Vista OOBE Part 3: Networking Problem with Some Routers

Now that my sound function works, and I vented about the User Access Control, let's get to a serious problem: networking. If you've never heard the phrase “DHCP Broadcast Flag” before, you're in good company. DCHP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol) is the rock-solid protocol that assigns IP addresses to devices as they connect to the network. I say rock-solid, but that's before Microsoft's bizarre configuration change turned DHPC into a source of incredible frustration. I've been fighting networks for over two decades and never, ever had to worry about DHCP before, but that was before Microsoft's incompetence with Vista.

I might be picking out which sledgehammer to use on my new computer if not for an article in Windows Secrets last week. Since I was awaiting for my HP PC with Vista, the headline “Microsoft DHCP Bugs Make Windows Lose Networking,” caught my eye. The problem described by Windows Secrets is exactly the problem I have with this new system.

When a computer or other network devices starts and powers up the network port, it must have a unique IP address to join the network. If two devices have the exact same IP address, your network gets real screwy real fast. So each device must either have an IP address configured, or ask the network for an available address. The ability to track unused addresses, and provide an open IP address to devices as needed, is one huge reason we haven't run out of IP addresses yet even though it seems every gadget in the world is now on one network or another. Thank you, private network address management gurus who built DHCP.

Every server or router type device can be a DHCP server. In small companies and home networks, the router is the most common, and logical, choice. Even the cheapest routers from a discount online store handle DHCP address management without problem.

Until Vista, that is. As DHCP evolves they've added a Broadcast Flag to newer devices. The common method for such advances is to continue support for the old model (no Broadcast Flag) while adding some extra speed or features for the newer models (with broadcast Flag).

Microsoft chose, with Vista, to use the Broadcast Flag no matter what. If you have an older router or one that doesn't support the Broadcast Flag you can't network. Worse, all Vista tells you is “network cable unplugged.”

When this first happened, I looked at the cable, and saw it was seated properly. I disabled and enabled the network device (through Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Manage Network Connections) but it still didn't work.

After an hour or so of trying everything I could think of, I plugged the Vista system into my second home office network (I have two for testing – one cable Internet and one DSL). The more expensive router on the other network did support the DHCP Broadcast Flag and viola, I had networking. Great, I say to myself, now that things are working I'll plug back into my other router. No network.

After following the solution provided by Windows Secrets, I can get my Vista system to connect to the non-DHCP Broadcast Flag router after a couple of disable and enable sequences. But I don't like it, and Microsoft should be embarrassed at this stupid mistake.

I think the idiot Microsoft vice president in charge of this DHCP change should be put in the dunking tank at every county fair across America next summer for ruining what had been, until Vista, a reliable network connection protocol. Those making stupid decisions deserve to pay a stupid penalty, and a few hundred dunk tank sessions sounds about right. Maybe they can put a sign up that says “Idiot Vice President from Microsoft” and sell tickets for charity. I'd buy dozens.

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