Not to worry, Microsoft: Bash the Behemoth is a popular sport, but I haven’t come here to bash you. I’ve come to relate some of my adventures since adopting my second laptop this past November.
First off, a little background: I bought my first PC in late 1985, and all the computers I’ve bought since — five desktops, two laptops, and a brand-new little tablet — use Microsoft operating systems, MS-DOS in the early years and Windows ever since.
The pilot’s seat, with Hekate on the lapdesk.
Hekate, my first laptop, turned five last July. This is late middle age for a computer, but she was in pretty good shape. I have been very happy with both Windows 7 and MS Office 2010, specifically Word, which, being an editor and writer, I use a lot.
However, the stickiness of several of her keys was becoming more and more of a nuisance. I decided to retire Hekate to backup status while she was still in good working order.
I chose a laptop that came with Window 10, though I’d heard mixed things about the new OS. People grumbled about Windows 7 too, after all, and I wound up loving it. I ordered the newest version of Quicken (I’ve been using Quicken 2006 since it was new) and MS Office 2016. I decided against Office 365, which uses the subscription model that you guys and others are pushing so hard. I won’t go into all the reasons why I’m deeply suspicious of this subscription model. Suffice it to say that for me it wasn’t cost-effective. Pay $130 or so for a program that will last me five or six years, or pay about $70 a year for more or less the same thing? This was a no-brainer.
Gizmo with a can of my favorite beer (Stowaway IPA from Baxter Brewing in Maine).
I also sprang for a little tablet because Dell was offering a good deal on its Venue 8 and because I’ve never owned a tablet. This was the first thing to arrive. I named her Gizmo.
My real adventures started when the laptop arrived just before Thanksgiving. I named her Kore. Our introductions went OK. I disabled Cortana, Win10’s much-ballyhooed “personal assistant.” Cortana is way worse than the dancing paperclip that insisted on assisting Word users till we turned it off.
Then neither Quicken 2015 nor Office 2016 would download properly. I’m not a technical whiz, but I have been my own IT person for 30 years. I know how to download and install software. I can follow instructions. I followed the instructions twice more to make sure I hadn’t goofed. Still no Quicken. Still no Office. Thus began a six-week saga that I think, I hope, is finally over. This is what I want to tell you about.
In my world, “tech support” and “customer service” are oxymorons. Yes, there are exceptions, but who among us isn’t filled with dread every time we have to contact a utility or computer company or government agency? We know we’re going to spend hours on hold listening to terrible muzak and chirpy recorded messages. It often takes several attempts before we get through to someone who can (a) understand our question, and (b) answer it. This is a sad state of affairs. Sadder still is that so many of us take it for granted.
At any rate, I generally have better luck with online chat, so that’s where I started. The Quicken problem, it turned out, was easy to solve. “What browser are you using?” asked the chat tech. “Chrome,” said I. “You have to use Internet Explorer,” he advised.
I did, and PDQ I had Quicken 2015 installed, upgraded to Quicken 2016, and loaded with the 15 years’ worth of checkbook and credit card data I’d accumulated with Quicken 2006. Here, Dear Microsoft, is one of my questions: Why did I have to use Internet Explorer? Are you, or perhaps your friends at Dell, trying to coerce us into using your browser instead of, say, Chrome or Firefox?
More to the point, why didn’t the download instructions say I had to use IE? You could have saved me some time and aggravation if you’d only made this requirement clear.
Quicken was easy. Office 2016 wasn’t. It took almost four weeks to get my duly purchased copy of Office 2016 up and running. The product key I received didn’t work. OK, goofs happen; I understand that. What I don’t understand is why I had to spend so many hours over so many weeks waiting on hold, waiting for phone calls, chatting with tech support, or exchanging emails with customer service reps. For some reason, Dear Microsoft, you weren’t believing Dell’s assurances that I really had purchased the program.
At one point I contacted you, Dear Microsoft, directly. Your tech remotely installed on my new laptop a copy of Office 365, which I hadn’t bought and didn’t want. When I discovered the mistake and pointed it out, he said he couldn’t help me any further.
Finally I told my latest Dell email correspondent that I wanted a refund so I could buy Office 2016 somewhere else. I was given the number for Dell’s “customer care” department (another oxymoron). While I waited in the virtual queue, a chirpy voice told me over and over that I might be able to could find an answer to my question at Dell-dot-com. Pretty soon I was screaming back, “I’ve been there! I’ve been there a dozen times! The answer isn’t there! That’s why I’m here!”
I gave up on the refund idea. Perhaps this is corporate strategy? Make it next to impossible to reach the refund department and we will stop asking for refunds? Fortunately Hekate and her copy of Word 2010 still worked fine. But I couldn’t shift completely from old laptop to new, not unless I wanted to use one laptop for writing and editing and the other for everything else.
At long last, just before Christmas, a new product key arrived. This involved yet another chat with tech support, because your Office pages didn’t make it obvious where I was supposed to input the product key, but I was OK with that. I was practically euphoric. The time had come to transfer my Carbonite subscription and all my backed-up files from Hekate to Kore.
This was my first-ever Carbonite restore. I was nervous about it, nervous enough about the do-it-yourself instructions that I contacted Carbonite tech support. And you know what? Wonder of wonders, they were great. Easy to reach. Competent. Reassuring, even — did I say I was nervous about transferring all my files, many of which I couldn’t afford to lose? Why can’t all tech support be like this, I wondered, like it was in my early years as a PC user?
Kore and I were in business at last.
Except we weren’t. A few days into the new year, my attempts to use the Start menu started returning a “Critical Error” message. Sign out, the message said, and we’ll try to fix it. Needless to say, signing out and signing back in again accomplished nothing. A Google search on critical error start menu windows 10 revealed that many, many, many Win10 users (1) had had or were having this problem, and (2) didn’t get any answers from you, Dear Microsoft.
I tried a couple of fixes, neither of which restored my Start menu, then back I went to Dell’s tech support chat line. Short version: Over the next two days, I dealt with two tech support guys, both of whom were polite and professional, neither of whom could solve my problem. One morning the Start menu came back of its own accord. I was thrilled. By the end of the day it had vanished again. I was livid.
I returned to Google. This time I skimmed the comments threads on a couple of YouTube fix-it videos. Uninstalling and reinstalling Dropbox had solved the problem for some people. This seemed unlikely, but I’m an avid Dropbox user and what did I have to lose?
Wonder of wonders, it worked.
On one hand, this is a victory for crowd-sourced tech support. On the other, crowd-sourced tech support isn’t for the faint of heart, and it depends almost entirely on the kindness of strangers willing to solve and disseminate fixes for problems caused by your products, Dear Microsoft. You’ve been enthusiastically pushing Win10 upgrades on users of earlier Windows versions, without adequate knowledge of the havoc this can cause and without providing support for those who run into trouble. If users want real tech support, they have to pay extra.
Running through my head are two lines from Tom Lehrer’s song about rocket scientist Werner von Braun: “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? / That’s not my department, says Werner von Braun.”
If Cortana, your “personal assistant,” ever proves able to provide reliable tech support, let me know. I’ll reinstall it at once.