What Computer Should We Use?
The HexCode software runs on Windows PCs only, and my sole computer is a Macintosh. How could Rad and I both use the GS-911?
We considered using Rad's PC laptop, but discarded that idea because while he can use it at home, it's really his wife's computer and holds her business files. It's OK for him to use it in their garage, but it'd be a stretch to use it in mine: her files are private, and should stay under her control.
The HexCode software can run on multiple computers, as the GS-911's VIN record is maintained in the dongle itself, and not in the software. Thus, we also thought about running the Hexcode software on both Rad's wife's PC laptop (for him) and on my Mac (for me); my Mac laptop can run Windows applications. But the Mac is my only computer and, like Rad's wife, I didn't want my computer to be absent from my desk or get greasy in the garage. In the end, we didn't pursue the running-on-two-computers idea.
[CENTER]Buying a Computer[/CENTER]
That left the option of obtaining a shared PC to run the Hexcode software; this turned out to be a viable solution. New PC laptops start in the $350 vicinity, but new wasn't necessary. Neither Rad nor I had an extra PC in our closet, but off-lease and rebuilt laptops are cheaper than new ones, and plain old used ones less expensive still. I considered buying from a Craigslist ad, but I wouldn't know the seller and while I'm familiar with and comfortable buying Macs, I felt less comfortable in PC-land.
A lot of used computers are for sale on eBay. I looked for a PC with a 12" or 13" screen (big enough to read easily but small enough to carry on a bike if we wanted) and 2 gigabytes of RAM ([I]R[/I]andom [I]A[/I]ccess [I]M[/I]emory), all from a seller with a good rating and reasonable return privileges if the computer showed up and didn't work. Because the computer's operating system (a version of Windows) and the HexCode application would be the only software we'd use, we didn't need a large hard drive; in addition, for our use, the speed of the computer's CPU (its [I]C[/I]entral [I]P[/I]rocessing [I]U[/I]nit, or "brain") was irrelevant. Because I planned to install a fresh operating system after the computer arrived, the particular OS it had (or even if it had no OS) didn't matter either, although the computer would need a DVD drive. eBay's search tools (on the left side of the eBay window) made it easy to specify what I wanted, without having to scroll through thousands of listings for computers and parts.
There were many suitable candidates starting at $65 and ending in the stratosphere. I bought a used Hewlett-Packard NC4200, a 12" PC laptop; the seller had a half-dozen for sale. When new in 2006, the NC4200 sold for about $1700; I paid $101 for this used one, including shipping. The NC4200 has no built-in DVD drive, but came with an external DVD drive that connected with a USB cable. Running the HexCode software won't require a DVD drive; without an internal DVD drive, the computer itself could be lighter and smaller - although this nine-year-old model still weighed almost 4 pounds. Smaller than a 13"-15" laptop, it could more easily be carried onboard if we chose.
Arrival and First-Time Startup
The computer arrived. Here it is, along with its power supply and cables, and the external DVD drive and its USB cable:
I plugged in the power supply and turned it on: the computer started up, loaded the Windows XP operating system (OS), and ran correctly. The OS controls the computer hardware, and allows a computer to run other applications - in our case, the HexCode GS-911 software. I'll return to the OS shortly.
Because I didn't know where this computer had been, and how it had been cared for security-wise by its previous owner(s), it might be hosting viruses. If viruses were present, and I connected the computer to my home network, a virus might migrate from this computer to other computers connected to the network. Thus, I did not at this point connect the computer to my home network, either via Ethernet (cable) or wi-fi.
Back to XP and Wifi Success
I shifted into reverse and backtracked: I found an XP install disk and a product key, and reloaded Windows XP, the older OS that had been on the computer when we received it
With XP running again, wi-fi still didn't show up in the Task Bar (the bar across the bottom of the screen), and wi-fi hardware still didn't show up in the Device Manager. This was frustrating: the eBay listing said this unit contained a wi-fi network card, and the seller had a first-rate satisfaction rating among his customers.
My computer friend is more familiar with PCs than I am, and thought that the appropriate wi-fi driver might still be missing. On our adjacent working computer, we went to the H-P support site, followed the link to the Downloads page, and searched for "NC4200." This yielded a list of drivers for download, suitable for an NC4200 running the XP operating system. We downloaded the networking and wifi drivers, copied them onto a USB flash drive, moved the flash drive to one of the NC4200's USB sockets, and then copied the files onto the NC4200. We installed them and the wi-fi icon immediately appeared in the NC4200's Task Bar; clicking the icon brought up a window listing available wi-fi networks, including mine, and walked us through the connecting process. Success!
[CENTER]Security and OS Updates for XP[/CENTER]
With the computer connected to the wi-fi network and the net beyond, it was time to download and install security and OS updates. From the Windows XP "Start" menu, I began by seeking updates to Microsoft Security Essentials. The download repeatedly stalled mid-way and appeared to make no progress. After several attempts, I gave up, removed the application from the computer (using XP's "Add or Remove Programs" Control Panel ) and downloaded Avira Free Antivirus, which loaded and run without incident.
