the coolest 3G problem ever

3G modems – those little white USB bubbles – are well-designed things. They don’t give you a long enough USB cable to make data/power loss an issue, they don’t get ridiculously hot on your leg, and they generally just work.

The coolest part by far is how they detect as a device – they show up as USB mass storage, basically an inbuilt flashdrive, from which you can install all the software you need to use it as a modem. Once the drivers are installed, they re-detect and bring up the modem as a device as well. Hundreds of different devices would be improved by supplying drivers this way; it’s brilliant and elegant and fool-proof.

Well, nearly. A guy brought his PC in today, and presented me with the following error message:

Not actually having been given the error number it mentions, I was left in the dark; this would pop up about 10 seconds after trying to dial the ISP with the thing, and of course there was no net access afterwards. Being told about a closed port was an annoying red herring – I wish people designed error messages with their mothers in mind as the target user.

I was actually trawling through his BIOS settings for the fix to an unrelated problem when I saw someone’d turned off Plug and Play support for compatible operating systems. Windows XP, of course, supports this readily, so I flicked it back on and that was that – the modem started working.

Our current theory is that it requires PnP to do the device detection trick, which is perfectly fine unless you let your niece mess with the computer. So don’t do that.

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