As for Microsoft’s customer support? Um… yeah.

No Windows 7 for you!Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook has probably seen my rants throughout the course of the day. But 140 characters at a time are not enough to temper my rage.

As I wrote earlier today, I picked up a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium at Best Buy this morning, and pessimistically (or so I thought) reserved my afternoon for the installation process. If only I had known.

I started installing at around 12:15. First I reformatted my Boot Camp partition and got everything ready to roll. Nice clean install on a new NTFS partition. Everything chugged along for about 45 minutes or so, until I got to the part where I was supposed to enter the product key. Users of Apple products may not be familiar with this concept (although most of us have encountered it with Adobe), but Microsoft ships every copy of every software product it makes with a product key — a registration number — usually 30 characters long, that must be typed in before you can use the software.

I carefully typed in the 30 characters, and clicked the Next button. But nothing happened. Then an alert appeared “The product key is invalid. Please re-type it and try again.” So I did. Three times, in fact. No dice.

I checked the manual, located a support number, and called it at 1:06 PM. Upon being confronted with an automated system, I decided to try online first. I checked the online help, hoping for a live chat option, but was steered back to the same phone number. So I called again at 1:22 PM. I spent the majority of the next 13 minutes on hold, before having to hang up because the connection was too bad. I moved to a better location and called again at 1:51 PM. After waiting on hold for about 6 minutes, the line went completely dead. The call wasn’t disconnected though, so I sat for another 15 minutes before deciding something must have gone wrong. So I hung up and called again at 2:15. I spent the next 54 minutes, mostly on hold, interrupted briefly on several occasions by the same person asking me for the same basic pieces of information and then telling me to please hold again. Eventually I was connected to someone else, who sent me through the same process a few times before giving me a new number to call.

At 3:13 I called the new number. But this wasn’t tech support, it was the activation hotline. And I wasn’t at activation yet. (Entering your product key isn’t enough. After that, the computer has to go online within 30 days to verify that you’re not using a stolen product key… or whatever.) I grumbled a bit, forced the rep to go off script, and eventually got her to give me another number to call.

At 3:18 I called this new number — the Windows 7 Launch Party support hotline. Lord have mercy. Unfortunately, this line did not even offer me the option of waiting on hold for an hour… I had to leave a message and hope something comes of it. Ugh.

All told, I now have 3 1/2 hours of my day invested in this bullshit. Windows 7 is installed on my computer, but I can’t use it. I give Microsoft customer support an F-minus.

I suppose at this point someone might come to Microsoft’s defense, and it’s true that I don’t really know what Apple’s telephone tech support is like, since I haven’t called it in probably at least 8 years. But that’s the point… I would never have to call Apple about something like this because Apple doesn’t use freaking product keys. This is supposed to deter illegal copying of Windows, but all it’s really doing is making Microsoft’s honest customers jump through ridiculous hoops. I went out of my way to be first in line (what line?) to buy the new version of Windows the day it was released. Me! I hate Microsoft (other than the XBOX 360) and I still did this, because I think Windows 7 is a good product… and I am honest.

Heck, I wouldn’t have even had to torrent it to get it for free… I already had an authorized copy of Windows 7 RC installed. I could have ridden that out until June of next year before dropping a penny on the new version of Windows. But I went out and bought it, and now I’ve wasted my afternoon and reaffirmed all of my negative predisposition towards Microsoft… and then some.

Update: Having given up on Microsoft’s tech support, I called the Best Buy at Mall of America, asking if I could exchange my copy of Windows 7 for a new one. I could. And I did. But it still didn’t work. Then @biggsjm came to my rescue on Twitter. I Googled (not Binged) “in-place upgrade” and found this. I still had to infer a few things, but eventually I did the in-place upgrade, and it fixed the problem. No thanks to Microsoft’s tech support.

On the day of Windows 7’s release, Apple reminds me why I’m a loyal customer

Apple Store Mall of AmericaI had a simple objective when I set out for the Mall of America at 9:00 this morning. I was going to go to Best Buy to purchase the Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade along with the new Porcupine Tree CD. Yes, I am a frequent Microsoft basher, but I will admit I do harbor genuine enthusiasm for Windows 7. I think Vista was a joke, but after having tried out Windows 7 RC for the past several months, I was convinced it was (finally) a solid replacement for the ancient Windows XP.

