Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Trying to give Microsoft my money goes 5 for 5

Update: This has now resolved; 
The issue is between Azure and VisualStudio.com, which has a black hole where payments disappear into for an inordinately long time before it's reflected on the other side (this is alluded to as a possible cause further down in this post). 

If you don’t know my previous experiences at trying to hand over my money to Microsoft (all documented in this blog) in the past, here’s a quick run down of the silliness I’ve encountered:

  • You can't order a Microsoft Windows Kinect sensor for delivery to your home without a Live account.
  • If a bricks-and-mortar Microsoft Store does not have the Microsoft hardware you wish to purchase, you can't ask the store to order it so you can come in later and pay for it.  (This was documented in some length here)
  • A Microsoft help chat representative told me in November I can't order a copy of Windows 8 to run under Parallels on a Mac (this was reported immediately to Microsoft as that's just really bad advice).
  • You can immediately buy a Windows download - except they only give you stub that is useless if you've not yet gotten a copy of Windows to run it in.
So today I went to purchase a subscription for Visual Studio Online.  The initial stumbling block was Microsoft wanted a credit card number, but then told me I might already have the supplied number on file (it’s not explicit about whether it is or isn’t there) or that there might be another error - but won’t let you look up if there is a card on file or not…   Hitting refresh and this went away.  Magic, eh?

I wanted the Professional version of Visual Studio.  I linked Azure to my Visual Studio account, selected the subscription quantity and it charged my card.  At least it said it did…  

There’s three versions of Visual Studio Online:
  • Basic
  • Pro
  • Ultimate.

I clicked the new subscription I had created, went to downloads and I’m presented with options to “Try Ultimate” or download the free stuff that I’m trying to upgrade from.  

The middle one (the Pro version that I just bought) is not an option.

I checked the billing page and the card charge doesn’t show up yet.  Now, I know Microsoft has an internal time-continuum that can lead to things being paid for that haven’t been paid according to other internal systems - so I know I shouldn’t try again just incase I get charged twice.

So, I now have to twiddle my thumbs and wait to see if Microsoft did actually take the money or not, because they’re reporting I have a professional subscription that doesn’t show up on Visual Studio, but does in Azure - except for where the real proof is, which is on the billing screen.

Why does giving my money to Microsoft always have to be this difficult?  That's 5 times I've tried to hand them money and 5 times something has gotten horribly complicated.


Spring Cleaning and IT

Now that spring is almost here, it’s time to do spring cleaning.  What does this mean from an IT standpoint?   Depending on what areas of IT you’re in, this could mean anything from cleaning physical hardware like grungy keyboards and screens, to finding files that no longer have to be kept around for compliancy reasons. 

Cleaning hardware is easy.  There’s a myriad of solutions from dust blowers and vacuums to solutions, so it doesn’t take long to find out what needs to be done for each individual piece of equipment.

Cleaning out data is a little trickier.  When you keep data around for a long time, you have three things to consider:
  • How long to keep it.
  • How to access it if you had to retrieve it.
  • What to do with it afterwards.

In the case of information that you’re often required to keep around for 7 years or more, this can get especially tricky.  Ask yourself if you can open your accounting files you last touched in 2007?  How about opening on your Mac, those Wordperfect documents you wrote on your PC in 2004?

It’s a major problem.  

The solution is usually to stick to well-supported document formats, but sometimes this just isn’t an option.  Word 2013 will open up Word documents going back to 1997 with no problem, and some Works files that are even earlier, but if you’ve changed platforms then this means either shelling out for Windows and running it in a Virtual Machine to get access to old data, or migrating it to a new format.

If you have to migrate, this can get tricky as you may find the direct “Format A to Format B” migration path isn’t available.  Sometimes, you have to take a “Format A to Format B, then Format B to Format C” option through an intermediary software package.

Finally, there’s the issue of what to do with old data.  In the old days, drive space was much more expensive than it is these days, so a lot of data would be archived to new media and removed, or destroyed.  These days, it’s simpler to just put it aside - that way it’s still on hand for reference purposes.  Also, data that is easily accessible is likely to be used more, and thus less susceptible to becoming obsolete as it will more likely be upgraded to remain in a current format. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

9 to 5 Customer Service Departments

Why do some customer service departments constantly call me to resolve issues between 9-5 on Mondays to Fridays when I'm at work, yet people who really want to reach me (collections departments, survey companies, etc) have known for forty-plus years that you call people at dinner time when they're more likely to be around the phone.

What can we deduce from this?  We can deduce the priorities of the caller.  

If someone is working with success based on metrics based (dollar amounts, numbers of surveys filled, etc) then they align themselves with this goal of actually reaching the customer, but if a bank for example has a customer service department that only calls you during business hours, we can deduce that resolving the customer issue isn't the priority.  

Instead, something else is the priority and it puts the department at a discord with its customers, because the customer service department has a "higher priority" that forces it to operate on the 9 to 5 working hours of other more important dependancies than the resolution of it's customers issues.