Sunday, November 2, 2008

at&t DSL woes

A few years ago I moved away from DSL mainly because of issues with the company (Southwestern Bell, now called at&t) that provided the service. So when a coworker approached me to help her set-up her DSL and Linux system, I didn't think we'd have too much trouble. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Most people's problems with DSL stems from problems with the house wiring or forgetting to use those DSL filters they provide to you. We had no trouble getting sync and the modem worked fine. However, the next 2 and a half hours and a drive into our office were spent trying to get her service registered so she could use it. Yes, you read that right. I am not an id10t, I promise.

The problem is with at&t's web programmers who designed the registration page to only work with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Neither one of us had a working Windows system sitting around (I had my Linux-based laptop with me). For this kind of application no web developer worth their weight in salt would ever program a registration page that would require Internet Explorer. For two hours I spent trying both Firefox and SeaMonkey (the new name for the old Mozilla browser suite) figuring one of them would work. We couldn't get past the second page where you enter your telephone number (the "NEXT" button didn't do anything). We even tried loading Internet Explorer into "wine" (the Windows API for Linux) with no luck (wine has problems of its own, so my expectations of this were low to begin with). In desperation, we both drove into work and used one of the Windows systems there to register the username/password. After this experience I was reminded of the reason why I told at&t to take a hike with regard to my Internet service.

The other piece of idiocy with regard to this whole thing was their set-up process in general. Now I know it is necessary to make the set-up process as simple-to-follow as possible for those who are not network administrators to successfully set up the service. How much effort would it have taken to place somewhere prominently in the instructions, "If you are an experienced user and would like to install the service manually, look at the ManualInstall.html file on the installation CD?" It was out of desperation trying to find her account information in any of the many things they sent her that we thought of looking at the install CD (remember we're running Linux, and didn't expect anything of any value to us to be on that CD).

When I had DSL I remember it being pretty reliable. So I'm hoping now that I have helped my friend get past the installation of her DSL that she'll have many years of good service. The problem I see is that if she ever has problems she'll have problems with at&t technical support. With an attitude like the one they demonstrated with the installation instructions, I can't imagine how she'll ever convince someone at at&t that the sync loss (only attributable to a DSL problem) is due to the DSL service and not with her Linux system.

I refuse to be assimilated into the Microsoft collective because all these companies have decided they're only going to acknowledge the existence of this one operating system and associated applications. Is this a failing on my part? In any other situation it may be. However I will go back to the roots of the Internet and why various standards were developed. Microsoft has refused to stick to the standards (or properly work with the various committees to change/extend the standards) because it is in their own best interest to see to it that the computing environment remains as proprietary in their favor as possible. It would be the equivalent of developing an automotive fuel that only works with Microsoft cars, not telling anyone what was in the fuel, paying every gas station to dispense only Microsoft fuel, and then watch as all the other automobile manufacturers went out of business. The legal system in this country has been manipulated so that the idea of reverse-engineering a software (or any other) system is considered illegal. Patent abuse has become so widespread that it is virtually impossible to develop anything of any value without encroaching upon some company's patent...but that discussion is too large to cover here.

I'm not saying Microsoft should be put out of business (although that would probably please me given yesterday's experience). What I am saying is that innovation in technology does not occur by one company "owning" the entire technology and its processes. If Microsoft is a strong company technically they should be able to compete in the computing industry by taking the standards that everyone uses and presenting them in innovative ways. Instead they work outside the standards, refusing to give back anything to improving them, and use money to manipulate the marketplace so that they are the only ones who can produce a solution. People don't really understand the impact of this until it is their job that is lost to this kind of business practice.

So back to DSL and wrapping-this up: at&t should be ashamed of themselves for producing such an obviously Microsoft-specific Internet access solution. The technical parts of this are clearly operating system (and browser) agnostic and someone within at&t clearly made the decision to prevent it from being that way. Some programmer and/or web designer whored themselves to at&t to make such a poor solution.

PS: at&t's Uverse (television) service is based on Microsoft's IPTV solution. How long will it be until Microsoft owns the entire entertainment industry and you can't watch TV unless it has some kind of Microsoft-owned technology in it?

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