We Interrupt this Column...

FRAMINGHAM (06/26/2000) - The column I intended to write today will have to wait. The time I'd allocated to write it just got gobbled up when, for no apparent reason, my pristine Office 2000/Windows 98 notebook refused to perform the simple tasks this knowledge worker needed it to do. Because the company that put the "bust" in robust has been on my mind a lot, I'll write about it instead.

Like most people, I'm a prisoner of Microsoft Corp. And, like most, I spend an inordinate amount of (unplanned) time trying to coax my plain-vanilla, all-Microsoft system to perform the basic tasks essential to my craft.

I had plenty of time to ruminate as I waited for the Outlook inbox scan and repair utility to grind its way through my offline folders. It is then that I experienced an epiphany. It's not that the Redmondians write bad software so much as they write horribly unbalanced software. For as excessively feature-rich and ornate as their applications are, the underlying operating system and network components in particular are, by comparison, crude and unreliable.

Within an hour of powering up my new, preloaded Sony Corp. Vaio, Windows 98 greeted me with what I can only imagine was a "welcome" hang. (Don't tell me to switch to NT on my notebook - that was even more problematic!) I suppose it is a good idea that Bill's engineers get you used to hanging right away. (Remember to press "save" every few seconds and you'll be OK.)Being an experienced knowledge worker, I knew it was all over - time to restart. Ctrl+Alt+Del? No response. Power switch off. No response. Unplug AC?

Nope. Being careful not to break any wires to the port replicator, CD-ROM, floppy drive and Ethernet connection, I picked up the PC with one hand while I disconnected the battery pack (which required two hands!). Then, I could reboot.

I was fuming mad. As I searched around for the Sony tech support number, I flipped through the troubleshooting guide. There, listed under the heading "My computer won't shut down," it calmly tells the customer: "Unplug the computer from the AC adapter and remove the battery pack." Instead of Sony engineers screaming at Microsoft to fix the hang problem, they simply make Bill's problem my problem. Of course, Sony is a prisoner, too. What are they going to do - offer OS/2? Even I'm not ready for Linux.

Microsoft really needs to spend some time on basic functions such as dial-up networking support and Exchange synchronization. I can count on my dial-up function to succeed about one in three times. What's different about the time it succeeds? Why nothing, of course. When it fails, do I discover why? Only if you consider a message that says "DUN server not responding" informative. The times when DUN succeeds, Exchange fails regularly. So, I end up baby-sitting my e-mail sync just to make sure that hours later I don't find the urgent message I wrote still sitting in my outbox.

So, talk your problems up. Upper management should be aware of the massive productivity hit that the organization takes because Microsoft doesn't have its priorities straight.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing firm in Manasquan, New Jersey. He can be reached at ktolly@ tolly.com or www.tolly.com

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