You Can’t Setup Everyones Computer Like Your Own

March 5, 2013

Over the years, I have learned a lot about computers not just in regards to fixing computers, but also troubleshooting, the right types of questions to ask, how to walk people through simple repairs over the phone, and also how different people use computers. One lesson that it took me some time to learn is that you can’t always setup other people’s computers like your own.

I would classify myself as a power user and have been for some time. I became the computer guy for my friends and family pretty early on and was often called to setup a computer for the first time or figure out why something wasn’t working. Back then, I would lock down their internet browser, tweak security settings, and generally setup the computer just like mine. However, most folks aren’t power users and this often had the effect of making their life more difficult or meaning that they would see a warning due to a security setting and just click through it. It took me a while to figure out that while this type of computer use was preferable for me, most people don’t want or need that type of experience.

Eventually though it clicked and while I still take great care setting up peoples computers, I now try to do it from the perspective of a normal non-technical user, rather than a power user.

The Case of the Locked Down Router

I ran into a great example of this today, while dropping off a laptop.

The client had been having problems getting their work computer to connect to the network. Their laptop and ipad worked fine, but just not their work computer. So, they asked me to take a look at it while I was over there.

The network was saved with the wrong security settings, WEP instead of WPA, so I deleted the saved network profile and re-addded it. It worked right away.

However, I have found that it is always a good idea to restart the computer after making these types of changes (or any changes really), to make sure it still works on reboot. And, sure enough, as soon as I rebooted I could no longer connect to the network. So, I logged into the router to see what was going on.

After a few minutes of playing, I discovered that it was setup to only allow 2 DHCP leases at a time. As a result, unless they manually set an IP address in your network adapter, it would only ever be possible to connect two devices to their router.

In retrospect, me being able to connect right away made sense. I had their personal laptop long enough for its lease to expire, so when I came back to their house and started the work computer, it filled the second slot that their personal laptop would normally have taken.

I set it to a higher limit and problem solved, they were able to connect with multiple devices.

During the work, we talked for a bit and I discovered that the person who setup their router was a friend who works in networking.

In addition to limiting the number of DHCP leases, he also made a few other changes, like setting the SSID to not be broadcast, which were geared at locking down the router. While this is similar to how I would setup a personal network, with a limited number of DHCP leases, MAC filter, reduced subnet, ect, setting up a non-power user’s network like this isn’t generally a good idea, as they would never have thought to check the DHCP limit and didn’t know how to reset their router.

So, I think this ends up being a great example of why you should try to put yourself in the shoes of the user when setting up a computer(or network,) rather than approaching it how you would a personal system.

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