Friday, July 29, 2011

Worst ... user experience ... ever (how to turn on your wireless radio)

[Doing a little more searching after I wrote this, I eventually learned that it's not just a few oddball brands that have this problem, and that some models really do have physical switches.  If you're banging your head trying to get your wireless turned on, this list might help.  It told me where to look again for the small, black-on-black slider switch on the laptop I was dealing with.

As always, I make no warranty that this will help you.  I particularly don't vouch for the spammers halfway down offering to crack passwords for you.  --DH]

OK, this isn't really much to do with the web, except that you can't really talk about the web unless you can actually connect to it, and it's really just a bunch of griping, but ...

Who in the Windows world decided it was a good idea to make laptops keep their wireless radios turned off until you find the right magical incantation to turn them on?  Did Steve Jobs sneak into Steve Ballmer's house at night and put an iPod loaded with subliminal messages under his pillow?  "Turn the wireless radios off ... trust me ... people will love it!"   Did someone decide that having wireless connectivity was too simple and useful?  No?  What, then?

I'm trying to imagine a portable device in this day and age that you don't want to be able to connect to the the nearest hotspot.   Smartphones do it.  Tablets do it.  Netbooks do it.  Even set-top TV boxes and video games do it.  One of the first things you do with most new gadgets is locate the nearest hotspot, connect up to it and say "Ah ... that's better."  At least if you're me, anyway.

Is this supposed to save the battery?  I can see that, but why have a separate control?  There's already a "disable" option for the wireless if you want to go offline (or wired, or into "airplane mode").  That should turn the radio off, no?  Conversely, if I enable the wireless I want the radio on.  Duh.  Do I really have to spell that out?  Evidently.

OK, fine.  You need to turn the radio on before I can use the wireless.  How do you do it?

Typically you futz around the network area of the control panel until you stumble on a help message that says to flip a switch on the front or side of the laptop.  I have never seen such a switch.  Why would there be such a switch?  How many other such switches are there on a modern laptop?  Typically, there's a power button and ... um ... yeah, that's about it.  [As mentioned up top, I have now seen such a switch.  I am no more impressed than before.]

I've seen other attempts at handy buttons for some novel function, but always in the keyboard area, and never for very many product cycles.  A switch is another moving part and an added design and manufacturing expense in a cutthroat business.  It only makes sense if it's for something that people really want to be able to do in one quick step.  Who, exactly, is asking for the ability to instantly make their mobile, web-enabled computer nearly useless?

So there's no physical switch readily apparent.  That leaves the software equivalent.  The previous time I had to jump through this hoop I was able to find some forum somewhere that said what to run to do the trick.  This time -- as you an probably guess -- not so much.

Oh, there's a function key that will pop up a grayed-out-looking but otherwise pretty little box with an icon denoting the wireless radio, x-ed out with a nice red x (Dedicated function key?  Who are all these people asking for a shortcut to do something I've never, ever wanted to do nor known anyone who admitted to wanting to do?).  Clicking on the box does nothing.  Pressing the function key again in hopes that it's a toggle that I somehow just turned off does nothing.

There's in icon in the tray at the bottom, bearing a similar x-ed out icon, that you can right-click on.  It will tell you that you need to turn your radio on.

There's a setup application supplied by the hardware manufacturer (this is one area where closed architectures like the Mac win).  It offers to set up the wireless hardware for you.

But first you have to turn the radio on.  Of course.

Search the forums.  Someone suggests uninstalling the drivers and rebooting.  Well naturally.  If I want to turn on the lights in my house the first thing I do is uninstall the wiring (never mind rebooting).  Try that.  Nope.  Flip a couple of checkboxes buried deep in the bowels of the "Device manager" menus.  Nope, sorry.  Maybe the drivers -- that the manufacturer shipped with -- are out of date?  You could try updating them.

If you had an internet connection.

Maybe drop-kicking the thing off the roof of a tall building will do it?  Seems worth a try ...

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