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 looked all over the interface, but there was nothing about setting up a Cloud Connect account. Nothing.

Back to the Cisco site. This time I went into the support pages, looked for firmware, and found out that there was, in fact, a later firmware upgrade. So although this nice, consumer-friendly router said it was up to date, it wasn't.

I downloaded the firmware, made sure Mr. Force of Nature was nowhere near the router and couldn't fiddle with it while the firmware was loaded, and performed a firmware upgrade.

After it was done, I tried connecting in again. Still no account setup for Cisco Cloud Connect.

So I re-ran the Cisco setup software on the laptop. There was nothing obvious about updating the software, the config software announced it was talking to the router, and everything was fine.

Just no Cloud Connect.

Back to the Cisco site. Yep, turns out there's an update to the client setup software. Downloaded that. It couldn't find the router. As far as it was concerned, the router didn't exist.

I went back across the house, crawled back under the desk, found the the reset button, held it down for five seconds, got back up, went back across the house, and tried again. This time the setup software not only found the router, it decided it wanted me to create an account.


By this time, it was almost five o'clock. It had taken almost four hours to get the router to work. After that, setting up the printer was a breeze. I just toggled in the network settings, then went from iOS device to iOS device and made sure they were on the network. Printing worked.

But, as far as I'm concerned, consumer-friendly and post-PC failed completely. Here's the list:

  • The first AirPrint printer couldn't be set up without a PC. Period. The Apple store people actually recommended my elderly friends go out and buy a $300 cheap PC just to set up printing on the iPad.
  • The second AirPrint printer, though it did have a setup panel, was too complex for my friend to use, and was stymied by a service-person-modified router.
  • The Cloud Connect router feature advertised for the router I bought wasn't available on the brand-new device.
  • The "am I up to date?" feature inside the router wasn't able to tell if it was, in fact, up-to-date. Worse, it lied, saying it was.
  • There was no obvious messaging telling consumers who visited the Cisco web site that they might have a router needing updating.
  • In order to perform the firmware update, you first had to bypass a doom-and-gloom warning that implied you'd possibly brick the thing
  • When the firmware was finally located and downloaded, there was no indication that the client setup software also needed modification -- and you still needed the client setup software to make it work.

My friends had to wait a few months until I was able to free up enough time to take a six-hour round-trip drive to do a service call. Although all these products had been advertised as consumer-friendly and ready to run, they were not up-to-date, had conflicting messaging, and didn't work properly with each other. Even the Apple store failed miserably.

I've long used and enjoyed Linksys and Cisco products (and some of my best friends work for the company). But a FAQ item a few pages deep into the Web site, with a link in a corner that says How to manually upgrade the firmware of the Linksys EA-series router to Cisco Connect Cloud is not the same as a big friendly box in the middle of the main page, telling consumers that they will almost definitely need to upgrade their brand new device before it will work.

Plus, to do a manual upgrade, you have to click past a warning page that says that if you do, you could disable your network. Sorry guys, I know you can do better.

We may be at the point where consumers are ready for post-PC. My friends would have liked to just be able to bring this stuff home, plug it in, and use it.

But 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. All the so-called consumer-friendly add-ons actually make these systems far more difficult for technicians to troubleshoot and maintain.

PCs are still necessary to make things work, and vendors are still not diligent enough in their product management and support to make the process seamless.

Eh, at least I got some some very yummy pastrami out of the deal!

P.S. Yes, I know there are ways of printing from an iPad to a non-AirPrint printer. But you shouldn't have to do that if consumer friendly and post-PC are really real.

Topics: SMBs, Apple, Cisco, Cloud, Consumerization


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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