Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frustrating but ultimately successful fix for Internet connectivity

I have had a frustrating couple of days. But I am now connected!!

When I moved to a new apartment a few months ago, I decided to save some money by NOT getting a hard-wired internet connection through cable or phone and instead signed up with Verizon Wireless for their mobile hotspot through my Droid4. While this costs an extra $30 per month, after testing it, I found it to be fairly reliable and having enough speed for basic internet use, including occasional use of Netflix.  I figure it was cheaper than getting cable or internet-via-phone hookup.

Anyway, having a wireless hotspot as my primary home internet is fine for my laptop, my ipad, my son's smartphone, and his tablet, but it didn't work too well with my desktop. I had previously used PDANet on my desktop (allowing me to use my phone as a modem via USB tether), and while I was still able to do that, I wanted to use the legal (that is, "paid for") hotspot, so I discovered that when connected via USB to my computer, and going through the phone's system settings to Tethering and Mobile Hotspot (i.e., not the Mobile Hotspot app), I could enable USB tether and use the hotspot with the desktop. This was my primary mode of connecting my desktop to the Internet for several months.

This worked fairly well until a month or so ago, when I started running into problems with the USB tether AND the PDANet.  I had issues with the version of the PDANet not matching on the phone and desktop, and eventually solved the problem by rolling back both versions to 3.5 and using the "legacy driver." However, this stopped working a week or so ago (I didn't know why...but see below!) and at about the same time, the Mobile Hotspot USB tether also stopped working.

What was odd was that when I was tethered via USB, my university's VPN could connect, and Outlook, and Google Drive, and Dropbox, but I couldn't browse the Internet using Firefox or IE.  I couldn't get ANY web sites to come to my browser. I figured this was a DNS issue, but I confirmed that the settings for IPv.4 matched those of my laptop, which was able to surf just fine.

Because I really need to use my desktop in the next few weeks, I decided to devote some time to solving this problem. I decided that maybe I shouldn't rely on the USB tether (either through PDANet or through the Verizon Hotspot), and since I wasn't having any problems connecting wirelessly to the hotspot via my laptop or iPad, perhaps I should connect my desktop wirelessly. So yesterday, I went to Office Depot and bought a Linksys N300 (otherwise known as model AE1200) wireless USB adapter, and came home to set it up.

The damn thing would NOT install correctly.  I couldn't get the setup software to recognize the adapter during the regular installation process. However, when I plugged the adapter in, the drivers automatically installed. However, the adapter was "grayed out" in the Network and Sharing Center, saying Disabled. When I right-clicked and chose "Enable," after a few seconds I got an "Enabled" message, but the adapter was still grayed out and showing as disabled. And it wasn't functional.

The odd thing is that the adapter showed as Enabled in the Device Manager. But Disabled in the Network and Sharing Center. Odd.

No matter how many times I tried unplugging it, plugging it back in, and uninstalling it and reinstalling it, the same conditions applied. I worked at trying to fix it for a couple of hours, and then decided to cut my loses, and took the thing back to Office Depot.  I intended to buy another brand, but the store only had the Linksys. Fortunately, the local Radio Shack had the equivalent Netgear adapter (N300, otherwise known as model WNA3100), so I bought that.

My experience with the Netgear adapter was exactly the same as the Linksys:  The setup software wouldn't recognize the adapter (although when I unplugged it, the software complained), and although it would auto-install drivers if I plugged it in without the software, it was grayed out in the Networking and Sharing Center, and would not Enable there. (The Netgear adapter, like the Linksys before it, was showing as enabled in the Device Manager. But not functional at all.)

I spent an awful lot of time poking around the web looking for solutions to this problem. I figured there was some kind of problem with the driver.  So, I downloaded a new version of the driver software from Netgear. (They don't let you download just the drivers...you need to install setup files that either install the driver for you or install something called the Genie with the drivers).  Because the installation software wouldn't recognize the adapter, these were fairly useless. They wouldn't complete the installation process since they didn't recognize the device.

(At this point, I decided that maybe my problem was a PHYSICAL problem with the USB system in my computer. I had had some odd unreliability since trying to install a USB 3.0 card in my system a year or so ago.  So I opened up the case and futzed around with the internal USB connections.... During this futzing, I accidentally disconnected a bunch of connectors having to do with the front LEDs and power/reset switches... So I had to find the manual to the MSI motherboard (on my laptop since my desktop still wasn't connecting) and fix those....In any case, the futzing with the USB connectors didn't solve anything.)

Here are a few of the other places I visited while trying to figure out a solution to the problem:
None of these solutions worked.

Finally, I started poking around in the Network and Sharing Center, seeing what all the menu choices do.

In the "Change Adapter Settings" dialog, under Advanced, I found the option to "Bridge Connections."  I really didn't have any idea what this does (although I did look it up later, here), but on a whim, I decided to try to bridge the LAN and WiFi connections, to see what would happen.

When I did so, all of a sudden the WiFi icon showed in color, and the Enable and Disable menu choices actually worked! I enabled it!  Wow!

However, I still couldn't connect to wifi, but I was making progress.

I decided that the bridge itself was probably the obstacle now. So I disabled the bridge... VOILA!  The wireless adapter was now enabled, and I could use the Connect menu choice, and see my Droid4 Hotspot SSID... so I connected!

So now I was connected to the wireless via the Netgear adapter! 

But now I was back to the situation before I bought the wireless adapter... I was able to connect via vpn, Outlook, Google Drive, Dropbox...but not the browser... no web sites....nothing.

So I did a search for "browser not able to connect to internet" and came across this page: http://en.kioskea.net/forum/affich-26302-browsers-can-t-connect-to-websites. There are a lot of different approaches listed there.

I tried several of the command-line and restart options, having to do with ipconfig and flushdns and netsh ...nothing. However, one good thing did happen; when I restarted after one of the command line interventions, I got this message:

(Good to know that the Netgear install software was persistent!)

Finally, on the same web site, I found http://en.kioskea.net/forum/affich-19117-internet-connected-but-can-t-browse.

The central focus of that thread seemed to be that Norton Antivirus (of some flavor) was somehow interfering with browsing, either through a setting, or a bug, or even parental controls.  I went to look at my computer... and see what Norton was up to. Oddly, it wasn't showing up in the system tray. Hmmm....  So I found the Norton 360 folder under the Start menu, and ran the program.

Upon loading Norton showed that I needed to run disk defragmentation and do a bunch of other tune-ups... but there was no obvious setting that would be blocking internet use. The "block all network traffic" option was OFF.  Out of curiosity, I clicked  the little question mark icon next to the option to get some help...and it went to a help page on the Symantec web site!!! WHAT?  I could now surf?!?!

I opened another tab and tried to go to Google...Voila! everything was working again.

It seems that all I had to do was RUN Norton 360 to get the browsing to work.

After everything started working again, I clicked on the system tray and saw that the Norton 360 icon was there, showing a green check mark for protected. I remembered it had not been there while doing all of this other troubleshooting. Was Norton somehow disabled, and it was disabling my internet use?

I don't know the answer. I think Norton had somehow crashed and in crashing, it disabled web browsing. (This does seem to be a problem...see here and here.) Why this happened I do now know.  I do know that I am now able to surf again. 

The key findings that made this possible were:
  1. the brainstorm of bridging the wireless and wired connections (and then unbridging them), which enabled the wireless adapter...
  2. and running Norton360, which somehow had gotten "stuck" in a non-responsive mode that was blocking browser traffic.

Both of these findings are worth putting out there for others who may have similar problems with their computers.