Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Web-pandering to Mr Gates or...

What's the story, really?

Here is the story. A colleague of mine is currently staying at a hotel in France which offers WiFi services courtesy Meteor Networks. Now the way it works as I understand it is that you purchase time from the Meteor, then you establish a WiFi connection with the local router which at first channels you to their authentication page. There you authenticate yourself and off you go browsing at your leasure - until your time runs out, that is.

At least this is how things ought to be, according to the Meteor. Yet the reality of the situation appears to be a bit different. My colleague had stayed at the same hotel before and had tried using the same service and had discovered a rather strange pattern: the connection would kick in just fine if he booted his laptop under Windows and it would be defective every time he tried to boot up under Linux which is the OS he prefers to use. The defects would be missing blocks of webpages, malformated webpages and error messages indicating incorrect firewall/proxy settings.

My first thought upon hearing that was that Meteor - and its authentication engine - must expect Microsoft IE as browser and so, to deceive them, I set the HTTP ident sequence in the SeaMonkey browser on the laptop to identify itself as IE (IE 7 under Windows XP if I remember correctly). So off he went, and this time around when he fired off his SeaMonkey he can authenticate himself and connect to the web and receive his email via IMAP but can not properly browse as he keeps getting those annoying firewall/proxy related error messages.

I have emailed Meteor but have received no meaningful replies thus far. An engineer of theirs to whom I spoke on the phone yesterday could offer no good advice either as according to him all that's involved is simple DHCP initialization and web authentication after which you are good to go. According to him, there are no proxy servers involved.

So in short - I am puzzled. Any help in the comments or by email would be greatly appreciated. Specifically I guess the questions would be, what would cause this behavior? Can it be OS-related? If so, how? How do we tell - granted I have to do it from here and I can't get inside the Meteor's network.

Be that as it may - this is one good IT riddle, in my humble opinion. Have at it. And thanks in advance for any and all help.