Dear Microsoft:

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

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).

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.

20160109 kore

Kore’s desktop

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.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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11 Responses to Dear Microsoft:

  1. Yep. This would be the reason the love affair with tech is tarnishing … Might be part of why LPs, Print and DVDs are all outselling their Shiny New tech counterparts … Wow. Maybe letter-writing will make a comeback! (You can start while waiting on hold while swinging from the phone trees…same salutation and everything!) Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia says:

    I feel your pain – it radiates through your words. I’ve been fighting a battle with Acorn TV for the past five months. Seems that suddenly 5 months ago, Acorn TV decided to double bill me for their service, normally 4.99 monthly I would be charged at the beginning of the month but then one or two days later I would be charged 4.99 again. So silly me, I thought that a call to their customer service would clear it up. I’ve been calling them each and every month for five months, pleading to have the second 4.99 charge stopped and now a refund be issued to me. I’ve been on hold forever, a whole lifetime, which for an old retired lady I don’t have this time to spare. I’ve been talked to sweetly and assured that the charge would stop, only to have it deducted from my bank account the following month. I’ve been shunted up to the “next level” for additional help and had to explain and re-explain my problem and been assured that it would be taken care of, only to have it deducted from my bank account the following month. FINALLY the other day I spoke to a sweet older woman who explained that all that could be done, had been done but she had an idea. She sent an email to the HEAD of Acorn TV here in the US explaining the problem of my double billing and the fact that no one, NOT ONE person in “customer service” was able to adjust it. Now I must wait until the beginning of February before I make my next call to “customer service” – for we all know its going to happen.
    And I must note that I LOVE Acorn TV (I tell them that each and every month when we have our little chats), I watch all their incredible shows from the UK and Australia. The quality and selection are incredible and they are updated monthly. For someone who loves all the British imports on PBS, this is like a candy shoppe for kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Someone must have done a study on how many man- and woman-hours are lost every year waiting on hold. The number must be huge. My surname is misspelled in the local phone book. Since I’m an editor by trade, I thought this was pretty bad, so I set out to get it fixed. No dice. I finally gave up. I’ve been “Stugis” in the phone book for years. My friends razz me about it. P.S. I’ve got to check out Acorn TV. I’ve been waiting impatiently for the new seasons of several of my favorite UK shows. If Acorn has them, I might have to sign up.


  3. Eileen Maley says:

    Good grief. I sweated through reading all that. I intend to keep this old clunker computer forever.


  4. This is why we have a strict rule in the Sunday Writers of “No Use of the C [for computers] Word!” It would take up the whole evening and then some.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Helen Green says:

    Wow. My heart rate went up as I was reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seriously! Some anxiety comes with setting up a new computer. I can deal with that. I’ve been my own IT person for 30 years, so been there, done that, several times. But running into a (usually) inexplicable snag and then having continual, lengthy, and mostly unsuccessful battles to fix it — I was veering between homicidal and suicidal, with occasional periods of both/and.


  6. Sara Crafts says:

    Good luck getting Microsoft to ever admit that there’s anything wrong with Windows 10.

    Also, be prepared for the fact that your start menu will disappear again, only taking longer this time, but also taking longer to reappear.

    What Windows 10 doesn’t like, it turns out, is virtually anything that isn’t Microsoft, including Norton (which I refuse to abandon, but which I’ve had to de-install and re-install two or three times). Also Dropbox which you found out. It’s not overly fond of Quicken’s lesser years but I’ve heard of problems around the latest editions.

    Although Windows 8.0 was awful, it was so awful that 8.1 was marketed (free) almost immediately, with loud mea culpas from Microsoft, and most of the initial problems were cleared up. By the time Windows 10 came along (whatever happened to Windows 9?), the Microsoft hubris had returned. Despite, as you mention, myriad complaints, Microsoft “fixers” continue to offer bogus complicated equations which don’t fix anything. But I will not be surprised at all to see a “Windows 365” emerge, wherein one has to pay a yearly subscription fee just to keep the damned computer running. I spend my spare time trying to remember why I didn’t like Steve Jobs and saving my money to go to that dark side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t worry, I was thinking of you every step of the way. 🙂 I’ve had more computer hassles in the last six weeks than in the previous 30 years, even counting my “bucking bronco” WinXP, which needed four OS reinstalls before it settled down — but it’s still working.

      That’s my biggest beef with Win10: its attempt to herd us toward All Things Microsoft. This is definitely a feature, not a bug, and I really don’t like it. (It’s also true of Word 2016, which IMO is not an improvement on Word 2010.) However, I did immediately dump McAfee (which came with the laptop) and install Norton (thank you, Comcast), and I’ve had no problems with it. So far I haven’t had any problems with Quicken 2016, other than needing IE to download it. I’m guessing that was a Dell thing, not an Intuit thing.

      Another thing is that it’s harder to customize and to control updates. I’ve got this hunch that an update helped disappear my Start menu. I deleted that update one night. The next morning Start was back. The next morning Start was gone again — and sneaky Windows had reinstalled that update. Meanwhile, you have to use Run to disable the password/PIN requirement to log in?

      P.S. Before you go over to the Apple side, talk to a few Mac users. Most of my Mac buddies are still devotees, but some say that in the post-Jobs years it’s been affected by the “fixing things that ain’t broke” virus.


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