The Microsoft “no help” forums

Back in the early days of desktop computing, when WordPerfect was still the king of the hill in word processing, they had a Customer Support number. You’d call up, get in queue, and listen to a real-live “hold jockey” spin tunes, provide information about the software, tell you where you were in line, about how long it would take for your turn to come up, and then connect you to a helpful, qualified, American technician who would help you solve your problem. It was almost like being able to say “shibboleet.”

But ever since the early days of Microsoft, and I’ve been there since the beginning, getting any real help from them has been an exercise in futility. There’s an old, old joke about Microsoft’s technical support, and it goes like this:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications qquipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.”

Sadly, things have gone downhill from there. These days, responses are not even technically correct. Some time ago we “upgraded” to Windows 10 – and those scare quotes are there for a reason – and my wife lost her old suite of games that used to come standard with the operating system, like Solitaire.

Here’s an example taken from a real live Microsoft Community page; I came across this issue today when I had the same question and was looking for help. Of course, it should be noted in passing that to ask questions or provide responses on any of these fora you need a Microsoft account.

The question posted was:

SOLITAIRE ON WIN10 – HOW TO GET RID OF XBOX SIGN-IN

I’ve downloaded Microsoft Solitaire Collection for Windows 10.

When I want to play a game, it presents me with a sign-in screen for xbox live.

I don’t want to sign in to xbox Live and have to go through several steps to get rid of the login screen and play as a guest every time I select Solitaire. How can I get it to stop asking me to sign in?


And here is the “featured response” from Microsoft Representative 
Syed Abdul Jabbar:

Hi [Name],

Thank you for posting the query on Microsoft Community. I am sorry to know that you are facing issues with Windows 10. Do not worry, will assist you with the issue.

If you’re looking for help with audiovideo and hardware driver issues while playing a game on Windows 10, you’re in the right place. 

For anything gaming or Xbox related, head over to the Xbox Forums& they’ll take care of you.

In future, if you have any issues related to Windows, do get back to us. We will be happy to assist you.

By the desiccated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, it’s like the responder (who supposedly represents Microsoft):

a) didn’t even bother to read the question, or
b) doesn’t speak English, or
c) is a bot, or
d) all of the above.

Many of the frustrated follow-up comments point out just how useless this response is, and my experience of Microsoft Community answers is almost uniformly like this. Either the answer is painfully useless, or the solution offered is so complex as to be incomprehensible by the average computer user. If I were the CEO of Microsoft I would be mortified to my very bones if I allowed this to be my customers’ experience. There is only one possible explanation:

Microsoft doesn’t care.

And they haven’t cared since day 1. They’re the biggest shark in the pond, and even though Windows’ market share has declined over the last 5 years from roughly 91% to 88%, they pretty much have the world by the short hairs and they know it, so there’s no sense in expending any resources on helping their customers have a useful, satisfactory experience with their product.

That’s not to say that there isn’t help on the internet – you’re just much less likely to find the answer you’re looking for on a Microsoft forum than in other places. As it turns out, in this case there’s no way to use the Microsoft Solitare Game Pack without an XBox Live gamertag, and the only solution is to head for the app store and find a free app that does the trick. Sadly, most free applications include ads, but at least I can avoid the ones that push you to make in-app purchases.

I think Microsoft made a bad move when they stopped including Solitaire, Minesweeper, and other games as integral parts of the operating system. As we’ve all seen, that’s hardly the only bad move they’ve made – think Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows Vista, and others – but I can’t ever envision a time when they ever start paying the price for their insouciance.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Microsoft, stop resetting my program defaults in Windows 10.

reset

Dear Microsoft,

  • I don’t give a rat’s south-40 whether or not an app caused a problem. Handle it with an error message, if you must. Or a recommendation.
  • I’ve been to “program defaults” and I have specified what program I want to handle given file types.
  • You have NO RIGHT to change those back just because you want me to use your own (often substandard) applications.
  • Stop doing this. I configure my computer to my own needs, not yours. This is beyond ignorant, beyond arrogant, beyond anything reasonable or normal. It is stupid and maddening. Just STOP IT.

cactus

No love,

The Old Wolf

Dear Microsoft, are you *trying* to piss of your user base?

Really, this is beyond stupid.

