Thursday, November 17, 2011

computer expert manqué

Have you ever accidently dropped some carefully intricate but non-fragile construction, and had the constituent pieces roll out on the floor? All the pieces are there, none of them are broken, but it'll take endless time to put them back together again as they were.

That's what it's been like setting up Windows XP on my mother's computer when it needed to be reinstalled from scratch after a replacement of the hard drive. Our paid expert acquired and plugged in the drive, and installed the programs and her backed up document files, but everything else was my job, because my mother's computer knowledge is strictly basic end-user of installed software. I changed the desktop background and icons, I reinstalled MS Office from a CD, I reinstalled Norton Security from the website on her subscription, I changed the password and display preferences on the e-mail client, I upgraded to IE8 (the one thing that was a lot easier than I thought it'd be), I tricked the taskbar control into allowing quickstart icons which it didn't want to do, I installed the service pack, which took not one but two endless intervals, and a whole bunch other stuff.

The one thing I couldn't do was get the computer to play sounds. It'd play a test demo from the RealTek audio controller software, so I knew the speakers were working, but no Windows sounds, no sound on Web videos or streams or podcasts, and if you put a CD in the coffee-holder drive, it'd give an error message saying "No audio device," which is also what the control panel, in its uncommunicative way, was trying to tell me.

Prior to consulting with the paid expert, I decided to search online. What should I find on old support board threads but that apparently this was a common problem in XP installation back in the day. Posts tended to fall into five categories:
1) Complaints that the user had the problem and could find no solution;
2) Proposed solutions;
3) Little goat-cries of bliss from people for whom a given one of the solutions worked;
4) Little goat-cries of despair from those for whom the same solution didn't work;
5) Protestations that that isn't the real solution, this is.

I copied down or printed out eleven different solutions altogether, and tried them all, spending a couple hours cruising around the raw frontiers of my computer knowledge. Each solution carried the imprimatur of ecstatically happy users. But for me, some of them didn't work. The rest turned out to be inapplicable. Here follow the stations of the cross:
1) Changed the sound scheme from None to Windows Default. Didn't work.
2) Changed the Audio Service control from manual to automatic. Didn't work.
3) Checked all the audio devices for claims of nonfunctionality and searched for new drivers. They all insisted they were OK and up to date.
4) Changed the playback device on the audio tab of the audio devices control, or, rather, didn't, because it was grayed out. ("No Audio Device," remember? though this proposed solution specifically said it was applicable for that case.)
5) Downloaded a new audio codec driver from RealTek. Got an error message when I tried to install it.
6) From the same source, downloaded something called an AC '97 driver, or rather, didn't, because they all proved to be for earlier editions of Windows.
7) Replaced the "ISAPNP Read Data Port" device, whatever that was, with a Plug & Play Software Device Enumerator, whatever that was. This was generally held online to be the cleverest solution, and certainly required the craftiest tricks in order to do properly. Didn't work.
8) Uninstalled a duplicate Plug & Play Software Device Enumerator. This was actually the one I created in step 7. Didn't even get me quite back where I started from.
9) Updated the driver for something called a PCI Bus device, or would have, except that I couldn't find a PCI Bus device.
10) Deleted a particular line from the registry, or, rather, didn't, because there was no such line in the registry.
11) Saved this one for last resort: Gulped hard and prepared to uninstall the entire soundcard control software, planning to trust to the Add Hardware function to find and reinstall it. It wouldn't uninstall. Said it was necessary for startup.

That was the lot of them. I give up. And modern computers are supposed to be so simple!

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