Now, it’s true that the stores at Mall of America officially open at 10 AM, but I’ve learned from previous big product launches earlier this year — Apple’s Snow Leopard release and the Beatles boxed set/Beatles Rock Band extravaganza on 9/9/09 — that when there’s a hot new product out, the stores will often open early. At least half of my interest in heading out to buy Windows 7 this morning was to see whether there would be an enthusiastic crowd queued up outside Best Buy, or milling around inside Best Buy. Would there be huge Windows 7 banners? Would there be a live video feed of Steve Ballmer on all of the HDTVs?

As it turned out, no. Best Buy was still closed, and no one was visibly waiting for it to open. So I figured that as long as I had (probably) an hour, I’d head to Starbucks — which had to be open for all of those mall walkers who were already out in force — and then stop by the Apple Store, to deal with… my problem.

Yes, as I described in excruciating detail, and with photographic evidence, a couple weeks ago, I had a problem with my MacBook: the Mini DisplayPort adapter was… well… jacked up. I had broken the cardinal rule of not using undue pressure to jam a plug into a jack. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Well, I had forced it. And pretty seriously screwed up the adapter plug in the process.

So, as I said, this morning when I found Best Buy deserted, I headed down to the Apple Store. I didn’t have a Genius Bar appointment, but I decided to take my chances. When I entered, I was asked if I had an appointment. I said no, and described my situation. I was told the Genius Bar was booked up until 2:30, but they’d put me on standby, and I should have a seat at the bar. So I did. About 15 minutes later, a “genius” came over to attend to me. I explained the situation, he tried the port himself, and determined that the pin that is supposed to hold the plug in place was bent up. (For some reason, that possibility had not occurred to me — I was convinced all along that the pin was too big.)

He took my MacBook in the back room for a minute to use “dental tools” to straighten the pin, then brought it back out and tried some new adapters in the port — and they worked perfectly. Problem solved. But… there was still the matter of my damaged Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter, which I hadn’t brought with me. No worries, he grabbed a new one off the shelf and gave it to me as a replacement (a $29 value); no need to return the old damaged one. I walked out of the Apple Store 20 minutes after I arrived, with a fixed MacBook and a new replacement adapter. And how much did all of this cost me? Nothing.

Make dubious arguments about Apple’s high prices all you want (though the fact remains that Apple simply isn’t trying to compete in the low end of the market, and other PC manufacturers’ mid-range and high-end computers, comparable in specs to Apple’s, usually cost the same or slightly more), but I challenge you to walk into any other computer store in the land and get that kind of customer service. I didn’t have to buy an extended warranty or a bogus service plan or any other B.S. All I had to do was buy an Apple product in the first place… lifetime Genius Bar support included at no extra charge.

I wonder how the new Microsoft retail store (opening today in Scottsdale, AZ) compares.

Two Americas, close to home

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about how the divide between “red” and “blue” America does not occur at the state level. There are not “red” states and “blue” states. The winner-takes-all distribution of electoral votes (a foolish conceit that, fortunately, has only twice ever resulted in the “wrong” guy getting the job, but unfortunately, one of those was George W. Bush in 2000) belies the fact that the divisions occur on a much smaller level, between urban and rural, or between urban-plus-unionized-industry-towns and suburban-enclaves-and-rural-backwaters. The big mystery to me is still how the Republicans managed to convince the rural backwaters that their interests are being represented. (And lest my prejudices be misconstrued, let’s be clear that I’d prefer living in a rural backwater over a suburban enclave.)

With all of the hoopla over Michele Bachmann in the last few days — mainly in the form of the rest of the country realizing what a lunatic she is, even though most of us here in Minnesota (except in her own district, apparently) already knew it — I’ve been thinking more about these strange divisions.

Among the anti-Obama rumors spread since he announced his candidacy was the claim that he had taken his oath of office on the Qur’an. Not true. Never mind how problematic it is that such a fact would be considered outrageous; it’s in line with McCain cluelessly retorting to the woman (also in Minnesota, what the hell’s going on around here?) who claimed Obama was an Arab (how’s that again?) that, no, he is in fact a decent family man. Islam itself is not a pejorative. The fact of the Qur’an matter is that the congressman who took his oath on that book is none other than Keith Ellison, my congressional representative, from Minnesota’s Fifth District. Yes, the district directly adjacent to Michele Bachmann’s Sixth District.

