Technical support RANT
March 2005

Hold on to your britches everyone, because this month we're targeting MICROSOFT.

Yeah, I know, easy target.  But no less necessary!  Just to prove it's not an anti-Gates vendetta, I'm going to nail SANDISK this month and give LINKSYS a little tweak too.  Maybe I'll even drag CITRIX and VERITAS through the wringer.

Just to bring you up-to-date, back in late 2002 I let Linksys have it with both barrels here on this web site, for their dreadful, bottom of the barrel quality of support.  I'll freely admit that this whole outsourcing thing pisses me off, but the problem had more to do with the fact that of all the perfectly qualified people that must be available in the Philippines, Linksys somehow managed to contract their work to the least suitable ones for the task.

About a year after that tech support rant, someone at Linksys' offshore help center (Link2Support) was surfing the web and happened to read what I had to say.  The result was a barrage of hateful statements and accusations and even a few death threats left on my web site's guest log from a couple of Filipinos working for Link2Support.  Those entries remain to this day, along with my little interjections that helped escalate the situation.

Needless to say, through their foolishness and their criminal activity, Linksys' call center folks proved my point with a gem-like clarity that I could never have hoped to attain without their eager and unwitting assistance.

Now Sandisk originally got my attention around the holiday season of 2004, when I purchased a 4GB CompactFlash card.  I called them because it only showed up as 2GB in my camera and in my PC.  And they, rather than pointing out the undocumented tiny little switch buried in the guide slot of the card, told me to send it back for a replacement.  Luckily someone at Canon set me straight before I wasted money on postage.

Sandisk was very apologetic and insisted that this never should have happened.  I agreed, and forgot completely about the matter until I was interested this past month in purchasing their new 2GB Ultra-II SD card.  I sent an email to their [outsourced] retail branch - Esend - that simply and directly asked "When will the 2GB Ultra II SD cards be available on the web store? ".  They responded, "we cannot assist you with technical inquiries".

A follow-up complaint to Sandisk's sales manager yielded an explanation that this was just a misused boilerplate reply.  Riiiiight.  I did eventually get a very detailed answer about the product's availability schedule, through their [outsourced] customer support web site.  Seeing a trend here?

Now that I'm done regurgitating history, it's time to puke on Microsoft...

I've been saying this for twenty years at every possible opportunity, yet somehow it just doesn't turn into the Information Technology MANTRA that it really needs to be:


This is simple economics, folks.  If the market disappears for crap software that is a hassle to install, and/or imposes pointless limitations on its usability and supportability, that crap software will soon cease to exist in its crippled form, or will cease to exist altogether.  Nobody wants to stock product that won't sell, and nobody wants to write software that nobody will buy.

Companies like Microsoft and Adobe have been made to understand this, at least in a limited fashion, and do offer their volume customers un-crippled versions of the same software that gives retail consumers recurring headaches.  But all this means is that retail consumers haven't organized well enough to fight off the menace.

Make no mistake - though some of the larger software publishers have gotten the point, and are making changes to their licensing schemes, the end result is not a lack of pain but simply movement of that pain.  Citrix comes to mind here.  Almost as if they have a pact with Intel to sell more hardware, they now recommend the use of a separate server to maintain their licensing components!  And this puts them on a glaringly familiar footing with Microsoft.  Allow me to explain, and to give Microsoft the liberal ass-kicking that's coming to them...

I just had the horrible displeasure of buying and installing client licenses onto a Windows 2000 Terminal Server.  If you follow the directions literally, you should be able to call the Microsoft Clearinghouse to purchase and install licenses.  But attempts to purchase that way lead to futile, time-consuming run-arounds.  Microsoft's web site is no better.  Eventually you are forced to call a reseller who will tell you that you have to buy Windows 2003 CALs instead.  This is 2005, after all!

So we bought $700 worth of Windows 2003 CALs, at which point you have to call the Microsoft Clearinghouse and read to them a thirty-five digit license server ID and a twenty-five digit CAL pack ID, and explain who you are and what kind of licensing mode is in use.  Then if everything is done correctly, their computer spits out a thirty-five digit code which you type in as the offshore help reads it to you.

By now you can see that there are ninety-five opportunities for typographical errors, plus the permutation of having to downgrade the license from 2003 to 2000.  So predictably, after reading and typing all these numbers and letters not just once but several times and failing to get a successful license installation, I'm referred to Microsoft's technical support.

Now just a moment here while I say something good about Microsoft and give Veritas an elbow to the ribs.  At least with MS I was able to add licenses to a retrograde 2000 installation.  When last fall I called Veritas to add a feature license onto a Backup Exec installation that was only nine months old, and coincidentally one major version behind, I was told that I would have to buy a product upgrade from them first and then buy the option license for the new version.  Now just so we're clear in the implications here, let me remind you that the feature is enabled by a simple serial number sequence.  It's not like they have to supply a tangible package that they are no longer producing or selling.  This is a bold scam of huge proportions that simply begs people to engage in piracy instead.

So back to Microsoft  for even more fun.  Never mind that you just bought $700 worth of their software, they insist that you're not entitled to free technical support if the server isn't dedicated to licensing ONLY.  Apparently they assume that licensing problems on Small Business Servers and the like are due to other software on the system.  I told the support drone that it's no wonder Linux is gaining ground so quickly, and hung up on him.

Incensed and increasingly certain that the Clearinghouse folks merely screwed up (several times), I called them again.  Predictably, the crappy tie-line to heavens-knows-where dropped my call after reading all sixty digits to them phonetically and halfway through them reading back to me what hopefully would have been a working license code.  After my fourth phone call to the Microsoft Clearinghouse, my voice hoarse from well over an hour on the telephone, nerves frazzled and heart pounding, I finally did get a working license code.

Think hard about the cost of ownership (TCO) of software that even an experienced technician must spend so much valuable time just to activate.  It's not worth it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I have one more Information Technology mantra for you.


Read those words, memorize them, and recite them daily.  Next time you are about to make a software purchasing decision, STOP.  Let those words reverberate in your mind.  Call the publisher and find out if their product requires activation or some complicated licensing mechanism or must routinely feed information to some mysterious server on the Internet.  If it does, CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE.


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