Friday, April 17, 2009

I almost know what it feels like to have a disease named after you.

Yesterday's post required several man-hours of highly trained labor to produce. Yeah, I know, it reads like it took about ten minutes of a fourth grader's time, but "The miracle of the dancing bear is not how well it dances, but that it dances at all"- I was having computer problems that almost had me thinking the only way to reach my readers would be by postcard.

Ok, we've all joked about how twitchy Microsoft products in general are, and how Vista is easier to spook than an abused Arabian horse. But I developed a strange problem, even for the Vista/Explorer combo- whenever I attempted to paste from Works (I use Works rather than Word because I'm too cheap to pay for Word, while Works is bundled free. There, I said it.) to email or Blogspot, Explorer crashed! This was a catastrophe... I must have a spellchecker, and the email program doesn't have one. (well, it does, but it borrows the dictionary from Word. And as I haven't paid to activate Word...)

So, with a bit of trepidation, I contacted MSN online chat tech support. Man, did I get a pleasant surprise- their customer service people are just as nice as their products are twitchy! After the first screener determined I wasn't the type who calls to complain that the cupholder that slides out from the side of the computer is broken, I was quickly transferred to a real tech named Cathy. She was both patient and good humored (meaning she sent a smiley face at one of my bizarre comments), and quickly set up a shared desktop link. Then over the course of a couple of hours, she did a disk clean, optimized performance, ran both the MSN9.6 and the Explorer 7.0 through all kinds of cartwheels, uninstalled and reinstalled them, retested, and finally declared that she had determined that the MSN software was not at fault, apologized for not doing more, and gave me a case number and contact info for the Microsoft troubleshooters. As it was approaching midnight, I put that call off to this morning.

So this morning, after breaking fast and getting fresh coffee, I call Microsoft. The answering computer connected me to a nice man from India (I'm not guessing from his accent, we chatted about the weather here and there) who also set up the shared desktop connection, and started plumbing into the bowels of the browser. He was able to determine that one of the automatic security updates sent out yesterday had caused an unforeseen compatibility problem, and that downloading the latest generation of Explorer would solve it. He actually thanked me for bringing them the problem so quickly, because it was a specific combination of conditions that had caused it, and that he would immediately email this information to the developers and other techs so they would be prepared for the complaints they were sure to be getting shortly.

For a moment there, I felt special. There must be millions of year old laptops using Vista and Explorer who download their updates faithfully, and I was the very first to complain- the kind of perverse pride Baron Munchausen might feel at having a syndrome named for him. But then it occurred to me that perhaps there weren't as many as I thought- of student laptops whose owner was too damn cheap to activate the preloaded Microsoft Office Suite when the six months free trial expired- it was only the combination of Works, Explorer 7.0, and the specific security update that would cause the problem.

Oh, well, the real point is that I received hours of individual attention both from the Microsoft Network and from the Microsoft Explorer tech team, and they solved the problem, (and more; my computer is running better now than it did before this all happened!) and they did it all for free. The cost for the right to bitch is the obligation to give kudos when deserved. Kudos, MSN. Kudos, Microsoft.

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