Thursday, September 06, 2012

Don't touch THAT!

One of the main reasons that I chose WiTopia as my VPN service a few years ago is that they do make more of an effort on customer support than most of their competitors. Their e-mail helpline is staffed 24/7, and usually produces a friendly and helpful response within a few hours, if not minutes.

Moreover, I find their determination to overcome the censorship efforts in China especially commendable. They have been unlucky in attracting more attention from the authorities here than most other VPNs, and thus do far more often run into occasional hiccups in service as certain of their routings or cloaking methods get zapped. But they always bounce back, usually within a matter of days; they are staying well ahead of the game.

However, in my latest round of Net woes, I found them much less helpful than in the past.

They were so flummoxed by my VPN's refusal to work properly that they assigned one of their more senior techies to deal with me. And he made an appointment for a remote access 'shared screen' session, so that he could poke around inside my computer to try to identify and fix the problem.

And you know what he did? Divining that the problem might be something to do with my wi-fi network adapter... he decided to UNINSTALL it.

In the middle of our remote access session. Without asking my permission first. Without even warning me. (I hadn't been paying close attention all the time, but I noticed where the cursor was heading for this fatal move and my mouth had started to open in a silent scream: "NOOOOO!!!")

This is flabbergasting on so many levels. I was using wi-fi to connect to the Internet, so this guy had prematurely terminated our remote access session. I didn't have the option of direct connection by cable where I was, so I  had no way to get back in touch with him. I wasn't able to reinstall the program from my hard drive. I wasn't even sure what the program was called, so finding it and reinstalling it from the Dell website the next day was a fair amount of hassle. I wasn't sure exactly what he'd done, or why - so, there was some confusion and panic for a while there after he killed my Internet connection. (It turned out he had for some reason 'disabled' my regular broadband connectivity and deleted all my stored connections as well; so, even reconnecting via cable the next day was a little fraught at first.)

WHY would he do that??!! Why would you UNINSTALL a program, rather than just tinker with the settings or temporarily disable it? Why would you not check whether it was in use first?? That's just unfathomably DUMB! Perverse, in fact.

And you know what's even worse? I can't understand how we ever got to that situation. The problem I was suffering is commonplace, obvious, and very easily taken care of. I really would have expected the WiTopia helpdesk people to be on top of it immediately. No need for a week of baffled e-mail exchanges and a deeply off-pissing remote access session. Windows 7 includes a feature called a Wi-Fi Virtual Miniport Adapter. It's designed to let you connect to more than one wi-fi source at the same time, or to set up wi-fi networking with other computers. All very nice. Except that it is notorious for conflicting with other network adapters - such as the Viscosity Virtual Adapter which WiTopia uses to connect to its VPN. If you go to the 'Network Devices' screen and disable the Microsoft virtual adapter, WiTopia starts working just fine.

Microsoft, of course, makes a habit of spawning this sort of problem. And Windows 7 is no longer a new system, it's been around a few years. This must surely be one of the most common and basic connection problems that WiTopia users encounter. I can't believe the helpdesk staff weren't clued up on this. (I am a very severely non-IT-competent chap, but it took me a matter of minutes - once I'd bothered to start looking - to find a bunch of online forums providing an answer to this problem.)

And THAT was not the climax of my week from hell, but just the beginning of it!

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