Misadventures in ISP Land
I had to make an unexpected expedition into real low-end Macterritory last week, necessitated by some ISP issues.
I live in rural part of Nova Scotia, some 50 miles from the nearestsmall town, and 150 miles from the closest Apple dealer. There are twodialup Internet Service Providers within toll-free calling range - andno broadband available. I was the first sign up with the first of thetwo that offered Internet access here back in October, 1997, and I'vebeen with that company ever since.
The modem bank is located in the above mentioned town, which isoutside local calling distance, but the workaround was to install adummy dial-in number on an exchange within the respective local callingradii of my community and the ISP, which shunts the calls to the ISP'smodems.
This system has worked pretty well for the past five years, but thewheels came off on November 19th, when the long-distance networkcompany that had been providing the shunt number went belly-up, and thelocal telco, which owns the physical infrastructure, and to whom thebankrupt company owed money, pulled the plug.
My ISP, a third-party, was immediately deprived of toll-free dialupaccess for its customers on my telephone exchange, including severalother small communities in sparsely populated Eastern Nova Scotia andCape Breton Island. They immediately tried to get the wheels in motionto have the telco restore the dialup numbers, but as of this writing,nearly two weeks after the cutoff, we are still without service.
For me, dependent on Internet access for my work and livelihood,this was a serious situation. My workaround for occasional, short-termoutages of ISP service in the past has been to "borrow" a friend'saccount with the other ISP, which incidentally belongs to the telco(you don't suppose that might have something to do with thefoot-dragging about getting the competitor's service up and runningagain?), and that's what I did this time, initially expecting myregular ISP service to be restored within hours or at most a day.
However, after more than a week of vague promises and no resolution,I reluctantly determined that I needed a real account with the otherISP. I happened to have one of their signup software installation CDskicking around that I had picked up a couple of years ago as insuranceagainst such an eventuality. Since it was therefore a bit out of date,I figured that the likelihood of it working with OS X - or even OS9.2.2 - was slim to nil, so I fired up the old Umax S900 which normally boots from OS 9.1,and popped the CD into the drive.
The ISP's software package proceeded to install a customized copy ofantediluvian Netscape 4.0.4 on my hard drive and then informed me thatthe signup program wouldn't run with the version of Remote Access in OS9.1. Fair enough. I rebooted into OS 9.0 on another partition. No joythere either. This really was obsolete software! OS 9 has beenaround since 1999.
I also had a stuffed copy of OS 8.5.1 on the Umax's hard drive, so Iunstuffed that, which took a long time, only to discover that there wassome sort of extension conflict that made it hang on startup (it wouldboot up fine with the extensions off). Not wanting to digress furtheron any troubleshooting expeditions, I trashed the recently unstuffed OS8.5.1 and started up one of my daughter's PowerBook 1400s, which has OS 8.1installed, and tried the ISP software on it. The OS 8.1 version of OpenTransport was acceptable, but the signup software wouldn't recognizethe 1400's PC Card modem and kept telling me that the serial port wasin use, which it wasn't. At least I had established that OS 8.1 wouldwork - or so I thought.
I found my OS 8 and OS 8.1 updater installer disk images, and ranthem to install OS 8.1 on the Umax, noting that the old system installsin jig time compared with OS X or even OS 9.2.2.
I booted into OS 8.1, ran the ISP install program again, whichinsisted on installing yet another copy of Netscape 4.04, and startedthe signup registration software, which had no problem recognizing theGlobal Village Platinum 33.6 modem I use with the S900 (in hindsight,it might have been easier just to hook up the external modem to thePowerBook 1400, but I didn't think of that at the time).
However, I was about three-quarters of the way through the onlineregistration process when I discovered that I couldn't finish fillingout the form because there were no Netscape scroll bars displayed. Ihad to assume that there was some incompatibility between the oldsoftware and the registration Web page on the ISP's server.Arrrrrrgh!
A PC laptop owning friend of mine had recently signed up with thisISP, so I called to ask if he still had his registration CD. He did. Mywife fetched it. I stuck it into the Umax.
This time it ran happily in OS 9.1 and installed slightly lessantediluvian Netscape 4.08 for the registration procedure, which wentwithout any further hitches. I used the registration serial number fromthe obsolete installer package and was online with a new account in tenminutes. Sigh of relief.
Summary observations. The ISP obviously doesn't make Macs a veryhigh priority in designing their registration software packages.Netscape 4.08? It would also be nice if they offer just a plain Websiteoption were you could go and sign up from any Internet-connectedcomputer and then enter the configuration particulars manually, ratherthan having to install 20 megabytes of unwanted, obsolete software onyour drive. Maybe its Windows-think, were you must have an "assistant"or "wizard" to help you do every trivial little thing. The Mac is soeasy to set up for Internet configuration.
Finally, having older Macs with outdated systems around can beuseful for working around issues like this, although in this particularinstance it was just an exercise in futility.
It was kind of fun to play with the old systems though.
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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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