Saturday, July 24, 2010

Windows 7 Upgrade (so far)

A few weeks ago my wife's Lenovo laptop caught a really nasty virus. Symantec antivirus couldn't clean it up. But I had recovery media (although it was Vista instead of XP), so I used Knoppix to low-level the HD and flashed an updated BIOS (I've had previous experience with viruses that could be stopped via nothing less). Unfortunately the restore media didn't would boot up, think a while, and the reboot. I also tried a XP install using an old XP disk I had laying around, but the XP installer doesn't get along with the new SATA controller in the laptop, so it BSODs. Working around this problem seems to require creating a special driver disk, which seems to require Windows, which creates a problem because all I have are Leopard (about 2 crashes in almost 3 years, a no viruses, versus what seems like a plague on my wife's laptop every 6 months), and Knoppix. So, being a person who value's his time more than his money, I went out and bought a Windows 7 Professional upgrade. All the Microsoft related blogs assured me this would work, and indeed I have a working install the went almost a smooth as butter. The "almost" is the activation process. I have yet to successfully activate. Going into this my assumption was I would have to call Microsoft in order to activate. What I didn't realize is that their human systems don't seem any smarter than their automated systems. So first I called the phone number that Microsoft's support website told me to call. Several layers deep this told me to call a special activation line. I want to commend Microsoft at this point for avoiding such advanced technology as call transfers. You really can't trust technology that's decades old. It's better to let people transfer themselves. So I call the line, and speak to a very friendly automated system. It's asking me for my "installation id," but there isn't one. There isn't one because the computer is connected to the internet, and some genius decided that if one has the internet one would never use the phone system, which would normally be true if some brilliant licensing policy maker hadn't decided that the only way to activate a "clean install" is via the phone system. Anyway, the nice automated system transfers me to a human being. Guess what the human asks me for? An installation id. I tell him I don't have one. I read the various things on my screen to him. He then asks if I am connected to the internet. I say yes. He tells me to disconnect. I disconnect and start over, ultimately ending up in the same place with no installation ID. The support person gives up and tells me I have a deep technical problem, which will require technical support, not activation support (I'm now imaging myself setting up a conference call with tech support, activation support, and the nice automated system lady). Tech support is of course only a US working hours affair, not a Saturday evening affair. It turns out the automated support guy just wasn't persistent enough. After hanging up, I reboot the computer and try again without internet. It appears to get me to the same place, except when I hit the magic "next" button, instead of receiving a message telling me that my product key is not valid, I receive an installation ID and am told to call the activation line (which is a 3rd phone number, but gets me to the same place as the first). I want to take a moment to point out some huge flaws here:

  1. The automated system just assumed I would have an installation ID, and had no explanation of how I was supposed to obtain one or why I might not see one, while the activation software is explicitly designed to not provide one to someone connected to the internet
  2. The human being had a vague idea that being connected to the internet was a problem, although he didn't realize it until repeating his requests half a dozen times, and even though he had a vague idea how to induce Windows 7 into providing one, he didn't actually know and gave up quickly
  3. About 2 minutes would of poking after 30 minutes of bouncing around on the phone rewarded me with an installation id
Ok, so let's try again. This time I provide the installation id to the automated system, and the automated system informs me that it is invalid, and sends me to another human being. After 5 or 10 minutes the human being informs me that I need to have a Microsoft OS already installed in order to use an upgrade, and that I cannot use a clean install. He says it is impossible that Windows XP would refuse to install, and thinks it's completely reasonable that I would install one OS just to install another. I rant at him for a few minutes about how my product packaging says nothing about not being able to do a clean install (in fact, it's the only way to upgrade from XP according to the included instructions, although maybe it does some magic if the installer reformats the HD instead of the user already doing it). Anyway, I explain this all to him while trying to remain calm. He puts me on hold. Then when he comes back he tells me that he gave me wrong information because a server is down, and that I need to call back in 30 minutes when the server is up. So I did that. This time after I read my installation ID to the support person, which he told me was invalid. He told me to exit activation and enter my product key again. I dutifully did this, then he put me on hold while he waited for my product key to come up. This of course would never happen, because I wasn't connected to the internet, and it fact cannot obtain an installation id when connected to the internet. After a few minutes on hold, I was transfered to Microsoft technical support, which of course was closed. So let's recap so far:
  1. None of the Microsoft activation people or systems know what you need to do in order to obtain an installation id, all of them expect you to just have one
  2. In order to obtain an installation id, as far as I can tell you can't be connected to the internet (certain options only appear if you are not connected)
  3. Some support people seem to assume that you are connected to the internet, even though the information they request will never come up if you are not connected to the internet
  4. Support people will transfer you to a line that will not answer without even telling you that you are being transfered
  5. That line seems to only be open during US business hours, which would mean they seem to assume that either you professionally support Microsoft products or are unemployed.
If I can't make this work tomorrow, I think I'm going to obtain an updated version of MS Office for my Mac and give it to my wife, then just install Ubuntu on her laptop.

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Trond said...

Sucks! You could try and get hold of a Windows XP OEM-LENOVO CD. They are pre-activated, and remain activated if hardware is verified. That is, unless there's something funky with your BIOS update. :)

Erik Engbrecht said...

I already tried to Lenovo support route once but I suppose I'll probably have to try again. This is crazy because for the amount of time I've spent on this problem I could have just bought a new computer. I have a feeling the laptop is destined to run Ubuntu and my credit card company is destined to receive a fraud claim.

Anonymous said...

Please learn to use paragraphs to make your article readable. It looks interesting, shame I couldn't read it.

Erik Engbrecht said...

Hmmm...hadn't noticed that. I actually put separations in when I wrote it, although it's more of a rant than an article so I can't say I was particularly concerned.

Anonymous said...

Trying to "clean" viruses in the year 2010 is a waste of time. You have to restore a backup image or reinstall the OS. Today's viruses steal credit card information and do other really dangerous things, so you need confidence that no backdoors were left behind. There is no antivirus software that can credibly claim to remove every last trace of a modern virus/worm/whatever.

Erik Engbrecht said...

Hence the low-level format from a Knoppix LiveCD...