Example 1:

chrome

Google Chrome? Really? Is it not enough that the entire world knows that IE and Edge are the most execrable browsers around, now you have to block Chrome in Windows 10 every time it launches?

How hard would it be to do something like this?

chrome2

How screeching hard would it be? Unless someone with a brain the size of a walnut and the ethics of a honey badger sitting in some conference room somewhere said, “No, let’s make it as hard as possible for people to use competing products.” Oh wait, Microsoft would never do something like that.

Microsoft initially tried to eliminate the threat non-Microsoft browsers posed to the applications barrier to entry by attempting to bribe, and later threatening, Netscape into giving up its core Window 95 web-browsing business. Had Netscape accepted Microsoft’s market-division proposal, Microsoft would have succeeded in killing the browser threat in its infancy and likely would have acquired a monopoly over browsers. (US Department of Justice, U.S. v. Microsoft)

The only option is to modify your global security settings, which is generally a crappy option. There are reasons why this security warning is in place, and it can protect your machine from malicious things, so that’s a poor solution.

account-control

Example 2:

A popup I get when I try to run older software that used to work well in Win7 (these examples are for msiexec.exe, but the name changes depending on the program selected):

msiexec_exe_trojan

Again, Microsoft: would it have killed you to put something like this in your code?

msiexec_exe_trojan-2

This solution would be so simple, and yet in its absence, the solution is terribly complex and ultimately unsatisfactory. Microsoft support websites are typically run by people in other countries whose first language is not English, who have poor understanding of the questions asked, and who provide generally useless information.

Given these frustrations with Win10, I find this old gag somehow more relevant than ever.

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.
2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.
3. Occasionally, executing a manoeuver such as a left-turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, and you would have to reinstall the engine.
4. When your car died on the freeway for no reason, you would just accept this, restart and drive on.
5. Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought ‘Car95’ or ‘CarNT’, and then added more seats.
6. Apple would make a car powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five per cent of the roads.
7. Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single ‘general car default’ warning light.
8. New seats would force every-one to have the same size butt.
9. The airbag would say ‘Are you sure?’ before going off.
10. Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed the radio antenna.
11. GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of road maps from Rand-McNally (a subsidiary of GM), even though they neither need them nor want them. Trying to delete this option would immediately cause the car’s performance to diminish by 50 per cent or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Department.
12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
13. You would press the ‘start’ button to shut off the engine.

Oh yeah, and all the owner manuals would be written in Danish.

Yarg. old_wolf_angry

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Why are Windows updates so bloody slow?

I wondered the same thing yesterday, as Windows chose a very inopportune time to shut my system down, do it’s thing, restart, do it’s thing, and finally re-boot. There were 17 updates waiting to install, and over 24,000 registry entries to be updated. The whole process took about half an hour.

Doing a little poking around, I found a very interesting take on the situation at the Microsoft community. I thought I’d post it here, as a lot of people don’t visit these tech fora.


From user xp.client; this was written in 2012, but the situation does not seem to have improved much since then.

Okay maybe some background on the root of the problem would help. Windows XP used a fast and great mechanism called Hotfix Installer (Update.exe) to install updates. Updates installed in very little time (if you want to even reduce update time on XP, temporarily stop the System Restore service) and updates will install at crazy speeds because it doesn’t waste time creating a restore point for every update. Hotfix installer works by simply installing a new version of files to be updated at C:\Windows\system32 and C:\Windows\system32\dllcache (the Windows File Protection cache). This is File Based Servicing. The hotfix installer (Update.exe) also supported various command line switches like /nobackup which means not to backup files it patches as you won’t be uninstalling any updates and would save disk space by not backing files up. It also supported the ability to slipstream a service pack or update into the original XP setup files using the /s switch.

When Microsoft was developing Windows Vista, they realized that components had gotten too many interdepencies on each other and to service/patch each file reliably without breaking another component that relied on it, Microsoft introduced what they called as Component Based Servicing (CBS) (read all about it in The Servicing Guy’s blog: http://blogs.technet.com/b/joscon/). What it does basically is it installs the entire OS’s all files including all languages and all drivers shipped with the OS into C:\Windows\WinSxS and then it hard links files from there to C:\Windows\system32. Whenever an update is installed, it no longer installs it to C:\Windows\system32 and C:\Windows\system32\dllcache like XP’s hotfix installer (Update.exe) did. Instead, it updates the files in C:\Windows\WinSxS. Now WinSxS can contain multiple copies of the same file if it is used by more than 1 Windows component. The higher the number of components, that many number of times the file exists in C:\Windows\WinSxS.

