The doghouse: FedEx Office, internet obstructions in hotels

FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko's) purports to provide a business traveler, among other things, with basic office services such as allowing you to print documents and ship them.

Here's how it should work:
  1. Unpack your laptop.
  2. Connect the USB printer cable.
  3. Swipe your credit card.
  4. Print (using standard, trusted driver software that already came with the operating system on your laptop).
Here's how it fails to work in practice.
  1. Unpack your laptop.
  2. Connect the USB cable.
  3. The USB device appears on your laptop as a number of drives.
  4. You must launch an executable that appears on one of the USB device drives. You must trust FedEx to execute arbitrary code on your laptop.
  5. Executable complains it has no ethernet connection (even though you only want to print).
  6. Connect ethernet cable, restart executable.
  7. Executable makes you read and click through lengthy agreement.
  8. Executable asks to install printer drivers. This requires elevation to administrative level. You must trust FedEx not only to execute arbitrary code, but to modify your operating system, as well.
  9. The executable attempts and fails to install printer drivers. Apparently, despite the calendar now showing January 2009, FedEx still doesn't quite support Windows Vista.
  10. Since drivers were not installed, you can't print, and you now have nagging doubts whether FedEx installed crapware on your machine that you will now have trouble getting rid of.

"High speed" internet access in hotels

Generally speaking, internet access in all hotels we've been to is simply a piece of crap.

1. Slow and unreliable. They always advertise "high-speed" internet access, and inevitably, it turns out to be anything but. Quality of the connection varies, but more often than not, the "quality" of the connection is such that it simply cannot sustain an SSH session. But since the wireless connection is unencrypted, you must tunnel your web traffic through SSH if you want any semblance of security at all. So browsing the net becomes a frustrating experience whereby your SSH session terminates and reconnects and terminates and reconnects a number of times as you attempt to browse the internet.

As an added bonus, in most places, Google Maps just doesn't work. Apparently they have some throttling in place which cuts your connection briefly every time you try to access Google Maps through an SSH tunnel.

2. Needless click-throughs. Imagine that, every time you wanted to connect your shaver to a hotel electrical outlet, you had to call a special number to activate that particular electrical outlet, in order to confirm your agreement that the hotel is not responsible for the quality of power supplied and to acknowledge that there may occasionally be brownouts and blackouts.

This is effectively what approximately 2/3 of hotels I've stayed at are requiring for internet access. Before you can connect anywhere, you have to first disable any proxy settings in your browser, navigate to any site in order to be directed to a click-through page belonging to the hotel, click to indicate agreement with their terms of service, and then you might possibly be able to proceed to actually using the net.

It's all about as intrusive and as useless as having to call a phone number before you can turn on the TV in your room, or use the fridge.

3. Toolbars. The most preposterous of all, the hotel we're currently staying at not only has the needless clickthrough described above, but then also filters all your web traffic and inserts an HTML toolbar at the top of every page you visit. The toolbar shows ads, which apparently provides them with an additional revenue stream. Hello? I'm paying for the room?

The sooner that the service industry realizes that internet access should just work, much like electricity and water are expected to just work, the better off everyone will be.


Anonymous said…
I have tried and failed to find a good printing solution till last month. The product was call PrintPOD. I used it first to print my boarding pass using their built in application (it was free). Once I read the main screen I realized I could print from my memory stick. I did have to sign up for an account but that process was reasonably straight forward. Memory stick printing was fast with great color output. Later I recieved an email from the PrintPOD people stating I could print from my cell phone (treo)...had to try that! it worked great. I have not tried their Internet PC printdriver yet but they do have one.

Fedex should buy these guys or atleast put a couple in each one of their stores. Their entire process is a PITA....At least the Staples people are friendly.

My vote 5 stars out of 5.

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