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.