1. Computing

Technical Help That Really Is Helpful!

Score one for Microsoft

By

Tech Support Hero

Tech Support Hero

Tech Support Hero

I recently had to ask for some official help from Microsoft technical support for what I initially thought was a bug in the new Visual Studio 2005. My experience was pretty positive! (I give a lot of the credit to the tech assigned to my case, Keith Fink. Keith confirmed that it would be OK to use his name and I certainly think he deserves some recognition.)

The thought occurred to me that a review of my experience with Microsoft's tech support might be worthwhile too. Their support options can be pretty expensive. (Their professional support "list price" is $245 per incident for phone support.) My experience is not necessarily representative of the kind of support you will get. But reviewers of hotels and restaurants have the same problem. All we can do is tell you how it was for us and make some educated guesses about the kind of support you'll get.

Anyway ... here's what happened to me.

Without warning (I still don't know exactly what changed to create the problem.) forms in Visual Studio stopped being displayed when a Visual Basic solution EXE file was opened. Since I was up against publisher deadlines at the time, I decided to use one of my precious official professional support calls and get help.

A little background is in order here ....

First, Microsoft comes under fire because they're often hard to actually communicate with. I've felt like I was ignored and patronized myself in the past.

For example, I've complained here in this space about how they're forcing their (formerly?) loyal base of VB 6 programmers to upgrade to .NET whether they like it or not, all the while issuing self serving announcements that they're not actually doing that. (See my blog VB 6 Programmers Are Revolting!, my article Do you think Microsoft should continue to support VB 6?, or my blog VBRun - A New Microsoft Support Resource for VB 6.)

Tech support is a huge burden for most companies, however. All you have to do is browse the tech support newsgroups (Microsoft has over a hundred of 'em) and you quickly realize that most people hardly know how to even ask the right questions. The mix of different computers, different software, different skill levels, and unknown conditions (Was a lightning storm going on when the problem was seen?) make it almost impossible for even really sharp tech support to zero in on most problems. A really good tech support person has a lot of knowledge and training and is a valuable asset who can probably command a pretty good salary. Microsoft (and other companies) do a lot to 'protect' that type of talent from the sort of question for which the answer is, "Try plugging it in." It's a real challenge for a company to provide the essential and high quality tech support that some people need, while at the same time not going bankrupt telling other people where the "any key" is.

To respond to this need, Microsoft is taking advantage of the fact that there really are a lot of Microsoft groupies out there who are ready, willing, and often pretty able to help other people. Some of them are the same high-dollar tech support people that you might talk to on the phone but most are what Microsoft calls MVP's. Microsoft creates the newsgroups and web sites that make it possible for people to communicate and also selects the people for the program, but it's basically volunteer, unpaid, peer-to-peer support from other programmers. There's a really good page about MVP's at this link. Newsgroups are a great place to ask everyday questions about Visual Basic!

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