The Case Of The Remote Possibility

I’ve been working for some time with a small firm based in Cradoc, helping them sort out their computers and keep their software ticking along. They’ve been reluctant to upgrade from Windows XP to a more modern version of Windows because of a piece of software they use, called SellSmart 6000. That decision has had many repercussions, and this morning was just the latest.

Old Fashioned KeysSellSmart 6000 handles a major component of the customer’s day to day business, so you’d expect it would be a big priority for them to keep it up to date. Sadly, the owner of the firm doesn’t see it that way. We’ve bought it, he seems to have decided, so we don’t need to buy it again. He’s mistaken about that, of course: software, like raw meat, has a best-before date, and in this case the date passed a long time ago. The software hasn’t been updated since Windows XP was state-of-the-art, meaning that anyone who tries to use the latest operating system, good old reliable Windows 10, will encounter naught but error messages and corrupted files if they try to fire up SellSmart 6000 to do their work. Oops!

In between trying to terrify the owner into upgrading with stories of ransomware and planned obsolescence, I’ve kept them going with the usual assorted taskes: installing this, configuring that, applying long-overdue updates to the other.  I couldn’t convince them to upgrade their computers though, until I came upon a clever loophole.

It turns out that the firm has a second branch in Kingston, and they use SellSmart 6000 as well.  They do this by remoting in; that is to say, they run a program called Remote Desktop on their computer, and it fools the computer in Cradoc into thinking they’re using it instead.  They can then fire up SellSmart 6000 and do all their work without it mattering that they are using a Windows 10 computer.

Eureka! So all I need to do is figure out how to run Remote Desktop locally, and they’ll be able to use their ancient crappy software on modern computers.  They won’t know what hit them!

Now, if you’ve read this blog for a while now, you’ll know that simple solutions are rarely simple, so you’ll be expecting me to say that this clever plan came asunder when it encountered some tricky detail that I’d forgotten.  Well then, permit me to surprise you: the plan did indeed work, and the upgrade to Windows 10 occurred without a hitch, apart from one or two networking hiccups irrelevant to this story.  The admin staff, Jackie and Jillian, duly received their shiny Win10 boxes and had no especial difficulty using SellSmart 6000.  Everyone was happy!

But time passed, and with it came a problem from an unexpected quarter.  Jackie had a printer on her desk, a trusty Brother laser printer.  That’s a brand I trust, but all good things must end, so it was no particular surprise when it died.  Luckily she had a backup printer, but it needed to be set up.  I came in and did the deed: installed the drivers, tested it all with her and Jillian’s computers, and went away again.

However, just last night, Jillian phoned me to say that the new printer wasn’t working in SellSmart 6000 when used in Remote Desktop.  I was surprised to hear this, since I couldn’t imagine that the old one worked with it either, Remote Desktop being a finicky beast that doesn’t usually play well with others. Certain differences between old and new printer may have meant that the old one did work despite that, but that was no guarantee for the new one. And sure enough, I spent half an hour this morning proving exactly that: Remote Desktop is a finicky beast that doesn’t play well with others.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t force it to even acknowledge the existence of the printer, let alone install its drivers, let alone access its print queue, let alone actually print anything. It was quite a frustrating experience; if you want to imagine the scene, just visualise a bald guy with a beard swearing at a lump of metal and plastic, and it’s like you were right there.

FacepalmI was about to give up and tell Jillian that there was no way to make this work, and she’d just have to work around the problem, when Jackie came in. Jillian starts at 7:30am, as it happens, and Jackie starts at 9, so the timing worked out like that. Jillian explained what was going on, and Jackie just reached for the mouse, shut the Remote Desktop window, and then double-clicked on a new icon on the desktop.

The icon read “SellSmart 7000”.

It turns out, she informed us, that the owner finally got around to upgrading to the somewhat newer version of SellSmart. It could now run on Windows 10 without the slightest trouble. Remote Desktop was no longer required. Surely Jillian had got the memo? No, Jillian had not.

Jillian was apologetic, and Jackie was perhaps more amused than either of us. I was just glad I hadn’t given in to the temptation to chuck the bloody computer out the (real, glass, non-version-numbered) window.  It would not have been good for repeat business, and I may well have put my back out. I am, after all, not the IT shot-putter. I’m the IT blacksmith.

By Paul Sleigh | Tales From The Forge | Link