Microsoft support? Where?

Alex Lowe wrote a blog about Microsoft and developer support. In there he ventilates his misunderstanding about a blog Roy wrote about information sharing.

In the blog, Alex writes these remarkable words:

I believe Microsoft has the most comprehensive developer support in the industry with its tools, paid support options, free support options like MSDN, and volunteer community (MVPs, 3rd party websites, etc.).

I was stunned when I read that. So I re-read it, and again, punched my arm to see if I wasn't dreaming, but it was real, it was there right in front of me.

Let me tell you, Alex, Microsoft's developer support sucks. Big time. Not because the large legion of support personnel is badly trained, not available, not working hard enough or giving the wrong answers. It's because Microsoft doesn't understand the difference between marketing and real support. It's because Microsoft has it's priorities set totally wrong so good support is impossible.

Because we're talking about developers, I'll give you a small list of developer-oriented examples why I think Microsoft developer support sucks big time.

  • There are no patches released for Visual Studio.NET 2002, even though Microsoft promised a service pack for VS.NET 2002. It turned out people had to upgrade to Visual Studio.NET 2003, which always costed some money.
  • There are no patches released for Visual Studio.NET 2003 up till today, while Visual Studio.NET 2003 is full of bugs (and if you don't believe me, read the newsgroups: locked assemblies during compile, project lists on the startup page, the totally unusable HTML editor, dying intellisense in C# in some situations etc.). Microsoft has officially stated earlier that for example the HTML editor can't be fixed in this version, so every user of that HTML editor for ASP.NET pages is out of luck and has to wait till Whidbey is released. If you think this is a small group, you're mistaken.
  • Where's the service pack for .NET 1.1 to fix the bugs and issues with that .NET version? If you think there are no bugs in .NET 1.1, you are mistaken.
  • It's nice to read about the new things in Whidbey, but we need solutions today, for issues bugging (pun intended) us today. I understand Whidbey is a big thing, and a lot of resources are put on that project, however why is it so hard to give users of the current version patches for issues they run into every day?
  • When a bug is fixed in for example Windows XP or other technology, it happens a lot the patch is not directly released to the public, but can only be retrieved through PSS or through a service pack. For the people who do not know it, the CDSYS filesystem driver to read CDRom's on a windows PC has a serious flaw: it doesn't cache paths. This means that when you are installing Visual Studio.NET from CD it will take ages because of the small directories with all the examples, which make the CD read head to step from index to folder to index to folder etc. which is utterly slow. Microsoft has patched this for Windows Server 2003 and it will be released in Windows XP SP2. Is this patch available to us, developers, so we can install Visual Studio.NET faster from CDRom? No. This patch is already finished for some time, however we have to wait till Q4 2004 till we can use it. Who can still say this is the best support you can get from a software company? I think you're mistaken, Alex.
  • I read various newsgroups on the MSNews server, every day. Some newsgroups are apparently read by Microsoft personnel because they posts there, answering questions, however for example the ADO.NET newsgroup seems to be "off limits" for support personnel. How come? Does Microsoft think questions related to ADO.NET are not worth replying to? And why are 90% (I estimated this rather low) of the questions in the Visual Studio.NET newsgroups left unanswered by Microsoft personnel? Are these questions not worth answering?

I think you, dear reader, got the picture by now. Sorry to gripe about this, but I have the feeling too less people really think through what Microsoft actually does for support to the developers. Again, I'm not saying individual employees at Microsoft do not work hard enough or are not skilled enough to help developers out there, it's the organization Microsoft itself which makes the mistakes here. Therefore I'd say: Alex, your statement is wrong. Support is not about tossing out some basic examples, which are nowadays also a lot about Whidbey, but about solving problems too.

Support is part of the quality of the software. For starters: that means that people who buy your software do that because they expect quality. How Microsoft treats developers at the moment is the same as a second hand car salesman selling you a bad car with no warranty: fixes not included.Microsoft, you're clearly in denial about the state of your developer support.


  • Frans, I think you are a great customer for Microsoft because in reading your blog I see that you only talk about the negative things you see in Microsoft and that is a good thing because it forces us to look at them.

    I disagree with on a number of points and I see that you have twisted my words a bit but the point this excercise is to listen to you, the customer - not defend Microsoft.

    I look forward to other comments along these lines.

  • lol we have to reboot every 49.7 days due to a bug ms left in NT4... Switch to 2000, 2003, Longhorn? Ever tried to convince a customer? It's isn’t all sunshine in the promised land, but you need to move in the frontline to encounter the flipside of ms technology. The continuous forward movement is great for developers but customers really don’t care, fixing things right away and not in upcoming products which on their behalf bring along new bugs. Frans is so totally right.

  • I don't expect perfection, only that some realistic level of service is provided.

    For example, I found an actual bug in the framework (one of the RewritePath() overloads) and had a nice exchange started via the online support ticket system, finished by a member of the .NET team. It's one of three times I've had to contact MS directly, and every time my problem was resolved or at the very least explained. At the company level, I think they do a fine job.

    The community and third party is top-notch as well, in part I suspect because people who really get and use MS development products are smarter people. Seriously, I really think that.

    It's helpful to harshly criticize the things you like the most, but I think in this case that "sucks" is far too strong of a word.

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