie, she was going to format it anyway and did so. She installed XP, Service Pack 3, the drivers from Acer’s site, and then tried to join our wireless network.

Nothing. “Limited or no connectivity. You might not be able to access the Internet or some network resources. This problem occurred because the network did not assign a network address to the computer”

Now our wireless network is as secure as I can make it – given that it’s consumer grade hardware. Our security is WPA2-PSK, we use mac filtering, and the SSID is not broadcast. We’re using TKIP instead of AES (actually CCMP) because that’s all my WAP supports, but still we’re better than many.

Anyway, my wife installed the wireless card driver for the onboard Atheros AR5007EG, joined the network (which it happily confirmed it was connected to) and then the network card flatly refused to get an IP address from our DHCP server. Oh fine. She tried a static IP. Nothing. Various permutations and configurations were tried without success. Various blog posts she found suggested things to disable – AV, firewall, etc. Eventually tuning off security on the WAP allowed the netbook to connect.

That’s not really an acceptable solution since I’m kind of a fan of security. Apparently, the Atheros AR5007EG does not support WPA2 – as far as Acer is concerned. Going to Atheros was no better. Atheros could care less if you ever connect. Their official response is go get your driver from your hardware manufacturer. That was a bit annoying because as far as Acer was concerned technology stopped advancing in 2007.

So, Acer – not an option. Atheros – stop bothering us. My wife went on a hunt for other manufacturers using the Atheros AR5007EG, and found that not only had Toshiba used that card in at least one device, they actually cared enough to keep updating their drivers. In case someone finds this blog in a desperate search for the actual driver, she found it here. She applied Toshiba’s driver and instantly had connectivity, and was able to proceed with updates and software installations.

It was pretty annoying that not only did Acer not supply a driver, but the non specific “cannot obtain IP address” error isn’t even mentioned on their site (It’s a default Windows networking error). Even if they consider the netbook beyond end of life, how about saving us a little time thinking that we have a hardware issue or a problem with the DHCP server?

Both Acer and Atheros get a fail on this one…

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