Archive for Monday, September 15, 1997

PCS, MODEMS TEST WILLS

September 15, 1997

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"Modems on PCs are a nightmare." My PC-user colleague gestured emphatically as he made this remark, after hearing the story of my previous evening spent trying to install a modem on my cousin's PC. I took some comfort in this, having feared that my years of using Macintoshes had somehow softened the brain cells I would normally have used to store the esoteric knowledge required to master the Intel-based microcomputer.

Please understand that I've tried very hard to like using PCs. I once owned one myself, and I actually use one side-by-side with my Mac almost every day at the office. But even though I've worked with computers for a good many years, I was reduced to scratching my head with a glazed look in my eyes after three hours of fiddling with my cousin's computer and modem.

I had ordered the internal modem for her, and when it arrived I was surprised to learn that this particular modem manufacturer ships the modem software not on floppy disks, but on a CD-ROM. Of course, the computer in question was an older model that had no CD-ROM drive.

Not to worry. I have access to the Internet. And sure enough, the modem manufacturer's FTP site on the Internet had a vast array of modem driver software, free for the downloading.

Unfortunately, none of the drivers on the FTP site had file names that matched the model number of the particular modem I had purchased. There were a couple that were close, so I downloaded them in hopes that perhaps one might work. And just to make sure, a few days before I was to install the modem I sent e-mail to the manufacturer's technical support department, asking which one was the right one.

Of course, the manual didn't specify the modem's model number -- the manual was written to cover three models, and none of those three model numbers matched the model number that was printed on the modem card itself, nor was there a model number on the box it was shipped in. And there was no reply to my e-mail after several days.

But armed with an array of drivers and some programs that would help me learn about her computer's configuration, I proceeded. The physical installation was easy. Installation of the Internet access software provided by her Internet service provider went flawlessly. But it still wouldn't work.

First, the modem wouldn't respond when the communication software tried to dial the phone number of her ISP. So I tried various combinations of communication port numbers and IRQ numbers, carefully avoiding those that were in use by other peripherals in her system, still to no avail. I tried all of the driver software I had downloaded, and in each case, it appeared that the driver was intended for another modem model. No luck.

I was about to try the laying on of hands with prayer when I gave up and decided to let it sit until the following day. Miraculously, the next morning, an e-mail message from the technical support person showed up in my mailbox, explaining that the proper driver for my modem was a file with a name that no one, not even a first-rate tabloid psychic, could have deduced. I downloaded it and went back the following evening, determined to make it work, whatever the cost to my mental health.

The new driver was the right one, and soon I had configured the modem properly and even managed to get it to respond to commands. The configuration process wasn't finished, though; I had to tweak something in the Windows control panel to get the modem to actually dial the phone number and make the connection without dying midway through the process.

Now I'll admit I'm not the brightest Crayola in the box, but I've got a few years of computing and networking experience under my hat, and this whole thing had me bamboozled for several hours.

I couldn't help but recall, when all was said and done, that the last time I had to install and configure a modem for a Macintosh, the entire process from start to finish took no more than about four and a half minutes. That included unpacking the box and driving to Wal-Mart to get a longer telephone cable. And eat lunch at McDonald's.

In fairness, I should point out that this was all done on an older system running Windows 3.1, not Windows 95, which makes hardware installation much easier (or so the story goes). After the ordeal was over, I found a couple of World Wide Web pages I wished I had found sooner, including Curt's High Speed Modem Page (http://www.teleport.com/~curt/modems.html), and the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) Modems and Data Communications Page (http://www.igc.org/support4/modems.html). These pages contain vast amounts of information that might have been helpful, had I taken the time to search for them earlier in the process.

May you never have need for a modem and a PC in the same room.

-- Doug Heacock is director of the Kansas Research and Educational Network at Kansas University. You may address questions to him in care of the Lawrence Journal-World, 609 N.H., Lawrence 66044, or e-mail him at heacock

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