Not seeing the water for the trees

waterforthetreesComputers are a little more complex than some things, and often computer people in response to this are a little more hard headed.  Much of the figuring out how to fix a computer problem is done through trial and error by people who probably do not understand the issues.

Sometimes people are so wedded to their hardware and software, that they cannot see the problem is exactly their hardware and software.

I recently did a website for someone and enabled the email that came with the site.  When I do something like a website, I usually check it for compatibility in XP, Vista, Linux, and MacOS X.  Except on Linux I will do multiple browser checks.

All of this means  that I have a variety of flavors of computers around our house.  I also get the rare “privilege” of working on an ancient Dell system running XP.  I have a much newer Dell running XP at home, an HP laptop running Vista, a MacBook running Leopard, a Zonbu running Linux, and a dual G5 Mac running Leopard.

I just loaned out a five year old Dell laptop which had XP and Ubuntu running on it.  This fall I will probably get a new laptop with Windows 7 and add Ubuntu to my older HP.

With all this computer stuff, it is pretty easy to run tests and to know what is working and what is not working.

So after I created this website for the gentleman, he brings out his Dell laptop which takes five or six minutes to boot and can barely launch an application.  It is clearly a sick machine, and I told him so.  It is also using old versions of software.  In my mind, it is one of those systems where the only hope is to reformat the drive and start over.

Clearly he is incapable of doing it, and I certainly do not want to tackle it because I am pretty sure he would expect me to throw it in with what I am charging him to build his website.

During one of the many times we are waiting for his system to do something, I configured the Ubuntu laptop to get his mail.  I also showed him how it will boot in less than one minute.  Though he is impressed, he has no interest in giving up what he already knows.

I get the email working on his system when using an ethernet cable to my network.  I run an Airport wireless network so I was not interested in digging out a Windows wireless key.  His website is working fine, and I think that I am done with him.  He quickly cuts off any conversation of a maintenance agreement for his website, but I know how to handle that when the phone rings.

About a week later, he calls me and says he is having trouble sending messages using his wireless at the local library.  I invite him by our real estate office and again hook him to a network with an ethernet cable and his mail works fine in spite of the clunky software and hardware.

The mail I configured for him is POP and uses an external STMP server which is far better than an ISP STMP server if you travel at all.  I actually have a third party run a monitoring report on my server from the same company.  Most of the time it comes back with 100% uptime and no problems.  Since it is Linux, that is what I expect anyway.

I prefer IMAP email but I would have had to get my client email from a different provider, and he did not want to spend the extra money.  Considering his very small volume of email, it made little sense.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I get an email from his daughter-in-law asking for my help in configuring his email as a forward only account.  She has determined that it is best to leave him on his ISP mail even though he regularly travels to another place where he does not have that ISP.  She has already logged into his email accout and set it to auto forward his emails.

Without getting too deep into the details, her diagnosis of the problem was that he would be better off without the external SMTP which in her mind was preventing him from sending mail.

Since I had tried his mail from two networks with wired ethernet connections and seen zero problems, my first suspicion would have been his wireless card and/or Windows XP and the Outlook Express that he was using.  To be honest his system was in such bad shape that telling what was working and not working would be a great challenge.  However, of all the possibilities, the external SMTP server is probably the least likely.

However, the lady who wanted my help was so wedded to Microsoft and Outlook, that the SMTP server was the only problem that she could see.  She ended up creating a solution that did not even solve the problem because when her father-in-law traveled, he would be faced with having to do ISP webmail to send his mail  unless they operate with a totally unsecured SMTP server which would be scary.

I spent nearly an hour composing my response to her.  I am sure she spent hours on the computer.

At this stage in the computer revolution, it would make far more sense to buy a new computer with reliable wireless connection.  It would cost less than $600.

I am certainly not spending any more free time on the problem.   I even told the lady that I had personally switched to Thunderbird because Outlook was unresponsive so often on Vista.

That might be a clue the problem is a lot closer to home than a remote SMTP server.

An even better solution would be to buy a Mac even an old one.  I have a ten year old desktop at home that works fine.  My wife is even using a Mac laptop that is s six years old.  Her home iMac is hooked by wireless card to our network.  The iMac would be close to six years old.

I have a hard time relating to a solution which configured POP email so that you had to manually go and remove the mail from the server while it was forwarding it to a computer which could have received the email and be set to automatically remove it from the server.

I think that I need to go sit by the water and let my head rest.

Author: ocracokewaves

An escapee from the world of selling technology, now living on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks where life revolves around sun, sand, and water. I work at WideOpen Networks helping communities get fiber to their homes. In my spare time I am a photographer, writer, boater, fisherman, kayaker, swimmer, and walker of the beaches.

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