Saturday, January 14, 2006

My Latest Tale of Woe

And no, it's not the fact that I got elected VP of Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers last night (although it was about the last refuge I had where I didn't have to be in charge of anything - oh well).

Two weeks ago, I wrote this post about how I planned to install a media center PC. Some background: my boss handed me this out of the blue last month. He said that our department head was giving them to people as learning tools or something. Cool, thought I, a free computer. I had actually been wanting a Tivo or some other type of PVR, so this was like a wish come true. However, it did mean that I needed to go out and buy a wireless router so both computers could share the same high-speed connection.

So I get the router. It's seventy bucks, but I'll get 30 back in rebates, so I figure it's still a super bargain for what this baby will do once it's up and running. I set aside the entire weekend to fight with the thing, because I know my past patterns. Saturday comes, and I begin installation. Router installs fairly painlessly. Then I start pulling redundant components out of my home theater setup. Bye-bye VCR. Bye-bye, DVD player. Bye-bye, CD player. Bye-bye, dual cassette dubbing deck that I never use.

I hook up the computer, a Q-Media Entertainment PC running Windows XP Media Center. The box had apparently been opened and the computer tested by someone, because there was a sticky note on the box that said, "Works." I turn it on, and lo and behold, the note is right, That crazy gizmo really works! I watch some TV for a while, rewind it during commercials to watch my favorite scenes again, then jump forward after the break is done. I need to track down a missing cable before I can try recording shows, but so far, it seems really cool. I shut down for the night. It says it's going to install a few updates first.

Later that evening, I can't sleep, so I decide to watch a bit more telelvision. I turn on the TV and the computer, and get this message. "Welcome, User: Clear Channel. Password:"

What the hell? It never asked me for a password before, and I sure as hell didn't set one. So I try just hitting Enter, but that doesn't work. I try a bunch of obvious passwords, but none of them work. I try restoring, but it just puts me right back to the same password screen.

So I wait until Monday and ask my boss. He doesn't know, but he suggests one of the techs in the department. I ask the tech, who refers me to another tech, who also doesn't know. Finally, I decide to use the DVD backup I burned, back when the thing still worked the way it was supposed to.

I do a disk format and restore from DVD. Does it prompt me for a password? No. Success! No, wait. Instead, it's now asking me for a 25-character Product Key on my Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity. Doh! The computer didn't come with a Certificate of Authenticity! It didn't come with any Microsoft documentation at all, just a booklet that basically says I never have to mess with Windows at all, just the Media Center interface which runs almost completely form the remote control. edit: I'm looking back through the booklet and it says there should be a software disk included which wasn't in the computer by the time I received it; that may have been the Windows disk.

So I email the manufacturer to ask if they have the Product Key so I can restore my computer. That was a week ago, and they have not yet answered. If they end up not being able to help me, I have several choices, none of them good. Get a product key from someone else and run the risk of Microsoft coming after me for using pirated software; spend another $150 to get a new authorized copy of XP Media Center (awfully expensive for a "free" gift); switch to Linux (I've actually tried this one already, only to find out that I can't install because it doesn't register input from my wireless keyboard; I asked for help with this issue on their forums and got a snooty answer from some dude who said it was a well-known problem, and if I'd just done a moment's research before I bought the computer I wanted to use the software with, I could have avoided the drama. Ass); give the damn thing back and go back to the set-up I had before.


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