When’s the last time you used dial-up?

As a favor to a friend, I recently did some tech support for a guy who was having trouble getting his dial-up Internet connection to work properly.  Yes, that’s right – dial-up.

Let me tell you – if you haven’t done this recently, it’s a real eye-opener.  Not that I’d wish it on anyone else, mind you, but it helped remind me that there are still people out there (in the United States, actually) who still connect to the Internet by dial-up, and that there are times when the Internet really bites for these folks.

SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 29:  A display of the ...
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Here’s a gigantic for-instance: it turns out that the reason this guy couldn’t connect to the internet is that he’d just upgraded his computer (no, I don’t know why — maybe his old one died), so he had this brand-new Dell loaded with Vista, and he couldn’t get it connected.  He’d called his dial-up provider (PeoplePC) and the tech-support guy tried to talk him through getting connected, but just couldn’t seem to finish the job.  So when I got there and got the poor thing online, the first thing we wanted to do was to get email set up.

You know what the first thing the PC wanted to do was, though?  Windows updates.  Arrrgghhh.  So this poor guy is downloading 10 hours worth of Windows updates while we’re trying to get email configured, and predictably, network access is godawful slow because the updates are sucking up all our bandwidth.  Nice.

Windows Update
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I tried to drop a couple of hints to the effect that he could probably get broadband for a couple bucks more than he’s paying right now for dial-up, but honestly, wouldn’t it be nice if Vista would be a little more considerate about how it shoves updates at dial-up users?  If you’ve got a guy who’s dialing up every day to get his email, and then hanging up when he’s done, he might literally never catch up with the updates, and I’d bet that all the really good stuff is queued up behind 30MB worth of Office clipart updates.

And in the mean time, I’m staring at bits dribbling down the PC thinking that I’d be getting more throughput on my cell phone.

The other big problem that occurred to me was that this guy didn’t have a hardware firewall / router, which meant that we were relying only on Microsoft’s firewall to protect us.  A little shiver ran up my spine at this thought.

I left before the 10-hour download completed, and I’m going to have to go back to see if everything’s working ok, but I’ve really been thinking about how effectively the Web 2.0 movement is leaving these people behind.  Flash?  Silverlight?  Painful.  Big JavaScript files to support Akax?  Doable, but not nearly as usable as a plain HTML web site.  Even Gmail crapped out while Windows update was downloading.

So the next time you see one of those studies that talks about how the USA lags behind “X” developing nations in broadband adoption, stop and think about it for a minute.  These people live in your neighborhood, and there’s a good chance that they’re not buying your product or using your service because they can’t use your site on dial-up.  Is this really the best we can do?  Really?

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