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Always check the date

March 7, 2011

As an IT professional, I am occasionally called on to help with the computers of family and friends. I don’t mind doing this because I think its important that computer users who are not literate in the finer workings should be able to get honest professional help without being worried about how much its going to cost them.

So when my wife dropped me an email to say someone she worked with was having trouble with her laptop at home I was happy to help.

The problem

The laptop had apparently been to a shop to be fixed, the owner said a new motherboard had been put in. This is possible, so I didn’t question exactly what had been done or why, I was concerned about the current problem.

The problem was that since the repair, the laptop was unable to see the internet. It seemed to be connecting to the wireless router at home but would not connect to the internet.

I’ve seen and fixed problems like this before and I figured it would be a simple case of check and correct the router settings and the laptop settings and all would be good.

How wrong I was

The router setting were checked, it was an unsecured wireless network (as I feared and suspected). I’d fix that later.

The settings did not indicate any reason why the laptop would not connect. A check of the IP address showed that the laptop was not getting a correct address from the DHCP setting on the router so I manually set one in the right range.

For an hour I checked, double-checked and fiddled with the settings and all with the same result; no improvement.

I secured the network and put set up a key and configured the laptop; still nothing.

I was just about to throw in the towel and call it quits and I noticed that the laptop clock was showing 21:30 when it was only three in the afternoon. Odd, but nothing serious I thought, but with nothing else to do I figured I would correct that anyway. Opening up the set date / time dialog revealed that the laptop though it was January 2005, oh dear.

No sooner had I click on apply, having corrected the date and time, the laptop was already establishing a connection to the internet and by the time I had closed the dialogs I no longer needed, Windows Update was flashing up that it was downloading updates.


While, I am very happy to have solved this issue for little cost to them (they very kindly put a bottle of wine in my hand as I left) it frustrating that my email exchange to with them could not solve the problem and neither did their phone call to customer support.

The error message from Windows was a very generic, check all your setting message.

I think its very bad form that Windows does not give the user a more specific clue as to the reasons for failure. Surely it must be possible to identify that the failure is down to a date mismatch and to report this back to the user. In fact Windows could even report the two dates and offer to correct the laptop date / time (on the assumption it’s the laptop that’s the problem). All the user need do then is click, yes set my local date time to that.

But no, an inexperienced user gets a very confusing generic error and a prompt to identify the problem, which it fails to do.

I for one, am very unimpressed, D-, could do much better.


From → Technology

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