Thursday, 12 November 2009

Networking is still a chore

I'm old enough to remember the days when we used to have to connect to networks using acoustic couplers, bits of string, rubber bands and elastic and software without a user interface. The key ingredient was faith. It's fair to say that we have come a long way since then - broadband, mobile broadband, wireless and gigabit ethernet connections do make life easier. Software packages like Network Magic were a breakthrough on the Windows platform, but it wasn't until I started using Apple equipment a couple of years ago that I felt that much of the pain was being borne by the operating system rather than the user. Until things go wrong that is.

Since the MacBook Pro came back from the repair shop I've had a number of niggling problems with the network at the Apple Harvest. It isn't a complicated set-up: a BTHomeHub 2 sits at the heart of the network providing a mix of wired and wireless connections. My iMac is permanently connected via ethernet alongside a WD NAS drive. Both plug into the router via a NetGear gigabit switch, and a Powerlink connection takes the ethernet downstairs from my office and allows me to connect to BT Vision. The MBP generally connects wirelessly, but a spare ethernet connection is available upstairs if necessary. iPhone, iPod Touch and the Hackintosh all connect wirelessly.

The niggles started with iTunes. Having upgraded to OS X 10.6.2 and iTunes 9.0.2, the home-sharing facility stopped working over the wireless network. Plugging the MPB into the spare ethernet port resolved the situation initially but now this has also packed up. No changes have been made to firewalls or other security systems.

The second niggle came with ShareTool which I mentioned in my last blog entry. Whist ShareTool works without issue most of the time, occasionally it can't initialise itself, and a router reboot is required.

Over the past twenty four hours a new niggle has started. The iMac keeps dropping its internet connection. Sometimes this happens after 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 5 hours. The router shows no sign of any problems, and a check against the MPB shows that the Broadband signal is fine and internet access is OK on the laptop. The only solution is to switch the machine off and reboot as certain software packages trying to access the net won't quit to allow a restart.

The trouble with all these problems is that they are intermittent and therefore difficult to repeat and to diagnose. It's also true that network diagnostic tools are not for the faint hearted, and will generally lead to more questions than answers. The whole language of networking seems to be designed to baffle and obfuscate, even more than other IT disciplines. I understand quite a lot of what is going on, but I feel for the average home user who won't have a clue. (I recently sorted out a friends PC networking problems but to this day I haven't got a clue what was going on - only that I fixed it, and it hasn't happened again...yet).

In an attempt to sort out some of these problems I've stopped trying to run ShareTool, and have just discovered that the developer has posted an awareness of an incompatibility between the current version of ShareTool and OS X 10.6.2, which shouldn't really have come as a surprise. Credit to the developer for his rapid response and acknowledgement, as it means there's no point in me continuing to try to establish what's going on and ripping even more hair out. [Update 12.Nov.2009 17.15GMT - ShareTool is not to blame for the internet connection failure, so still need to find the culprit. Drat !!]

I guess the real point is that the industry as a whole needs to step back and bring networking support into the 21st century, to make the whole experience less painful and allow us to be more productive. I don't see why it should still be rocket science in this day and age!

1 comment:

  1. "The whole language of networking seems to be designed to baffle and obfuscate, even more than other IT disciplines." Truer words have never been spoken. I consider myself a bit more than the "average" home user, but networking regularly tries my patience. Since the update to OS X 10.6.2, I find that, after a restart, iTunes can't find its music library located on my Drobo unless I manually choose "Go" in the Finder to add the server (Drobo). This didn't happen before the update, and I can't figure out how to correct it. But my little niggle isn't nearly as bad as yours.