I brought home a Dell laptop from the office I'm working at. It runs Windows 2000, and is showing its age—the 10 GB hard drive is too small, Microsoft Office asks for installation CDs when you run it (but still works fine if you cancel that request), the fan makes intermittent creaky noises, and so on. In other words, the machine has reached Cruft Force 3.5 or thereabouts. (By comparison, my Windows 98 computer at home is around Cruft Force 5.)
Since I wanted to use the Dell in the kitchen, where there is no network plug, I figured I would just swap the wireless network card from my PowerBook and plug it into the Dell. In theory, the "plug and play" card would find the correct software and Just Work. Especially because the wireless card I use on the PowerBook is a Dell card. (Here, look.)
Yeah. As if. The Add Hardware Wizard detected the card, but couldn't find a driver, and so kindly offered to eject the card for me. So I went to the Dell site. No luck on drivers for the Dell-branded card. I happen to know, because of my research for the PowerBook, that the Dell card is actually an ORiNOCO card, which was originally manufactured by Lucent Technologies, who sold the brand to Agere Systems, which then was sold to Proxim. So, off to the Proxim site.
Now, is my card an "ORiNOCO 802.11b wireless PC Card," or an "ORiNOCO ('Classic') Gold/Silver 802.11b wireless PC Card"? Heck if I know. I downloaded both drivers. One got part way through the installation and quit. The other locked up and I had to force it to quit before the installation wizard even appeared. No luck, even after trying Safe Mode.
So, in desperation, I tried running the Add Hardware Wizard again manually, then hunting through all the available driver types until I found one for Lucent Technologies (not Dell, not Proxim, not Agere) called "ORiNOCO wireless PC Card (5 Volt)." I chose that, and bam, I was online.
Can you reasonably expect someone who hadn't taught him- or herself a whole lot about wireless networking, and worked in the computer software industry for eight years, to have figured all that out?
Here's the irony: to make the card work in my PowerBook, I just downloaded the driver from Proxim, ran the software, and followed the instructions. Yeah, it took awhile to figure that out, but it's still significantly easier to install a Dell wireless card on an eight-year-old Apple laptop (which Dell has never officially supoprted for use with its wireless cards) than it is to install the exact same card in a laptop manufactured by Dell itself.