What’s Wrong with Computers

This weekend was an object lesson in why computers are still such an unbelievable pain in the neck.

It all started when I installed Windows Vista on my very new Gateway computer. Now let me be clear right up front: I adore Vista. The Aero visuals are wonderful eye candy, and features like the built-in results-as-you-type search boxes and the Photo Gallery are just amazing. I wouldn’t go back to Windows XP for a lifetime supply of Puffin and a night out with Halle Berry. That said, I’ve had a few nagging problems with my Vista installation. For instance: When I turn on my computer, it always asks for driver discs for the various media card readers and USB hub built into my Dell widescreen monitor. Now, as you probably know, therer’s no such thing. USB hubs and card readers are automatically recognized by Windows. There is no such driver disc. I have to cancel the New Hardware dialogs–all six of them–every time I start my computer. Annoying? Yes. But that also means I can’t use the card readers or USB ports in the monitor. I’m not getting what I paid for.

So I decided to send an e-mail to Dell to see if they could help me solve the problem.

First problem: The only way–and I do mean the only way–to communicate with Dell is by entering the product’s “service tag code” in the e-mail or online chat form. Dell thoughfully failed to stamp a service tag on my monitor, so I used various tools on their site to look up the code based on my customer number and order number. They all failed. Argh. So now I pick up the phone. That means I’m being inconvenienced by having to wait on hold because their Web site makes no provision for situations like this. Why don’t I have a service tag? How do I know? All I do know is that I’m now spending Saturday on the phone listening to hold music.

Finally I get through to someone, who initially gives me a hard time about not having a service tag code. Then they route me to three different departments becuase no one is quite sure who does tech support for monitors. Finally I find the monitor support guy, who, after insisting that updating the display driver will fix the problem (trust me — it won’t), tells me I need to update the BIOS on my computer and ends the call.

Now that actually makes some sense, and I feel dumb for not thinking of it sooner. Actually, it may or may not be a BIOS issue, but it’s likely that this is an issue that’s fixable by visiting the computer manufacturer’s Web site. So I go to Gateway. There, I’m encouraged by the fact that when I look up my computer’s serial number, there are a half dozen suggested Vista updates ready and waiting for me.

I install each one and find that:

  • One update won’t install becuase of an unspecificed error
  • Two updates intstall just fine, but don’t have any visible effect on my PC. In other words, my problem is not fixed.
  • One update, intended to address the sound card, causes Supreme Commander to play without sound. I troubleshoot it for half the day, and in the end (around 4pm) I use System Restore to roll my system back to its original configuration before the sound driver update.

And that’s how I spent my Saturday–I screwed around with my PC all day, and in the end I literally clicked Undo to remove all the changes, which didn’t fix anything but in fact created at least one new problem of its own. If I can have these kinds of problems, what hope is there for my mom and dad?

24 Responses to “What’s Wrong with Computers”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Ever really looked at OSX? All the bank without the pain… and you can still run Windows programs that you can’t live without. I take care of 6 PC’s at work and 5 Macs at home or for friends, so I know the troubleshooting of both, and I KNOW which one I want my Mother-in-Law on.

    Try it some time, and I bet you like it - the barrier has never been lower.


  2. Michael Says:

    After all that you “love” Vista? You are easy to please.

  3. Dave Says:

    I’ve used OS X and, well, I’m not a fan. I prefer Windows. Like everyone in the world, I have personal preferences for both justifiable, rational reasons, as well as some emotional, irrational reasons. I dislike the Mac for both rational and irrational reasons. And it’s important to keep some perspective here: half the stuff I wrote about is not the fault of Windows at all. The driver issues could just as well apply to OS X. Vista is a brand spanking new OS with a new driver model; anyone who expects it to be flawless 3 months after it’s released is woefully misinformed about how software development works. This little story was about how crappy Dell and Gateway’s tech support is–not a tirade against Vista.

  4. Brent Says:

    First, I readily admit that I have no idea how software development works. I’m no coder. But I used to own my own tech support company, and I can tell all about what I saw–day in and day out. From my first-hand experience, you could easily replace “Vista” in your account above with “XP.” You make it sound like all these problems just began with the introduction of Vista. I have hundreds of examples to the contrary. Neither my clients nor I gave a rat’s behind about software development–we just wanted their machines to work. And if Windows XP really did work so well (how long have they been working on it now?), then my tech support company wouldn’t have had so many clients, and I wouldn’t have been able to retire before 40. So don’t tell me that Windows bears none of the blame.

    Mac OS X, on the other hand, just works. Our Mac support calls usually came down to user error or inexperience. About 1 out of every 500 was a genuine incompatibility.

    But here’s what made me laugh out loud: you said is that you prefer Windows; but since Microsoft continues to copy Mac OS X, you’re gradually getting a Mac OS X look with all of the Windows under-the-hood problems. (a.k.a. the lipstick-on-a-pig version). I’ve spent a lot of time with Vista using its Aero interface, and I still can’t believe it. They didn’t even bother to change some of the icons they took from OS X at all.

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