Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why is a 2-year old Mac better than a new Windows 7 machine?

Because the Mac seamlessly and effortlessly connects to a wireless network while the Windows 7 Just Doesn't, even after repeated trouble-shooting.

I'm visiting family in Boston and they have a wireless network. A few days ago, I fire up my MacBook Pro (about 2.5 years old, now running Snow Leopard), go to the AirPort (WiFi) preferences, identify the network ID, enter the password and -- snap! -- I'm on the internet.

This morning, I decide it's time to do a few things with my new Dell laptop running Windows 7 and I figure that setting up the wireless connection won't be too hard... foolish assumption.

First off, I have to find the right place to get things done. Dell has a "helpful" piece of software -- the Dell ControlPoint Connection Manager -- that I guess is supposed to make my life easier. After poking around a bit, I see that it doesn't even recognize that there's a wireless network: it has options for wireless (even including trouble-shooting FAQs), but none of the options for wireless networks are active... they're all greyed out and therefore not available.

So off I go to the Control Panel, hoping against hope that Micro$oft has improved this since Windows XP. What I learn after almost an hour of fiddling is that they've added lots of fancy-schmancy displays and options, but it's still just as bad as ever.

The bottom line is that the house where I'm staying has an old wireless router which uses WEP encryption (that old encryption that is so easily broken it might as well be transmitting in clear text).  The good part about Windows 7 is that it know this is poor encryption, so they refuse to connect to the network, even though I've given it the proper credentials.  The bad part is that they do so without any explanation whatsoever.

I wind up running the network trouble-shooter. The good part is it helpfully responds with a link to explain "How do I change security settings or manually create a profile?" The bad part is that this supposedly helpful page says nothing about manually creating a profile, which is what I'm supposed to do.

As is the way of Windows, the critical information may well be there, but buried so deeply that -- if you don't already know what the answer is, you'll never find it. In this case, you have to know to click on the "Encryption methods for wireless networks". It looks like just more general information about WEP and why that's a Bad Thing, but way down at the bottom, there is a detailed step-by-step approach to manually creating a network profile and forcing the connection to occur. The bad part is the instructions are flawed: three quarters of the way through the sequence, when I'm supposed to get the critical option to manually connect to the network, the dialogue closes and I'm right back where I started: no connection.

Sure... I've had some headaches with getting my Mac to work in development mode, but it's really nice to have at least one machine that Just Works when it comes to getting on the internet.


  1. Hi Jon,
    I have the same problem with Windows 7 wireless - in an attempt to make it user friendly for the technically challenged, the manual/advanced controls have been buried or lost! (No problem, just use the universal search on the start menu :-) yeah right)

  2. Thanks for this write-up Jon. It's Microsoft the same as ever. Patronizing and arrogant telling you want you must want and what not. It's this one-size-fits-all approach that raises my hackles. One less incentive to look at Windows 7.