Microsoft’s Poor Authentication Drove me to Thunderbird

Well today is finally the day that I get to begin my Mozilla Thunderbird journey. I’ve been an Outlook user for years and am damn happy to pay my good money for such a fine, fine program, but my authentication problems today are the last straw.

A little background. I recently installed a copy of the Vista beta on one of my PCs. Inexplicably, somehow the install wiped out my copy of Outlook (my email, address book, etc.) Now I don’t actually have a problem with this — it’s beta software and these things happen in beta. I shouldn’t be installing the software on a machine that I can’t afford to lose everything on the hard drive. But today when trying to reinstall Outlook direct from my original Microsoft discs I’m prompted to enter my product key. After entering my product key EXACTLY as it is entered on the sticker on my copy of Outlook, I’m told it’s not a valid product key. I’d be willing to also chalk this one up to beta as well except that recently I’ve been having a lot of non-beta problems with authentication.

Most recently, before today, I reinstalled Windows Media Center on my Media Center PC from scratch from my original HP discs. The problem is that during the authentication phase, it asked me to type in my numbers from my sticker affixed to my MCE PC (not comfortable crawling on the floor with a flashlight trying to read tiny little numbers) and I did. Unfortunately authentication failed. After several attempts I was prompted to call a phone number (which I did) and began my process through some kind of reactivation. After navigating the typical voice response unit maze I ended up with a live person.

My experience with the live person was not the best. First she wanted an explanation as to why I was reinstalling my software. I explained to her that it hadn’t been working correctly and I thought a fresh reinstall was the way to go at this point, etc. etc. Personally I like to reinstall my operating software fresh every so often just for the hell of it (it actually is amazing how much your performance will improve). I download all kinds of crap all the time to play with and test and a fresh start sometimes is best. She wasn’t really happy with that answer and it took me a while longer to convince her that what I was doing was legit — but finally she relented and had me re-enter the same code that hadn’t worked before (it didn’t work again). She then read me a new key number over the telephone (all numbers, no text by the way) that was supposed to work. It did not work. I re-read it back to her, etc. She then had me re-enter my old number again which prompted me for a new number that she read me, etc. and finally it took (whew! only an hour and a half of my time wasted).

I’ve had similar problems activating other copies of both beta and non beta Microsoft software. While I can sympathize with Microsoft’s piracy problems (they are in fact huge) legitimate users should not have to go through this much trouble. There should be some kind of way to fast track legitimate use. If Microsoft is going to make me jump through hoops for their benefit (not mine) then the hoops should work. When you have enough trouble you simply give up. As much as I love Outlook and don’t mind paying for it, I do mind the inconvenience of not being able to reinstall it when I want. Microsoft previously lost my browser to Firefox and today they lost my email to Thunderbird. I imagine the browser’s not that big of a deal as they don’t make any money on IE anyway. But Office on the other hand is one of the Microsoft sacred cash cows. Sometimes these things happen in small steps.

By the way, so far Thunderbird seems pretty cool. The install was super easy and the interface seems really intuitive. I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about Thunderbird as I use it later. Oh yeah, and they didn’t ask me for authentication when I installed it by the way.

Authentication needs to be fixed.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The $99 for Outlook is what drove me to Thunderbird.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Thunderbird IMAP is really nice… as is the Threading view on messages which is not available in Outlook…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Microsoft claims that their telephone operators are NEVER supposed to “question” you on why you need to re-authenticate. I recommend that you call back, get a manager and file a complaint. The system keeps tracks of the number of reinstalls you perform and will block you eventually, but you are never supposed to be grilled like some prisoner of war in a Vietcong torture prison.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am a registered member of the Microsoft partner program and an Action Pack Subcriber. The package I purchase from Microsoft is supposed to give me 10 product activations on each of the provided software (depending on the title).

    I had to call and speak to a human (they seem to be in India). I am on the 3rd activation on one product because a combination of spyware and media center rollup 2 not working properly made me reformat and reinstall to get things to work properly.

    Anyway, the guy on the phone tells me that I do not have the right to activate the product again. I argue with him for about 20 mins repeating like 3x that I am an action pack subscriber and I should have at least 6 or more open activations on the product. He finally realizes that he is wrong telling me I don’t have any further activations and gives me the codes to enter the proper ID key.

    It was annoying and a hassle and a waste of time. Microsoft should realize that due to things like spyware and just problems with various software that you may have to reinstall the software and re-activate a NUMBER of times. Their system isn’t bullet-proof where everything just totally works problem free all of the time. Activation support should be crafted around that fact.

    The customer representative made me feel like a little kid being slapped on the hand for having to call in to reactivate. Their response was not friendly in the least. I also test betas (on separate machines and sometimes on a second partition) and bother to send them bug reports, that most of the folks that buy their products and services do it legally.

    We shouldn’t have to waste the time with activation and there should be some sort of secondary key (post first activation), so if you have the same hardware you can always reinstall without calling them. What I am talking about is the idea of having an “activation backup”.

    The folks you call in activation don’t treat folks with respect and decency that they should have when you call them.

    They should be much more polite to folks that call in and respect the fact they are taking time away to call in and do this. If you bought the rights to use the software, they should treat you like you own it, not like you are doing something wrong by asking to re-activate your product.

    The claim that they are never to “question” you definitely is false to fact from my own experiences.