Why Your Laptop Flakes Out at the Coffee Shop

Has this ever happened to you? You fire up your laptop at the local coffee shop (or library, airport, or any other Wi-Fi hotspot), only to get a barrage of error messages from various programs.

Don't panic! There's a very simple explanation for this: When you boot your system, some startup programs require immediate Internet access--and when they don't find it, they produce errors (and often-cryptic ones at that).

This can happen with browser plug-ins as well. Just the other day, I got a weird, previously unseen error from Xmarks (the awesome bookmark-sync tool) when I ran Firefox. It was trying to sync with its servers, but couldn't find an Internet connection.

Why not? As you've probably learned, some free Wi-Fi hotspots (and all paid ones) require you to register and/or agree to their terms of service before they'll let you online.

In the interim, the aforementioned startup programs and/or browser plug-ins can go a little bonkers. The reason this doesn't happen at home or the office is that, there, the Internet connection is available instantaneously.

So if you're on the road and encountering strange errors, relax. Once you get online, everything should go back to normal.

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