That people’s values and sensibilities could be so segregated, based as far as I can tell upon little beyond population density, to create a situation where one (highly urban) district elects the nation’s first Muslim representative to the House, on the very same day that an adjacent (mostly suburban) district would elect the ultimate ignorant xenophobe, leaves me so flummoxed that I can’t find my way to the end of this sentence. Elbridge Gerry himself could not have drawn so convoluted a map dividing red from blue.

Needless to say, I consider Michele Bachmann an embarrassment to Minnesota. So even though I’m not in that district, I’m supporting Elwyn Tinklenberg, and I would encourage anyone who can afford to do so to make a contribution to his campaign, regardless of where you live. Besides the fact that he has a friggin’ awesome name (and a decent sense of humor — check out the videos on his site), he’s a good Democrat committed bringing sanity back to the Sixth.

Drive slowly! Children playing

I believe that’s the correct translation from Swedish. Lekande Barn is also a new compilation CD I’ve just produced featuring the music of Bassius-O-Phelius, an improvisatory music duo I participated in with Mark Bergen from 1994 to 1997. Our first album was entitled Swedish Children at Play, so when it came time to title this compilation, it was a no-brainer. (Well, OK, it did take the brain power of tracking down the Swedish translation of “Children at Play” and locate a photo of a sign bearing that message.)

I’ve remastered 14 of our old tracks through the wonders of modern technology. It’s truly amazing how far things have advanced in the last decade, because I don’t really consider 1998 to be that long ago. (I was already married and working as a professional web designer, for crying out loud!) You can listen to the entire album via a streaming playlist, or buy your own copy on CD, by visiting the Bassius-O-Phelius page.

Speechless? Obviously not.

I’ve been on a big Ubuntu kick lately. Ubuntu is the Linux distribution (derived from Debian) that is finally within sight of the elusive goal of producing a “desktop Linux for the masses” as they say. The latest version just came out last week. I’m so impressed with it that it’s distracted me significantly from the upcoming release of the next version Mac OS X. (OK, I do still remember that it’s coming up this Friday, and yes I probably will be queuing up outside the Apple Store this Friday.)

Anyway, I’ve also spent a lot of time reading everything I can pertaining to the new Ubuntu release, including, with great relish, articles wherein longtime Windows users profess their star-crossed love for this newest Linux release. Often the comments are as interesting (or more) than the article itself. Such was the case with this article from the UK branch of ZDNet. A comment there was so funny that I feel I must simply share it here in its entirety:

Microsoft’s now promoting Vista with a campaign called “100 reasons why everyone’s so speechless”.

I looked. #23 is “Because it’s like a digital candy store.”

Puh-leeze. Bring up the Adept Manager in Ubuntu. Now _that’s_ a digital candy store. Over 20000 applications for doing almost anything you can imagine, and quite a few things you can’t. Running Vista is like being in a candy store that only sells black liquorice (I _hate_ black liquorice) at exorbitant prices. Oh, and you’re only allowed to eat the candy in the store. Plus each individual piece is really small and is wrapped in seven layers of cellophane, and the store won’t let you throw the wrappers away. You have to take them with you and throw them away at home. Plus they set off a grenade in the chocolate store across the street in the middle of the night and mugged the proprietors of the penny candy stand. Oh, and Microsoft are the ones behind the urban legend that red M&Ms cause cancer. That’s the kind of candy store Vista is.

The Microsoft page in question, 100 Reasons You’ll Be Speechless, is pretty ridiculous. I have yet to encounter in my day-to-day life a single person who has even acknowledged using Vista, much less anyone who’s actually impressed with it. But as I perused the first dozen or so “reasons,” I could find nothing that isn’t already more-or-less present in Mac OS X, Ubuntu, or some readily available specialty device (like AppleTV) that interfaces easily with one or both of those OSes. And I won’t even get started on the usual litany of complaints about Windows. But the “100 Reasons” probably still makes for an entertaining read… if you’re really desperate for entertainment. (Then again, you probably have plenty of other, superior sources of entertainment at your disposal at this very moment, so why not choose them instead?)