I had no better luck with Windows Update, which uses Microsoft's Internet Explorer: the Updater spent hours "Checking for the latest updates for your computer" but never presented results. This might have been connected to Microsoft's upcoming (early 2014) termination of support for XP. In any event, I abandoned Windows Update.
[CENTER]Loading the HexCode Software[/CENTER]
With a reformatted hard drive, fresh security but no updated OS, the computer was now ready to load the HexCode's GS-911 software.
While Microsoft's Internet Explorer must be used for OS updates, I wanted to use Mozilla Firefox for downloading the HexCode software. I downloaded Firefox from the Mozilla website and installed it. Then using Firefox and following the instructions on HexCode's website, I downloaded the [I]HexCode Downloader[/I]. This application examines your computer's OS, and advises which version of the HexCode GS-911 software is appropriate. For us, the Downloader presented both the current Windows version of the GS-911 software, as well as the current beta (that is, provisional and still under development) version; both versions can be loaded and used in the same computer. We downloaded the beta version, and given security concerns, then turned wi-fi off.
Installing the HexCode software was frustrating. At the installation seemed to finish, the Avira virus scanner repeatedly identified some part of the installation as dangerous, and halted the installation. I tried it again with the same result. I found no way to override Avira's block. I then uninstalled the Avira software, rebooted the computer, and ran the HexCode installer again. This time, the HexCode software was loaded correctly and the GS-911 introductory screen popped right up.
The software was easy to manipulate, and did just what HexCode said it would.
Moving Forward Without Burning Bridges
I still wanted to use Windows 7; it's newer than XP, still supported by Microsoft, and felt quicker, but its lack of wi-fi connectivity had stopped me. With XP now running adequately, the pressure was off. I spent some time online, reading discussion boards and posts about the NC4200. With XP running, the Device Manager now showed the wi-fi network board to be an Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG.
While I wanted to use Windows 7, I didn't want to overwrite our now-working XP installation, which would make XP unusable, and then possibly still be unable to get Windows 7 to operate and connect to wi-fi as I wished. To preserve the computer's hard drive (with its working XP installation), I found a used 2.5" hard drive locally, removed the NC4200's caddy (a metal frame that contained the computer's hard drive), removed the drive from the caddy, installed the used 2.5" drive in the caddy, and reinstalled the caddy with the newly-acquired drive back in the laptop; these steps took only a few minutes with a small Phillips screwdriver. I retained the old XP hard drive just in case.
Now I could work on a Windows 7 installation and operation while retaining our ability to switch hard drives and use the HexCode software under XP. I inserted the Windows 7 install disk in the DVD drive, plugged the drive into the NC4200, turned the computer on, and installed Windows 7 on the newly-acquired hard drive. As before, Windows 7 was loaded without incident.
[CENTER]Windows 7 Wi-fi Success[/CENTER]
And as before, the wi-fi didn't work. Neither H-P (the computer manufacturer) nor Intel (the network board manufacturer) provided drivers for this particular network board running under Windows 7. However, other users reported that Intel drivers for Windows Vista would work, and pointed out a half-dozen other drivers that might. I downloaded them all on my other machine, moved the files to the NC4200 using a USB flash drive, and installed them on the PC.
I tried the most recent Intel driver for Vista (22.214.171.124) first. I used the driver's own installer; working from within the PC's network board itself or the running OS on the laptop wasn't available, because the network board - having no viable driver then installed - didn't show up in the Windows 7 Device Manager. (I learned later that H-P's Wireless Assistant, an application that I could have found on the net, might have enabled the network card to show up in the Device Manager even without a driver.)
This approach was successful: after installation and a reboot, the wi-fi icon appeared in the Task Bar and the wi-fi connected to my home network.
[CENTER]Updating Windows 7[/CENTER]
With wi-fi available, Windows 7 would work as our OS. I now returned to updating: navigating to "Windows Update" launched Internet Explorer. Checking for updates found more than ninety. Because updates will only load one at a time, and only in the correct order, the user must run Update, then run it again, and keep running it again until the update page returns "No new updates available." I elected to not load the "optional" updates, and still had to run Update five times to load forty-five updates; it took several hours.
I assume that internet security is better integrated in Windows 7, for I was presented with no exhortations to "check" or "update" security, and was shown only a reassuring "Your computer is protected" message. While emotionally reassured, the cynic in me remains wholly unconvinced.
[CENTER]Loading and Running the HexCode Software[/CENTER]
I again downloaded Firefox from the Mozilla website and installed it to use as my web browser. Because a user can run multiple copies of the HexCode software, there was no difficulty in downloading it a second time for the Windows 7 OS; with no Avira security in place, there were also no Avira installation headaches. The HexCode software ran just as it should. The intro screen looks like this:
[CENTER]All in All[/CENTER]
There were significant detours, but in the end Rad and I moved from "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if we could..." to "Wow!" If we'd spent more money to purchase a newer laptop, some of the detours might have been avoided. But I liked the challenge, and enjoyed learning instead of just writing a larger check.