Microsoft to Enter Wi-Fi Hardware Business This Fall: Details are scanty, but remember that Apple has sold its AirPort equipment, Wi-Fi certified, since 1999. Microsoft and Intel joined Wi-Fi certification trade group WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance) several months ago and both received board seats. Several readers pointed me to many articles, including ones at InfoWorld, and this laughable pretense at an interview that's really a press release.
My first reaction to this was to chortle: yeah, I can just see the tech support folks dealing with hardware! But then I checked myself: I've called Microsoft support on more than one occasion, and, in fact, not only are the techies good, but they have a very nice set of procedures that ensures you get to the right person, you get the answers you need, and that they follow up in email with a case number, your resolution, and tools for following up if you have additional questions or are unsatisfied.
Microsoft could, in fact, be a great company to offer Wi-Fi. First, they're leaping into a crowded, competitive, inexpensive field. Because it's hardware, they can't cut costs too low nor do they have a motivation to do so because they can't get much margin out of it. (In fact, Wi-Fi is a tool to push Windows XP, because XP's Wi-Fi support is generally superb, even when stacked up against the stellar but less flexible Apple AirPort software that only works with Apple products and a few Agere items.)
What Microsoft will have to do is integrate their operating system support directly with the configuration of the hardware, much like Apple did with AirPort. The reason that Apple's AirPort Admin Utility is far superior to everyone else's products is that it's not Web-based. Frankly, although Web-based configuration interfaces are useful, they're just not the best approach for complicated settings that need to be changed often in the client and the AP at the same time. Better yet, a coordinate client/AP interface means that it could be simpler to distribute AP changes across a network to individual clients.
3Com's software is among the best for Web configuration, though, to give them a plug: their tools work about as one would expect for host-based software, including contextual help.
PPP'd off: I spent an hour with a pal this weekend after brunch trying to help him get his Linksys BEFW11S4 EtherFast router to talk to his ISP. His ISP was using PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet) for authentication and they'd given him a static IP. It worked great for months and months, and then stopped working. After a lot of fits and starts and finally upgrading the firmware on the EtherFast we discovered his ISP had stopped using PPPoE. Without this authentication step, which the latest Linksys software wouldn't allow at the same time as a pure static IP configuration, the router worked as expected. Sometimes, it's the little things that make you crazy.