Yes, even those of us at Microsoft sometimes struggle to set up our new computers at home.  Read on for my story...

I bought a new Dell Dimension E520 for my son for Christmas.  So Christmas Eve, after he was in bed, I dragged the Dell box out of its hiding place in the garage and started to set this up; I began about 9:30 PM. Dell has made this so amazingly easy since the first machines I remember buying from IBM in the 80s.  It really is very close to plug and play.  After about ten minutes, I had the machine up, finished the final stages of the XP installation customization for time zone and language, accepted the EULA and there it was. I've heard that Dell actually measures the customer setup time for a new machine and works to reduce that to something like ten minutes, and it was pretty right on for me.  Nice job, Dell!

However, what I'm sure they don't count in that setup time is the additional time to remove the so-called "craplets" Dell pre-installs on my machine in exchange for a royalty from the software provider.  I understand the reason here - as PC prices have been under such pressure, Dell has to make money someway and every $5 or $10 they get from an ISV for pre-installing their software on the millions of machines they ship is one way to do that.  They rationalize it that they are giving their customers something for nothing - although I've generally found that these "free" software packages are pretty much worth what you've paid for them.  So my first action on getting a new machine is to Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs and browse through what's there.  In this case, there actually was some startup configuration for the Google Toolbar - and when I refused to accept the Google EULA, it uninstalled itself and thoughtfully asked for feedback on why I was uninstalling it, which I happily provided.  :)  For others, I just ran through Add/Remove and removed about six programs, including Yahoo Jukebox (already have Windows XP Media Center edition, thank you very much); some toy photo editing program (I prefer Digital Image Pro); and Norton Internet Security since I wanted to try out Windows Live OneCare as my firewall/anti-virus/anti-spam solution.  So after approximately another twenty minutes, I had the machine reasonably clean of craplets and ready to install OneCare.

The OneCare install went without problem, and I rebooted and it came up. 

Finally, I know it is best practice to go to Microsoft Update and get the latest updates.  The images pre-installed by Dell and other computer manufacturers are updated only every so often and won't necessarily have the absolutely latest security patches in them.  Microsoft Update downloaded 65 MB (!) of stuff, including many security updates and IE 7.  So that took about another forty-five minutes.  If you're keeping track, I'm now about two hours into this process, and I'm getting tired - it's now 11:30 and I'm ready to go to bed.  But I wanted my son's computer to work on Christmas morning and there is one game he is slavishly dedicated to - in fact, the reason for the new computer is to get better performance on this game - and that is World of Warcraft.  I knew the first thing he would try in the morning is WoW.  So I pulled out the CDs for that, and after I picked my jaw up off the floor from realizing that there are six - yes six - CDs for the WoW program, I started the installation of this.  It plodded along for another forty minutes or so, prompting me every so often to feed it the next 650 MB of stuff.  Geez, no wonder the graphics are so good in this game - six CDs is over 3,000 megabytes of data.  I'm sure very little of that is actual executable code - it's mostly images and data.  Amazing. 

So finally got WoW set up and - yawn - it's now about 12:30 AM. I'm well past time to go to bed.  One final thing to try - can I see the shared computers on the local network.  Nope.  So I spent about thirty minutes trying to troubleshoot that - oh, I know, the workgroup is wrong, go to My Computer / Properties and set the right workgroup.  No good - still can't see anything.  Hmmm, but I have Internet access, which means I'm going through the router on the LAN to get to the Internet.  Starting a command prompt and doing an "ipconfig" shows that I have an IP address.  I walked over to my wife's computer, which has the shared printer, and did an IPCONFIG there - going back to my son's computer and doing a Start > Run and typing in \\192.168.2.141 I was able to see the shares on my wife's computer.  Hmm... so it can access other computers on the LAN via IP address, just not by name.  I poked around a bit on the web (especially in the Microsoft support community for Windows XP Networking - a good source of community help) and found there references to a site that noted this usually was a firewall problem.  They specifically mentioned opening some ports to allow SMB (Server Message Block - the prototcol that allows you to access shared resources over a LAN) and NetBIOS through the firewall.  I realized I was too tired to start down this path, so I went to bed.

