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View Full Version : Documentation Recommendation for Lessening Beginner Frustration



Lawrence
2005-12-07, 00:52
I just received my SB3 today and successfully installed it over the course of an hour or two. It should have taken me only fifteen minutes, but I ran into a snag.

Generally, I thought the set-up procedure was very straightforward and easy, and Slim Devices is to be complimented on a job well done. Unfortunately, it's the nature of these things that even if you do 100 things extremely well in making your product easy to use, it only takes a single hitch to cause the user frustration.

I'd like offer a couple suggestions for improving the setup and/or user support documentation (printed and web) to address the issue that cause me a problem--my firewall.

I can only guess that with *everyone* (ok, almost everyone) running a firewall these days that many more people are likely to have an experience like mine.

Throughout the SB3 (and SlimServer sofware) setup process there is no mention whatsoever regarding firewalls, and certainly no indication that they can potentially cause a problem for the SB3.

Consequently, when my SB3 did not initally connect to the SlimServer (surprising to me, after it successfully navigated my 128-bit WEP setup flawlessly), I thought I made some kind of error and went through the setup procedure again, double-checking my entries and looking for something gone awry. Eventually, I went into the "Troubleshooting" section and there I read that the likely cause was my firewall.

*** Suggestion #1: Put something in the "Connecting to SlimServer" instructions section (page 8) that gives the user some immediate suggestions as to what they should do if there is no connection (e.g., "you may need to perform the following on your firewall" or even "go to the troubleshooting section for a likely fix" etc.) The user should be told right there that a connection problem is not unusual at all--in fact is to be expected--if they haven't configured their firewall correctly.

*** Better Suggestion #1: Make checking the firewall an explicit setup step.

After I understood the problem was likely my ZoneAlarm firewall, I tried to figure out how to add the required "port exceptions" to my firewall program. I couldn't. It was very frustrating. Finally, I shut down ZoneAlarm and put on the Windows XP firewall. I was impressed that the required exceptions somehow already were entered into the Windows firewall...and ta-da! My SB3 finally worked!

While I was very happy to finally get the SB3 to work, my joy was tempered by my discomfort over having to use the Windows built-in firewall, which I've been told is not a good long-term firewall solution. So I really wanted to figure out how to get my ZoneAlarm working with the SB3

I eventually figured out that the capability to set those "port exceptions" does not exist at all in the free version of ZoneAlarm. I then upgraded to ZoneAlarm Pro, set the exceptions required and everything worked fine.

*** Suggestion #2: There are not very many major third-party Windows (or Mac) firewalls out on the market (five? seven?). I'd recommend strongly that there be instructions on the Slim website (if not actually in the owner's guide) that provide configuration instructions for helping the user set up their firewall to work with the SB3. It would take someone knowledgeable a very modest amount of time to create these instructions, yet would save users like myself lots of time and frustration. I'd say it's an excellent return on Slim Devices labor investment.

Like I said, I was impressed with most of the setup process and interface. I know a lot of time and effort went into making it as smooth as it was. In the big picture, getting a piece of technology this sophisticated (and cool!) to work in an hour or two is not unreasonable. At the same time it's frustrating for the user to realize that the additional time they spent figuring out how to get the product to work could have been easily avoided with minimal additional effort on the documentation side. In my case it would have saved 45 minutes. Multiply that by the tens, hundreds, or thousands of future novice SB3 buyers and there is a great potential to help the SB3 community with a few setup instruction tweaks.

I hope these suggestions will ultimately help others.

Christian Pernegger
2005-12-07, 12:12
> I can only guess that with *everyone* (ok, almost everyone) running a
> firewall these days that many more people are likely to have an
> experience like mine.

I still don't quite grok how the security-bloatware has managed to
convince people that they need these "personal firewalls". They
degrade performance and are too dependent on the host OS for trapping
conncetions. Case in point: ZoneAlarm for years managed to block PPTP
connections as needed for most Austrian ADSL services even if not
configured to do so and _turned_off_completely_.

Though the ability to filter by application owning the connection is
great it doesn't always work. The Windows Firewall silently blocks any
connection attempts to the TightVNC service for example. (Opening the
port by hand works.) A recent ZoneAlarm asks if it should allow the
connection but shows the service starter process as originator. While
technically... there goes fine-grained control.

> The user should be told right there that a connection problem is not unusual at all--in
> fact is to be expected--if they haven't configured their firewall correctly.

That's true for any networked software product, though.

> I tried to figure out how to add the required "port exceptions" to my
> firewall program. I couldn't. It was very frustrating.

Configuring personal firewalls is a difficult job, not really easier
than setting up real hardware ones, as the concepts are the same.

If the ports that need to be open are not listed in the setup chapter
they should be. Complete step-by-step instructions for the most
popular personal firewalls are a bit much, though. Using a firewall
without understanding what it does, how, and why is as dangerous as
running none at all, and frustrating on top :)

> discomfort over having to use the Windows built-in firewall, which I've been told is not a
> good long-term firewall solution.

A good long-term solution would be reading up on the concept of
firewalls and then perhaps get a router that has a nice one built in.

C.