I'm about to give you some advice that you should thank me for immensely. Nonetheless, you'll never know how much you are in my debt because, by following my advice, you will avoid a colossal nuisance and never learn just how frustrating it can be. But trust me; you owe me big time for this.
Here it is: If you ever have a problem with a piece of Microsoft software, but you can live with the problem, do so, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Do not, I repeat, do not under any circumstances try to resolve it. In particular, no matter how tempting it might be, never, never, never call the Microsoft helpline about it. Life is way, way, way too short for that.
One hour, 48 minutes, and 37 seconds: That's how long I had been on the call with Microsoft support. The call ended only because I insisted on giving up, not because the problem had been resolved. Microsoft wanted to continue, but I said no. I was not going to sit on hold one minute longer listening to an unbearable voice telling me every 30 seconds what's new on MSN.
Now that I've got that rant off my chest, let me back up and explain how this came about. A little while ago, I upgraded to Microsoft Office 2003. Why did I upgrade when every fiber of my being cries out to avoid upgrading software or hardware unless I absolutely have to? I recently installed Microsoft OneNote--a great product if your job involves a lot of note-taking and idea creation. Unfortunately, there are some nifty integration features that work only if you use Office 2003, not Office XP, my previous version. That's clever on Microsoft's part, wouldn't you say? They couldn't think of any other way to sucker me into upgrading, so they came up with some cool software that I can get full value from only by installing the latest version of Office. I guess that's why Bill Gates is always at the top of the richest people lists and I'd only get on if they published a list of the six billion richest.
Everything worked well, and I was happy, but one day I wanted to scan a document into Word. When I tried to do it, I found out that the Microsoft Office Document Scanning tool was not installed. Word, Office, Windows, or some other piece of software was intelligent enough to try to install it automatically, but when it did, rather than installing the scanning tool, it closed down Word and generated an error, error 2715 to be exact.
I have other ways to scan the document, but I tend to become obsessed with solving the problem when I run into stuff like this. It's part of my sickness.
Before calling Microsoft, I attempted a few things on my own, such as trying to manually install the missing feature from the Office CD. Nothing worked. I kept getting error 2715--nothing more, just "error 2715." There wasn't a message saying, "Here's what the problem is, and here's how to fix it." Just "error 2715."
The number 2715 was not the least bit meaningful to me, other than the fact that if you add 27 plus 15 you get 42 which, as we all know, is the answer to the riddle of the universe. (If you don't know that 42 is the answer to the riddle of the universe, I recommend that you read the late Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy series.) That should have been an omen to me, but I didn't see it at the time.
Even if 2715 didn't mean anything to me, I was certain that it would mean something to the support staff at Microsoft. They have comprehensive, high-speed databases that can tell them in an instant what any error number means and how to resolve the issue. Oh yeah? Guess again.
First, I had to find the Microsoft support telephone number. It's not in the printed Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 upgrade documentation (a booklet of 48 smaller-than-normal pages, seven of which are blank and two of which contain just legal notices and a table of contents). To find the number, I had to hunt through several pages on Microsoft's Web site.
Much to my amazement, when I called the support line, a real, live human being answered very quickly. (In retrospect, maybe I'm the only person who has ever actually found the number. A fast response was probably the prize for that little, unannounced contest.) I thought, "Wow, Microsoft isn't so bad after all." I should have known better.
The first support person collected identifying information and asked me about the problem. I described it in detail. She took that down along with information about which version of Office and Windows I was using. Then, to verify that I hadn't pirated the software, she asked me for a number that is "printed" on the Office disk. Don't be fooled. This is not really a test to foil software pirates. It's a test to weed out people with anything less than 20/20 vision and a ready magnifying glass. The number is not actually printed. It's etched into the inner ring of the disk. Have you ever tried to read a number etched into clear plastic in what I am guessing is about a one- or two-point font? Some particularly nefarious fiends must have spent years hatching this scheme.
The sadism does not stop there. When I finally spotted what I thought must be the number, after straining my eyes to the point of getting a massive headache, I realized that it was not just the number's smallness or lack of ink that made it difficult to read. It appeared inverted. In fact, the number was not etched on the labeled side of the disk, where you would expect it to be, but on the reverse. I flipped the disk over, put on my high-powered reading glasses and was finally able to prove that I am not a software thief. Isn't it nice to find out how much Microsoft trusts and respects its customers?
OK, now I was getting somewhere. How do I know that I was getting somewhere? The support person gave me a 15-character, alphanumeric case identifier. Finally, I was a number in their system. As you can imagine, that gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over.
Did this support person actually do anything to solve my problem? Oh yes, absolutely. She transferred me to somebody else.
I sat on hold for a while. Then I got another person who, after asking me to describe the problem that I had just described in detail to the previous person (isn't the information age wonderful?), had me to do all of the things that I'd already tried doing on my own. And, wonders of wonders, my computer responded with error 2715.
The support person then put me on hold while she conferred with someone else. Why she couldn't have just assumed that I was telling the truth about the problem and started off by conferring with someone else is beyond me, but never mind, now I really and truly was getting somewhere. A team was assembled with the sole purpose of solving my problem. I felt good. I felt confident. This was Microsoft, one of the largest companies on the planet. Surely, they'd find a solution to my trivial problem. So, what's the solution that they came up with after putting their heads together and keeping me on hold for a long while? "It sounds like a Word problem. Let me transfer you to someone in that group." Gee, thanks.
What's the first thing (after asking me to describe the problem a third time, of course) that the Word support person asked me to do? I'll give you a moment to think about it. OK, time's up. She asked me to do the same thing that I had just finished trying unsuccessfully to do with the previous support person, which was the same thing that I had tried unsuccessfully to do on my own before speaking to any of them. And--the surprises just keep on coming--I got yet another error 2715.
"So let me just confirm," the support person said. "You're getting error 2751."
"No," I said, trying without complete success to remain calm, "I'm still getting 2715; not 2751. I've always been getting 2715. If it says anything else on your system, it's wrong."
"Right," she said, "2751."
After a couple of iterations of this conversation, she finally got it right.
"OK, there's probably a corrupt file," she said, "Let's try uninstalling Office tools (some tools other than document scanning were already installed on my computer) and then reinstall them."
I successfully uninstalled the Office tools, but when I tried to reinstall them I got...wait for it...the dreaded error 2715. Now, I have fewer Office tools installed than when I began this little exercise in futility.
Next, the support person had me start up my computer in safe mode. Safe mode is a wonderful invention that allows you start up Windows without running a lot of the background processes that can cause problems. Sorry, there are no points for guessing one of the things that can't run in safe mode, at least not on my computer. That's right. Office installer refused to run.
The support person then put me on hold for several minutes while she discussed the problem with her boss. When she came back on the line, she had the ultimate solution. She wanted to transfer me to someone else. Oh yes, I remember this belief system from my program debugging days. "Just one more run, and it's going to work." Yeah, right.
That's when I looked at the timer on my telephone and saw that one hour, 48 minutes, and 37 seconds had elapsed. I very politely called it quits. "No, I will not sit on hold while you transfer me to somebody else. If they have a fix, they can call me or email me."
So there you have it. After one hour, 48 minutes, and 37 seconds, I have less working software on my computer than I had when I started. Feel free to thank me now. By the way, does anyone know where I can get a really good deal on a Mac?