My son loved his new computer and raves about how fast World of Warcraft is running on it.  But in the back of my head was this nagging feeling that he couldn't access network resources which he will eventually want to - he's going to want to print a paper from the computer when school starts up again.  So last night, I went back to tackling the local networking not working problem.  I started about 9:30 PM again.  Here's what I ended up doing (this is from the post I eventually wrote for the Windows XP Networking community):

After spending quite a bit of time poking around on the network, I found that after doing three things, the problem went away.  I'm not sure if all three are necessary, but thought I'd document them here since I'm sure others will run into this.

1. You need to be sure that the connection on the new computer has NetBIOS enabled.

  • To do this, go to Start > Connect To > Show All Connections.
  • Right click on the connection you are using from this computer to connect to the LAN and the Internet.  Chances are it is called "Local Area Connection".
  • Select Propeties and then scroll down in the dialog which appears to find the entry for "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)" in the list labeled "This connection uses the following items".
  • When you select "Internet Protocol", the Properties button below will become enabled.  Click it.
  • Then click Advanced in the dialog that appears, and go to the WINS tab in the next dialog that
    appears and make sure that "Enable NetBios over TCP/IP" is marked.  You may
    have a choice to inherit the setting from the DHCP server - I just marked it as always enabled to be sure.

2. You need to open some ports on the OneCare firewall.  Again, not entirely sure this step is necessary.  There is a KB article describing this -
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/298804.  For OneCare, I went to the OneCare screen by clicking on the "OneCare" "1" logo in the taskbar.  I
then went to View or Change Settings and clicked on the "Firewall" tab then clicked on Advanced settings.  (If you're starting to think it's fairly ridiculous that you have to do all this "Advanced" mumbo jumbo to just get local networking to work, you're right.)  Now go to the Ports and Protocols tab and click "Add".  Add one and give it the name "SMB" which has "Both TCP / UDP" for the TCP or UDP setting; 135 - 139 as the ports; "Both" for direction and "Local network only" for Scope.  Click OK.  Now add another one for NetBios - give it the name "NetBIOS" and mark it as Both TCP/UDP, port 445, Direction Both and Local Network Only for Scope.

3. Reboot.  Always a good idea to reboot after changing anything fairly fundamental like this.

4. At this point, you're sure it's going to work - at least I was - and it still doesn't.  So there's one final trick that might in fact be the only thing necessary - so maybe try this first before doing all the mumbo jumbo above.  I'm just giving it to you in the order I did it.  The trick is to UNSHARE your Shared Document and then RESHARE them.  Yup; I found this one on a Windows Live OneCare support bulletin board.  So here's what you do:

  • Start > My Computer
  • Right click on Shared Documents and select Properties
  • Click on the Sharing tab and UNCHECK "Share this Folder on the network".  Click OK.
  • Right click AGAIN on Shared Documents (which is now a misnomer :)) and select Properties
  • Click on the Sharing tab and CHECK "Share this Folder on the network".  Click OK.


Now, I'll bet if you go to Start > My Computer and click on "My Network Places" in the left side, you'll see all the shared folders on your local network.

Whew!

There is a general principle here, though.  It's amazing how often simply turning something off and then back on again fixes things.  My other son's computer had a problem the other day where his sound suddenly stopped working.  Couldn't remember what, if anything he had done, but it just wasn't working.  It turned out that after poking around in the Sounds control panel for a while I noticed there was a setting for "Use this device as a mixer" which I unchecked, then rebooted, then went back into the Sounds control panel and checked it back to use the SoundBlaster card as a mixer device.  Voila - sound back.

I'm posting this here to (a) document what I did in the hope that someday it will help others, since it seems that setting up a brand new machine and getting it to work on a LAN is not exactly an obscure user action and (b) to say that those of us who work at Microsoft are not immune from running into the same problems everyone else does - we just hopefully can do more to try to fix them (I've shared this with the OneCare support team at MS).

Happy holidays.