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The Network Observer -
A Season in (Multimedia) Hell

David Doering

August 2001 | This month, I have been in an all-too-common circle of network-user hell. Not the slap-on-the-wrist hell graced by pagan poets and late sleepers, mind you–Multimedia Hell, with all its phantasmagoric horrors. After upgrading to a "this century" system–Windows 98 SE, 128MB RAM, and an 800mHz AMD Athlon processor attached to my 500Kbps-burstable DSL connection–I figured I was ready to conquer the online world. I figured wrong.

I started out by installing all the latest players. Finding and downloading player software today is no great shakes. Still, Real buries access to its free Real Player 8 Basic download on its Web page. (It's a tiny link on the for-pay Real Player 8 Plus page, but it is there.) The Apple QuickTime download button is more easily found at top-left, albeit disguised as an ad for the QuickTime Pro for-pay player.

The Real Player 8 install went OK. However, the QuickTime install went from bad to worse. Even after repeated attempts, I could not achieve a complete install of QuickTime 5. The desktop icon appeared. The program files seemed to install. But when I ran my Netscape 4.76 browser, the QuickTime demos failed.

I tried the Apple support site. They recommended checking to see that the QuickTime plug-in had installed. I first looked at the program's own plug-in install log file (plugins.log in the c:\program files\quicktime\plugins directory). The log file said that the QuickTime install program had indeed installed plug-ins for both Netscape and Internet Explorer 5.0.

As a long-time administrator, I never take the word of a log file as final. I checked each browser's plug-in directory. No sign of any plug-in in either of them. So I decided to uninstall the program and reinstall it, but found no QuickTime entry in the Add/Delete Programs menu in Windows 98 Control Panel.

I tried the QuickTime menu; no uninstall there either. I then tried running QuickTime from the desktop icon. It launched, but no GUI appeared. I ran my trusty Wintop utility to see what was running on the workstation. (Pressing the three-finger salute of Ctrl-Alt-Del doesn't always show all loaded programs. Nor does it show if the program is actually running–using CPU cycles–or just loaded into memory.) Wintop showed that QuickTime was loaded and using CPU cycles. So why no GUI?

Back at Apple's Support site, I found little help–just Windows-bashing and buck-passing: "Try Microsoft." I found just five QuickTime entries on Microsoft's support pages, and none described my error condition. All of which left me with a player that wouldn't run and which I couldn't uninstall. I found a dozen or more references in the Windows registry for QuickTime, so I knew that merely deleting the QuickTime files wouldn't be enough. Next I tried my other trusty resource: Google's new usenet search engine, http://groups.google.com. There, you can search through thousands of messages from other harried and perplexed users–hopefully with your problem. I didn't find anyone with an exact solution, but I did find a half-dozen posts about QuickTime not installing plug-ins or failing to add itself to the Add/Delete Programs list in the Control Panel.

Somewhere in the various posts, I saw a mention of running the install in Windows Safe Mode. I never thought about doing such an install–Safe Mode is for uninstalling things. But I tried it anyway. I re-ran QuickTime's install and this time, voila! The program succeeded with a full install, complete with an uninstall icon, too. QuickTime then attempted to run itself in Safe Mode and connect to the Internet. Since there's no network/Web connection in Safe Mode, I simply closed the program and restarted Windows. QuickTime now ran fine, both from the desktop and from inside the browsers.

I then successfully tested Real Player 8 using the delightful video site www.liketelevision.com. Everything worked! I was in multimedia heaven...at least for a few days. Then, wham! I started getting an inexplicable "Out of Memory" error. This with 128MB RAM and no other programs running.

So I tried Real's support site without success. (Why don't vendors include error messages as a standard part of support knowledge bases?) No help on Google's usenet search, either. In desperation, I emailed Real's support staff. In a day, I got a pleasant enough response from a staffer asking for further details and suggesting some procedures to follow, which I took as exercises for beginners. After all, I had tried uninstalling and reinstalling the software already without success. So what was he telling me different? Still, I followed each step diligently. Lo and behold, it worked the way he suggested.

The key difference was that rather than using my default path of uninstalling using the Control Panel's Add/Delete Programs menu, I had to run Real Player's own uninstall. Then I had to delete the C:\Program Files\Real directory and reboot the system. I could then do a fresh install and awake to a functioning Real Player. I can only wonder how a typical user would have ever overcome these issues. None of it is intuitive, and most downright frustrating. And what is even more confusing is that Microsoft's own Windows Media Player–WiMP–ran fine the whole time.

So, Apple and Real, a suggestion: If you want to stay in the game, please step up your support and make life simpler for us in finding and fixing problems. Otherwise, I simply will do all my network video in WiMP or MPEG format and be done with it. (Ugh!)

THE NETWORK OBSERVER columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia Magazine contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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