When a Vista or Windows 7 update (.MSU) is installed, the components get updated, each and every one, instead of files and the worst part is it still maintains the older backup of the previous versions of components. It does not give the user to not backup the earlier versions like XP’s /nobackup switch. As as you install more and more updates on your system, they will take more and more disk space. The very reason Windows 7 is bloated and updates take so long is because of this servicing mechanism it uses (Component Based Servicing).

Microsoft’s ingenious “solution” to this problem of ever growing disk space is that they tell you to install fewer updates to keep the size of the servicing store under control. Of course, one can’t deny installing security updates and leave their system open to security holes so the cost of fixing bugs by installing hotfixes comes at the price of enormous amounts of disk space. The whole servicing stack is more of a downgrade to XP’s update.exe method. It causes slow logoff and slow logon (Please wait while Windows configures NONSENSE), heavy disk thrashing upon logon and logoff when updates are installed and systems being unable to boot because of failed updates. Another huge issue it introduced is the inability to do a true slipstream of service packs and hotfixes.

The time Windows 7/Vista take to install hotfixes compared to Windows XP is completely unacceptable. First it is searching for whether the update applies to your system for a long time. Then that post-installation process (“Configuring updates… Do not turn off your computer”) that takes several minutes before shut down followed by a second post-installation process (configuration) upon restart before logon that also takes also several minutes and thrashes the disk. The solution is to stay with Windows XP. I can install service pack 3 on my XP is about 10 minutes after downloading it. I can also install a slipstreamed with SP3 and all updates copy of XP is about 30 minutes on a modern fast PC. If you have to use Windows 7 or Vista, you will have to be stuck with this slow update non-sense as Microsoft does not even acknowledge that there is any slowdown or loss of functionality.

The fact remains: MSU updates are slow as **** and take too much time and as Windows 7 gets older and MS stops producing service packs, a clean install is going to take longer and longer to bring it up-to-date with all patches installed. Take the case of Vista today. First you have to install Windows Vista, then SP1 which takes about 60-70 minutes, then SP2 and then install all the dozens of post-SP2 SLOW UPDATES. It’s not worth wasting your time on an OS whose servicing mechanism Microsoft completely screwed up. I recommend you read more about the servicing and how it works at The Servicing Guy’s blog:http://blogs.technet.com/b/joscon/

Microsoft’s response to this is vague – they simply state “Windows 7’s servicing is more reliable than Windows XP” but they cannot acknowledge it is a million times slower and still unreliable… slow to the point of being unusable and sometimes leaving systems in an unbootable damaged state. Of course they know all this too but can’t admit it since it makes their latest OSes look poor. Moving from a very simple and fast update mechanism that worked to a complex one that requires endless “configuring” and repair  is a product engineering defect.

Take a look at servicing-related complaints in Microsoft’s own forums:

1. Very slow install of updates to Windows 7
2. Windows 7 – Updates are very slow
3. Windows 7 Ultimate, it takes long time configuring updates
4. “Preparing To Configure Windows. Please Do Not Turn Off Your Computer”
5. Very slow update install at shutdown (Windows 7 Home Premium)
6. Why does my computer run so slow when installing updates?
7. Every time the computer is shut down, it always says installing update do not turn off your computer
8. Computer is working slow and wants to do windows updates all the time
9. Windows 7 Update install time taking a very long time
10. Windows wants to install 6 updates every time I log off or put the computer in sleep mode
11. Problem In Configuring Windows Updates at the time of Startup
12. Computer really slow after latest updates
13. Windows hangs up in “configuring updates”
14. Why can’t windows 7 install updates?
15. Every time computer is shut down, receive Installing updates, do not shut off….
16. How long does it take for the Windows 7 Home Premium updates take?
17. Windows 7 “Installing Update 2 of 2” for 12 hours now
18. Updates causes endless reboots
19. Updates stuck installing for over 24 hrs. Computer does not boot
20. Cannot load Windows 7 after installing 2 critical updates


Not really a lot that can be done about this, but at least it’s good to know what the root of the problem is, and that it’s not just my system.

The Old Wolf has spoken