Stephen Fry on Vista

Apparently Stephen Fry is having problems with Vista in a rather public fashion.

When I installed Vista as a Boot camp installation I was so relieved to see it, it was almost pleasant, but I can understand Fry’s annoyance. You see Microsoft have a secret weapon to make us University staff enjoy the Vista, their awful ordering process.

In October Microsoft released Vista under it’s ‘Ultimate Steal‘ programme. This provides University staff and students with incredibly cheap software. Since I have a Mac Pro with 10GB of memory, I was getting sick of XP (32bit) only seeing 2GBs so decided to ‘upgrade’ my Boot Camp partition to Vista 64bit Ultimate – all for the princely sum of £40.

Unfortunately, what Microsoft didn’t advertise was ordering through their online system (provided by Digital River) would be the single worst web experience I’ve had since I started using the web pre-Netscape 1.0!

This is Microsoft’s idea of service:

On the day of release, no Vista was listed on the catalogue page. But since it required you to register to prove you work for a Uni, I register anyway to get my username and password.

The confirmation email containing a validation link telling me to keep my password safe – but it did not explicitly tell me what the password was! (Although it’s pretty obvious i.e. http://url?stuff=stuff&pass=number)

Despite not being listed on the main site, Vista did appear on the on the ordering screen (listing OSX as a valid upgrade system!)

Selecting the 64 bit version for download I decided to save £10 by not purchasing the physical media. At no point was there a warning informing me that the physical media was required to upgrade from a 32 bit OS, but more about that later.

A confirmation followed informing me that my card details had been accepted and to download three installation files, save the serial number and print out the installation instructions. The only problem was, there are only two files and no serial number!!! The page helpfully informed me that I could download the files again at any time from my order screen.

Checking the source of the download page thinking that there was some unclosed tag, there was no link to the missing file anywhere on the page. However, the download urls for the two files followed an obvious pattern, but creating a manual link using the pattern didn’t return the missing file. I downloaded the two files, hoping that the confirmation email would contain the serial number and link. But that would be too easy. 

Logging on to my account there was a nice order summary page, but no files. Not even the two I already had. There was also no serial number and the link to the full invoice didn’t work either, throwing up a username password screen that took me back to the ordering system.

(I did re-try a few times and once I did get an order page does – but no links and no serial number)

As you could imagine I was a little bit annoyed by this point. But the only option was to use the online feedback system. It was one of those systems that make you go through the FAQs before reaching a feedback page. Eventually I got a feedback box and sent one of those, ‘I’m fairly technically capable and the sort of person who doesn’t want to waste tech support’s time, so yes I really have a problem’ emails, I outlining all the problems I’d experienced (so far).

In fairness to Digital River, I did receive a fairly prompt reply (within 24 hours). Unfortunately, instead of answering my problem, the reply directed me back to an FAQ telling me to download the files from my order page!!!!

Since I’m ever so slightly less famous than Stephen, and a tad less witty, I don’t see the point of Twitter. So my frustrations at that point weren’t made public, but Stephen’s twitter feed sums up my feelings at the time. But despite this, I replied politely asking them to re-read my previous email and answer my problem.

Three days later I received an email from Microsoft with a serial number and a link to the missing file. I suspect the instructions Digital River published on the download page were wrong. But with a broken online system and awful technical support and no further help, it was very frustrating. 

Even after receiving this final email,  Digital River’s system, although now listing the serial number and the missing Vista install file, failed to list the two files on the confirmation page – god knows how you get them if you didn’t download them at the time.

However, since I had all files, I didn’t care.

Remember I mentioned the instructions on the download page? Me neither. Luckily I’d printed them out, because there was no way to call up this page from the account pages. 

Running the installer unpacked Vista to a local XP directory. It was at this point Vista kindly informed me that to upgrade from XP 32 bit to Vista 64 bit, required physical media because I needed to reformat the partition!!!! ARGHHHHH.

So back off to the support site again, but nothing. Assuming it was my mistake I went through the ordering process – but at no point in the ordering process was there any warning that I needed the physical media and I couldn’t find any options to amend my purchase to add the media. The only option appeared to by to purchase a second Vista license. 

At this point I’m ready to do something I never do – use a pirate copy, figuring that I’ve paid for it already. However, not wanting to give up, I discovered a tool that could take the unpacked Vista files to create a valid install DVD. Once I had the DVD, everything worked flawlessly.

In fairness to Microsoft, they did contact me a few days later asking about my problems and it does appear the Digital River site is now (mostly) working.

After all these problems, I had a rather unique Vista experience, I was actually really pleased to see it!!

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