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20 November 2009

Software Companies are as good as their Help Desk

After many years of using Windows PC software from both the giants and pygmies of cyberworld I have concluded that however good a product appears to be, the company who sold it to you stands or falls on the quality of its Help Desk.

I do not think we should be wasting our time and increasing our blood pressure by using anything that cannot be quickly resolved by an efficient and responsive technical help department each time one of our applications falls over or produces difficulties to the user.

If you go to a software company website and you have to dig deep to find any contact phone numbers, e-mail addresses or other useful methods of contact, then quite frankly they don't deserve to be receiving your hard-earned cash.

Two of my most recent frustrating experiences both relate to Anti-virus and Internet Security products.

For two years I used Symantec's Norton Antivirus product. For two years I was constantly frustrated by my computer working slowly and frequently seizing up completely. In addition it was hardly ever possible to close the PC down without manually closing a selection of small system applications first. The cause was a file called ccSvcHst.exe which is part of the Symantec product that beavers away in the background. Investigation showed that lots of other people were having the same problem and were reporting frozen computers caused by this application taking up 100% of their CPU useage.

Symantec's Help Desk certainly responded to my frequent pleas for help, but in the end it was a matter of them just going through the motions, since it seemed on investigation that they were well aware that ccSvcHst.exe was an issue. But rather than admit this they went through the motions of taking remote control of my computer on two separate occasions, turned it inside out, only to report back to me that everything was in order.

And so it was .. until the next time it froze.

In desperation I came to the point where I wiped every last vestige of Symantec's products off my PC and purchased an Anti-virus application from an alternative provider. (Kaspersky, since you ask.) I am now enjoying a computer that flies along without a hitch, and one that closes down properly when I tell it to. I look back with regret that all those months of difficult operation, calling IT consultants in, and wondering if something was wrong with my machine.

The other bad experience was with the Internet Security system on my employers' PC. Our subscription came up for renewal and we were invited to download the latest Internet Security package, which we did. Immediately after we had done that Internet Explorer would not connect with the Internet. So we tried our alternative Browser, Mozilla Firefox and this also reported that it could not connect. I downloaded the Google Chrome browser and that wouldn't work either.

If we disabled the Internet Security application we could connect, but then of course we were unprotected. We were damned if we could, and we were damned if we couldn't. We called in an independent IT consultant, who removed the offending application and downloaded a fresh copy, after which he was faced with all the same problems.

We phoned the Help Desk and couldn't get speak to a human being. We were invited by recorded message to send an e-mail (which we could have done if only we could safely connect to the Internet!) I sent an e-mail from my private address. We had a reply after a few days, suggesting a 5-step procedure. We followed it, but to no good effect. From this point on, we couldn't get any further responses via phone or e-mail. Our IT consultant completely removed the product and we subscribed to an alternative product. (Kaspersky since you ask!) Since then we have had no problems. We sent letters by snail-mail to the company's head office requesting a refund of our subscription renewal. No reply. We have now sent three letters, all yielding nothing. I actually managed to speak to a human being 2 months ago and he promised a refund. It didn't come, and when I spoke to another human being a month later he argued strongly against the possibility of a refund, but would take it further with his head office. Watch this space.

"What is this abominable product?" I hear you cry. Well suffice to say it survives on a diet of bamboo shoots.

09 November 2009

Unhealthy Republicans

I was pleased when I read that President Obama's Health Bill had been passed (albeit narrowly) by the House of Representatives because I believe that all people should have access to good health care.

I was astonished that every single Republican Representative voted against it, and incredulous at the demonstrators outside holding up placards saying "Kill the Bill", and "No to big government".

What are these people saying? Are these slogans code for "We don't really care that 46 million Americans do not have / cannot afford / cannot get health insurance?"

And what's all this about "Big Government"? It's not as if a UK-style National Health Service is being created. It isn't.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with "Big Government". Its virtue or otherwise depends upon the areas in which it is being imposed. For example, America could hardly have an Army, Navy and Air Force, and a Defence Strategy, without "Big Government".

I wish the Health Bill well.

07 November 2009

Sgt. Kimberly Denise Munley

My congratulations to Sgt Kimberley Munley. She was the one who fired the first shot to bring down the crazed psychiatrist major who turned his gun on his own men at Fort Hood army base in Texas.

The phrase "Physician, heal thyself" comes to mind.

Fortunately, though incapacitated, Major Hasan was not killed. This means that someone (presumably some other psychiatrist?) might get some insight into this man's motives.

* * *

Remembrance Day

There is a group of people called the anti-war coalition who oppose the expectation that we
should all be wearing red poppies this month. Their reasoning is that they symbolise support for our military campaign in Afghanistan. This is, of course, quite wrong. They symbolise our communal remembrance of all those who have fallen in military conflicts since the 1st World War.

Having said that, it has to be recognised that the anti-war coalition has a point, for the following reason: certain football teams are being required (even coerced) into wearing the Poppy "In support of our troops". There is a subtle difference between remembering the dead and supporting our troops. By all means support our troops if you want, but wearing the Poppy has nothing to do with it!