Rant: Trapped in Hell (Okay, Microsoft Support – Same Difference!)

Rant: Trapped in Hell (Okay, Microsoft Support - Same Difference!)
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I haven’t posted in a while.  Life has a way of getting in the way of the things you’d like to do sometimes.   I missed writing here – a lot – but the world is a crazy place (a new job, a new city, a new apartment).  Things are finally getting back to a semblance of calm and order.  I finally have some time to start writing again.  In a twist of divine comedy and coincidence, I have run into a support incident that has got me completely annoyed and provided me with an excellent platform from which to jump back to the the wonderful world of blogging.

I am a Macbook Pro user. But I am also a Windows 7 user. Fortunately, the Macbook affords me the opportunity to be both. I started with Windows XP on my Macbook, and updated it a while ago to Windows 7. All was fine and well, and the world went along as it should. Recently, however, a dark cloud entered my tranquil little world. A sequence of events created (what should be) a little problem that has now become a major annoyance.

In the past few months I migrated to a new Macbook Pro. The transfer of both the Mac OS X and the Bootcamp (Windows) drives went well, and the computer worked well. I decided, however, that the hard disk wasn’t big enough. I found a sale on a 750GB (7200RPM) SATA drive for under $100, and I decided to jump on it. That’s when the difficulties began.

I know what you’re thinking – he’s having problems with the new hard drive, but that’s not it at all! The new hard disk is great – it works like a champ.  I think there is a special place in hell for people who think their upgrades are going to go smoothly; my “special place” is called “The Microsoft Product Activation Center”.

My “old” installation of Windows 7 was the 32-bit version, and that was fine, but my new computer is capable of running the 64-bit version.  Originally, I just did the drive copy, but since I was upgrading to a bigger, faster disk drive anyway, I decided to do clean installations of Mac OSX and Windows 7. Good idea, right? Well it was until I ran into the unfortunate dark side of Microsoft’s software activation schemes.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: MS won’t let me activate Windows 7. The error message was vague and initially lead me to believe that somehow my previously operating Product ID codes were suddenly invalid (i.e. illegal). That would be funny since I bought Windows 7 at Best Buy and it had been working for some months on my old disk. So I followed the MS support links. Bad idea.  A huge waste of my time.

The MS support links ask you to enter information about your installation – namely product IDs and codes and the like. Entering that told me that my product code was invalid for the country I requested support in. What??? I have a U.S. product, in the U.S., coming from a U.S. based PC – that makes no sense! And it turns out, the notion that the copy was from out of the country was completely wrong (the support site misinterpreted the code) – strike 1.

So I try the activation process again, and this time it says something different – it tells me my product code is for an UPGRADE, but I am running a clean version, so my code is invalid. OK now we are making some progress! It’s true – my Windows 7 was the upgrade version (since I had originally upgraded from Windows XP), but I had all of my original XP disks too, and I am legal to upgrade — and in fact it worked before, so all should be well, right? Nope!

Since my previous attempt at online support kept taking me down numbers blind alleys and incorrect support documents (thanks, MS for the useless journey), this time I decided to go the phone support route. And, after a little digging for the correct phone number, I called Microsoft support. After fighting through some automated voice menus that seemed to NEVER understand what I said or the buttons I pressed on the phone (are all MS support channels this poorly implemented?), I finally reached a representative in India who had a very difficult time understanding me (I had difficulty understanding him too)! Once I finally made clear what my issue was, he indicated that I MUST install XP first, then Windows 7. No way around it. It didn’t matter that I had all the codes and the disks to prove legal ownership – there was nothing they could do to give me a code that would work. Now you and I know this is crap – and I told him so. The process is clearly broken. There is no technical reason they couldn’t do this, it is simply oily that they choose not to – strike 2.

So you would think the solution would be to start again and do as he suggested – install Windows XP and then Windows 7, right? Nope! This is a Macbook, and under the current OS version (and Bootcamp version) installation of Windows XP is no longer supported. That means, that my only option appears to be to BUY another copy of Windows 7 – a non-upgrade (read “the expensive version”) in order to become activated and fully operational again. Worse yet – I have Windows 7 Ultimate – the expensive version to begin with – strike 3!

I am not a wealthy person. I can’t afford to keep buying multiple copies of Windows to run on the same computer I’m already running on. MS needs to get their act together and come up with a remediation process for cases like this.  If there is one, the support person I spoke to should have directed me toward it, but I made my displeasure with the situation VERY clear!  In the past, you used to be able to insert the “old” disk to prove ownership.  Why can’t I still do that, or enter the old codes to prove legality?  I spent my money, and I should be entitled to a working product, not a stuck in MS activation hell!

Next steps – Google searches for a workaround to the problem. I’m sure there must be one out there somewhere. In the mean time, I will be regularly complaining about the crazy, inflexible process that MS seems to have implemented. I know others have complained about this before, and I’m sure others with complain about it in the future, but this is MY situation, and MY rant.

Have you encountered MS activation issues? Have you found a workaround? Please tell me, I’d love to hear them! MS gives you 30 days to activate. I have 25 days to figure out what to do….

About the Author

Christopher Gavula
Chris has been a COBOL programmer, a desktop support technician, network engineer, telecommunications manager, and even a professional musician. Currently, he is focused on deploying Voice over IP technologies in a large, corporate setting. He started working full-time at the tender age of 14, even before there were PCs, and will probably be working and trying to finish “just one more project” as he’s lowered into the grave.
  • bluemonq

    You’re soooooo close to the solution. You now have a functioning copy of Windows 7, yes? The solution is to… install Windows 7 over it, this time with the code you have. Make sure you don’t install it to a separate partition but to the one with your pre-activation copy as an upgrade. It should be treated as an upgrade. Bought a full copy of 7 myself, but this sort of thing has worked in the past — or so I’ve been told — so give it a try.

  • Sunil Sebastian

    After you google, you’ll hopefully end up here: http://www.winsupersite.com/article/windows-7/clean-install-windows-7-with-upgrade-media

    I have XP licenses galore, but it’s a pain in the butt to have to install twice so I use method 2 (single install, reg hack) as being least effort. Though the double install (that bluemonq mentions) is known to work as well (method 3 from that link, as I recall).

    Best wishes.