Last week we considered the various ways desktop PCs can link up to portable devices like digital cameras, MP3 players and palmtop organisers; this week we’ll be looking at some of the many things that can go wrong, and what to do about it.


The first sign that something is amiss usually occurs when loading the portable device’s file manager or communications software. Avoid trouble by following the instructions to the letter ( RTFM...) and make sure all other programs have been shut down, in fact it’s a good idea to re-boot Windows before loading any new software. During installation keep an eye on any on-screen messages, make a point of actually checking any information shown and don’t just blithely click the ‘OK’ or ‘Next’ boxes. If the installer program automatically selects a ‘Com port’, make sure it chooses the right one.


After the initial setup you may see messages like ‘Unable to connect to …’ or ‘Make sure XYZ is connected’. Don’t immediately assume that there is a fault with the device or your PC. Check the blindingly obvious first. Yes, I know you’d never get caught out but just make sure the device is actually switched on and in the appropriate mode. Are the batteries properly installed or fully charged and are the plugs fully seated? A lot of devices won’t work until the PC has been re-booted following the installation of the software, some won’t work if they are switched on when the PC program is launched, or the device may have to be switched on after the program has loaded (RTFM again…). As a last resort uninstall then re-load the program and try again. If that doesn’t work it’s time to start looking further afield, in and around Windows.


Problems with serial port connections can be notoriously tricky to solve. There are at least two of them on most PCs and they can be used by several different devices, from modems to mice, each with it’s own set of configuration and driver files, so conflicts are quite common. The first place to look is in Windows Device Manager.


Right click on My Computer, select the Device Manager tab and scroll down the list looking for conflict warnings (circles with yellow exclamation marks) next to Modems, Network Adaptors and Ports. Clicking on the offending item should bring up a dialogue box indicating the nature of the problem – usually a missing or corrupt driver, or an item of hardware that is no longer connected. Windows usually offers to fix the problem or suggest a remedy.


It’s definitely worth trying that first but if that doesn’t work there are two more things to try. Right click on the faulty device, select Properties and then check the box ‘Disable in this hardware profile’, re-boot and see if that makes a difference. Alternatively try removing the device or port (make sure you have any necessary installation discs and your Windows CD-ROM to hand), highlight the faulty entry in Device Manager, click Remove and then re-boot. This is not as drastic as it sounds, if necessary Windows will automatically try to reinstall the driver but if its no longer needed it will boot up as normal, and you can try connecting to your portable device again.


Conflicts sometimes occur when the PC is connected to a network or it is (or has been) connected to another portable device. If so it is quite likely the PC’s network settings have been re-configured and tampering with them could result in loss of access to the network, or not being able to use the original device. If an external device is no longer in use make sure the software that came with it has been fully uninstalled. If you are feeling bold (and your PC is not connected to a network) you can try removing old network and communications detritus by clicking on the Network icon in Control Panel. In the network components window you should have several entries, TC/IP and Dial Up adaptor must remain if your PC is connected to the Internet, the others may be superfluous, but before you remove anything make a note of what’s there, just in case…


Portable devices that use a parallel printer port connection often have trouble with the port configuration and normally require it to be in ECP (Extended Capabilities Port) or EPP (Extended Parallel Port) mode. You can check the mode in Device Manager (click the ‘+’ sign next to Ports). To change the port setting you need to access your PC’s BIOS program, refer to Boot Camps 133 & 134.


USB connections to portable devices are usually fairly simple to configure and trouble free but one word of caution, do not try to use any USB device under Windows 95, no matter what the box says. Windows 95 allegedly supports USB but actually getting it to work is quite another matter. My advice is don’t bother trying, just upgrade to Windows 98 or ME.


Palmtop PCs and organisers using Windows CE are often bundled with a file management/communications program called Microsoft Windows CE Services. Do not attempt to use it unless you are of a masochistic disposition, it’s horrible! Instead download another Microsoft utility called ActiveSync 3.1, it’s available from the Microsoft web site at:

The file is a fair size (3.9Mb) but it’s worth every minute of download time.


The communications/file transfer programs supplied with palmtops and organisers using non-Windows based operating systems vary tremendously. Some, like early versions of the PsiWin program -- used with Psion organisers -- were quite good; more recent incarnations of PsiWin have a very mixed reputation. If you run in to trouble it’s always worth checking the manufacturer’s web sites for news of updates, patches, fixes and known problems, especially on newly launched portable devices that have yet to have all of the bugs ironed out of them.


Next week – Speedier searches





Basic Input Output System, a program stored in a microchip memory on the PC motherboard that checks and configures the hardware, memory and disc drives, before the operating system is loaded



Communications Port, usually the PC’s serial or parallel sockets, which are used to exchange data with external devices, like printers and modems



Read The Flipping Manual (or something very similar…)



Some modems just won’t play ball and stubbornly refuse to work with Windows or do strange things, like randomly dropping the line, or operating at ridiculously low data rates. If yours is playing up it’s worth trying a standard Windows modem driver. Open Control Panel and click on Add/Remove Hardware, click Next until you get to the screen that asks you if you want Windows to look for new devices, select No, on the ‘Hardware Types’ list double-click the Modem icon, check ‘Don’t detect my modem…’ and click Next. Make sure ‘Standard Modem Types’ is highlighted under ‘Manufacturers’. In the right pane select ‘Standard 56000bps V90’ or the option that best matches your modem, click Next and continue to the end. To revert to your previous custom driver remove the Standard Modem entry in Device Manager (right-click My Computer and select Properties), re-boot and Windows will detect your modem and re-install the original driver (have your driver disc to hand).  

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