Consumer-friendly products suck and post-PC is a fantasy

Summary:While consumers are ready for post-PC, and while vendors are kinda-sorta offering solutions they say are suitable for average consumers, the system is still very flawed.

I've talked to you before about my elderly former neighbor, the force of nature who managed to download half the malware on the Internet to his PC last year.

Since that incident, he and his wife moved about three hours south of where I live, and I don't see them very often. Talking them through the steps over the phone, we got him off the PC and put him on an iPad, thinking that ought to keep him a little safer. He's not thrilled, but he was also pretty scared when all the threatening messages started popping up on his PC. No octegenarian needs that crap!

Anyway, time has passed. We've brought his Word documents and Excel spreadsheets onto the iPad through Dropbox and an app. But he wants to print. Simple request, right?

I sent Mr. and Mrs. Force of Nature to the local Apple store, where they picked up an AirPrint-enabled HP printer. They brought it home, and couldn't set it up. When they called HP, they were informed they needed to run the setup disk. Since they only had the iPad, that didn't work for them.

Finally, they brought the printer back to the Apple store -- and here's where the consumer electronics really break down -- the Genius told them they'd need a PC or Mac to set it up. I know the Genius probably meant well, but I was shocked when I heard he'd recommended they go buy a cheap PC just to be able to configure their printer to work with their iPad.

To replace the printer that wouldn't work without a PC, they wound up buying an Epson I recommended. They brought that home. Although, unlike the HP, it had a console where they could toggle in wireless network settings, they still couldn't get it to work.

I talked to my ex-neighbor's wife, who finally decided to purchase a cheap laptop at Radio Shack. She liked using Windows better, anyway, and she was a much, much more careful online user than her husband.

She picked a login password he wouldn't know so he couldn't reinfect the household with every PC virus on Earth again. She, at least, managed to print using Windows 7 and a USB cable to the printer. But still no printing was available from his iPad or her iPod touch.

I tried to remotely connect into the router via her laptop and GoToAssist, but, apparently, in one of the cable company's service calls, they'd changed the router's password and we were all locked out. So I couldn't get into the router to see if I needed to do anything special to allow the printer to talk to it wirelessly.

So much for post-PC.

They still wanted to print from their iOS devices. After a while, the begging for help (and the offers of fresh pastrami) got to me, and I decided to take the three hour trip down to their home. I got up Saturday at 6am, took a few hours to wake up, shower, have some coffee and breakfast, and gather all my troubleshooting gear together. I got there before noon.

The week before I drove down, I bought a month of LTE for my iPad (just in case), and then spent $139 on a Linksys EA3500 router.

The defining feature of this router is a new gimick called Cloud Connect. It allows many of the router's settings to be adjusted from the cloud, rather than via a dangerous external connection from an open Internet port. Since I clearly can't take the road trip down south to visit my old friends every week, I thought this would be a good way to administer their network remotely.

Have I mentioned I hate supposedly consumer-friendly products?

Keep reading. There's more to this story.

Topics: SMBs, Apple, Cisco, Cloud, Consumerization

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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