Compaq DOA, Microsoft NT setup cruel and unusual punishment
Thursday, August 26, 1999 by Dave Winer.
Last Tuesday it was time to buy a new desktop computer. If you want to stay on the leading edge these days, as I do, you have to buy a new computer every six months or so. There's been a steady climb in price-performance, and when much of your software is implemented in an interpretive scripting language, as mine is, every performance boost makes new wonderful synergies possible.
Unfortunately this has meant that I have had to become a frequent customer of PC clone vendors, and a frequent installer of Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. It might just be my hardware karma, which has always been bad (I'm a software guy) or it might be that the industry is incapable of dealing with customers on a professional level, and that Microsoft's operating system suffers from a lack of attention to ease of use. It's a withering experience, as the title of this story indicates.
Anyway, after some horrible struggles with Dell that lead to outages both in productivity and service to my customers, I vowed I would never buy another Dell product again, which left me searching for a PC vendor who deserved my business, so I tried Compaq.
After entering my order on their online store website, they called two days later saying that my credit card had been declined. This was embarassing! I read the numbers off the card over the phone and the guy resubmitted it, and it went thru (I have good credit and a high charging limit).
Afterwards, I asked how this had gotten screwed up, and he said that his computer printout was missing four digits from my credit card number. That's clearly their problem. I almost certainly entered the numbers correctly. I have a lot of experience doing this! And I would be surprised (and they should be ashamed) if their online ordering software accepts incorrectly formatted credit card numbers.
I asked if this would change the arrival date of the computer, since this was one of my criteria for selecting Compaq. I wanted the computer to arrive before I left for the O'Reilly Conference, not while I was at the conference. The representative (who was not a Compaq employee) said it would be delayed until Thursday or Friday of the following week, and there was nothing he could do about it. As it turns out this was a lie. Later in the conversation he said he would pay for shipping and get it to me on Tuesday. I hate being lied to, there's nothing more humiliating, especially when I'm a customer.
The Compaq arrived Wednesday morning a couple of days late, and I happily cleared off the desk space for it and started the install, but it tripped up when it started to install Windows NT networking. It would loop over a dialog saying certain files were missing on the hard drive, it asked me to click on OK, but when I clicked on OK it just brought the dialog back up again.
So I called Compaq. We spent 1.5 hours wasting time because the service tech didn't listen to me explain what was going on. Another 1.5 hours later my wireless phone ran out of batteries and we got disconnected and I had to start over with another tech.
We pulled the networking card and did the setup and this time NT completed the install. We waited while NT restarted no less than six times during the setup, each time getting slightly closer to a running system. I watched it reboot twice to install IE4, all the time realizing this was a total waste because I run IE5, not IE4.
Finally the system was up, but there was no networking. We went to Compaq's FTP site and downloaded a 7 megabyte file, which doesn't fit onto a floppy of course, so I had to do a makedisk and move it across to the other machine. Choose Properties from Network Neighborhood, yes I have the disk, install, bad disk, go back and make another disk, try again, it installs, but still no network.
Basically the machine doesn't network, and without that it's completely useless to me. The next step was to escalate it, to have a service tech come to my workplace and fart around with the system, but I decided instead to say goodbye to Compaq and their misery. I called my credit card company and cancelled payment.
I lost the best part of a day on this bullshit. I wonder if Bill Gates and Ben Rosen have the time to screw around at this level. My time is valuable. I have a life I like. In this exploration I had to open the box three times and do things that I swore I never would do. This is a ridiculous way to run an industry. I paid good money for this stuff. They clearly have no respect for that.
I have two complaints, one for Compaq, who can't take an order and can't deliver hardware that works.
My second larger complaint is with Microsoft. I finally figured out that they don't produce an operating system that a mortal human being can set up. I have some advice for Microsoft. Every executive should buy a machine for themselves, from one of the clone vendors, and struggle thru the process their customers have to go thru. They're horribly vulnerable. Compared to this process, setting up Linux was a breeze. If they really want to be humbled, go buy a Mac. Turn the mother on, click on a few control panels, and you're on the net.
Where do I want to go today? I want to be able to spend $2000 and get a computer that works! None of the clone vendors can do this. They all point the finger back at Microsoft. I think they're right.
I always forget how humiliating the NT setup process is. I always fail to write it up. I wanted to do this now, while the experience is totally fresh, so I won't forget.
I just bought a new car. They took care of the whole installation. It was ready to drive the instant I gave them the check. Any car vendor that made me go thru this kind of hell would be out of business in an instant. It will be that way with computers.
Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, check this out. You have less to fear from Sun, Netscape or AOL. Your worst enemy is in the corridors of Redmond. Go set up one of your own boxes. Do it all yourself. Your eyes will open.
PPPS: Windows NT Workstation is a fine operating system once you get it set up. It does what an OS is supposed to do, it fades into the background, and I can focus on my work, which is why I use computers. I don't find the boxes interesting, at all. If the box could shrink further, and become nicer to look at, and more closed, I would be quite happy. When they said I had to open the box I said "This is unfair!" And I meant it.