Maybe I’m just fussy – having turned 40, it’s entirely possible that I’ve turned into Mr Grumpy Old Man. I just can’t be doing with bad salespeople, whether it be at my local supermarket or at some expensive boutique.


The computer world is, of course, legendary for bad support. Just say the words ‘Tiny’ or ‘Time’ and past customers will bristle with righteous indignation. It’s especially galling when customers are treated like dirt by a big-name company. This question can be asked as a fun quiz to hold down the pub with your mates – ‘who gives the worst service out there and why?’

When I posed it at my local, the first name cited was Microsoft. ‘Has to be,’ they crowed, citing price fixing, bundling deals and all sorts of predatory Large Corporate behaviour. Yes, I replied, but just a few weeks ago Microsoft had a party to celebrate the end of life for Exchange Server 5.5, a product that shipped in 1997.

It’s been available from Microsoft, supported and ready for work for the thick end of a decade. And a browse of the Microsoft support website shows documents covering most everything for the past five years, with hot-fixes too. It only drops off the Microsoft roadmap when it’s ‘end of life’. If you need installation media, though, it isn’t too hard to get replacement media from Microsoft for about £20 per CD to cover post and packing – the exception being the OS CD if you bought a new machine without any hard installation media, whereupon it seems you might have to go back to the vendor to get the discs.

After another pint, the conversation steered its unsteady way onto the subject of pricing – a friend mentioned that, according to their online retailer, in the US, a full copy of Quark 6 is $945 and yet inflates to £995 in the UK for the same product.

My personal pet hate is purchasing software online. Normally, it works quite well, but occasionally the vendor takes the opportunity to use the phrase ‘online retailer’ to mean ‘grab the money and run’.

And my offering on this score goes to Adobe. Last Christmas, I bought Photoshop CS for Mac as an online download. My good friend Anna bought the Windows version as a download too. After buying a new laptop, she wanted to install her Photoshop CS onto it, removing it from the old machine. However, she’d managed to lose the installation binary. The sages around the table started to say ‘ahhhh’ and ‘ummm’ and ‘oh dear’, sensing what was to come next. Before things got rowdy, I admitted that I too had managed to lose my installation binary – well, it might be on one of the servers, but yes it was entirely my fault. Nevertheless, this wasn’t going to be a problem, because Anna had contacted Adobe Technical Support requesting either a new download for her licence, or the option to purchase an installation CD for a reasonable post and packing cost.

It wasn’t to be – it turns out that Adobe supports a product for only 90 days after the release of a new version. No five years’ support, no ongoing downloads, nothing. And given that Photoshop CS2 was released last summer, support for CS has disappeared into the morning mist. Adobe admitted it had some installation CDs, but these had now all gone and its customer support team wasn’t prepared to make any more. The only route forward was to pay over £125 for the upgrade to CS2, which she (and I) neither wanted nor needed.

Anna came to an impasse with Adobe support, until Mr Product Manager Nick Peart stepped in, and said he’d try to find a CD somewhere. Which was very nice of him, but shouldn’t be necessary. Adobe should hold stock of old products for several years, and it should be a matter of course that you can purchase replacement media.

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