We have an arrangement set up here in our office so that in order to work from home we connect to the corporate network using the Cisco VPN (Virtual Private Network) Client – a little bit of software that burrows through the Intertubes and joins up to some servers in the rack/farm so that our home computer now appears to be a node on the corporate network.  The way we set this up is to install the Cisco VPN Client on the machine, then run a little application which sets up some registry keys with the connection data/settings we require to link in to the corporate network.  Once connected, we then use the Windows Remote Desktop tool to log in to our development server (which has all our tools & software installed), and away we go!

The reason we exclusively use the Cisco client, and the accompanying RegKey program, is that nobody in the IT department can remember exactly what the configuration details are in order to type them in to any other VPN client: the RegKey.exe file is the only way we have to configure a VPN client.

Personally, because I’ve got all Apple gear at home now, this means that I’ve got to run a virtual PC on my computer using something like Parallels or VMWare, and then install Windows XP on that.  Once I’ve got that working I can install the Cisco VPN client and use the RegKey app, and everything runs in a fashion that you might describe as hunky-dory.  Matter of fact it’s better running it from my iMac than from my computer in the office, because my iMac screen is much bigger, and our internet connection is faster than the link we’ve got going out of the office.

A colleague at work has recently kitted himself out with a shiny new Sony Vaio laptop running Windows 7 – it’s a pretty spanky looking unit, and in the last couple of months he seems to have decided he’s quite happy with it.  Yesterday he asked if I had the VPN Client installer so he could set it up for remote working.  After I eventually got him the file (punctuated helpfully by USB stick failure, which is a separate whinge) he tried to install it but reported back that the install didn’t work, so rather than try & troubleshoot remotely one step per day at a time, I suggested he bring the laptop in.  Yes, that’s right, I still say “laptop”, rather than “notebook” – call me a child of the 80’s.  A notebook’s got pages in it, fool.

Sure enough, the VPN client installer got to about 85% finished and then failed with an error code, and a little bit of Google mining revealed that the Cisco VPN Client is a 32-bit piece of software, and not compatible with 64-bit installations of Windows 7.  We check Paul’s operating system.  It’s 64 bit.

We try to run the installer in Windows XP compatibility mode, however the OS is too smart for that and won’t have a bar of it.  A bit of further Google mining turned up a nugget of information that Windows 7 has an optional installable Windows XP compatability feature whereby when you download & install this dooberry you can run software in a built-in virtualised aspect of Windows XP, and this is perfect for running the Cisco VPN Client (which the developers don’t supply in 64-bit form).  I tried to download the Windows 7 XP Mode package to put on my USB stick ready to stick on Paul’s Vaio, however when the pre-download questionnaire asked me what version of Windows 7 he had (Home Premium edition), a message came up saying words to the effect of “This option is not available for this edition of Windows 7.  Please upgrade to Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate”.

We figured that whilst a massive pain in the arse and a bit of an imposition, it was probably OK to do the upgrade depending on cost, so we set about trying to find out what the upgrade price was to go from Home Premium to Professional (the most basic of the editions which would support the feature we needed).  The two of us searched away for about 10 minutes each, but were unable to turn up any information – the Microsoft site indicated that the only way to find out a price was to run the Windows Anytime Upgrade tool on the machine to be upgraded.  One site appeared to indicate that the upgrade cost was around USD$100, however this sounded to me like the sort of price that would apply to a US upgrade purchased in the US only (such is the nature of software pricing).

With now no recourse than to plug his laptop in to our office network, he ran the upgrade wizard thing, and finally we were presented with the information we sought – £120.

To put it into context, with £120 you could buy 5 slabs of 24 cans of Carlsberg lager (not that you WOULD, of course…), or 51 bottles of proper beer.  I thought it could also buy you the 31 disc anthology box of Wrestlemania, but it turns out it can’t.  But it CAN buy you an OEM copy of Windows 7 Professional, and leave you with enough change to buy yourself a nice new t-shirt with an orangutan’s face on it – so yes, it costs more to upgrade from one version to another than it does to buy the new version outright.

One hundred and twenty pounds, for an upgrade of one version of software to another version of the same software, purely so it was possible to install a virtual downgrade of the same software in order to be able to install another bit of software with which to connect to another machine.  And all because someone couldn’t be bothered finding out what the connection details were.

It all makes being alive seem just that little bit more worthwhile, doesn’t it?

Further tales of Windows brilliance
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