IE7 is missing and a sad tale of tech support

IE7 is missing from Windows Update. Used to be there. A sad tale of tech support.

Internet Explorer 7 was missing on a brand new Dell Latitude D630 running Windows XP SP2. I tried to find out why, which resulted in the saga below. Consider this a tip for anyone purchasing a new XP based computer and a heads up on how Microsoft and Dell treat their customers.

The machine arrived a few days ago, and one of the first things I dutifully did was run Windows Update from Internet Explorer (Tools -> Windows Update). I was surprised to find the machine came with Internet Explorer 6 considering that IE7 has been available for a year now.

After the usual round of updates to the Windows Update software, it found over 40 missing bug fixes and correctly installed all of them except for one. No big deal, I've seen this many times with one of the patches for .NET. Still, Windows seems pretty stale. It's hard for me to judge the age of 40 some odd bug fixes, but it could be that Windows hadn't been updated for over a year.

After rebooting, Windows Update finds the missing bug fix and installs it. Only then I notice that I'm still running Internet Explorer version 6. What gives? Hundred of times I've seen Windows Update try to install IE7.

Back to the Windows Update website. IE7 is not in the list of optional patches. A review of the update history shows only the one error I already knew about. Nowhere in the history is IE7. I try to restore the hidden updates, but there aren't any. I decide to investigate. Is it a bug in Windows Update?

Microsoft


At the home page for Internet Explorer (microsoft.com/ie) the lead story is "Internet Explorer 7 now available to all users running Windows." This, of course, is not true. IE7 does not run on Windows 2000 or any of the earlier versions of Windows.

I follow the link to "Find help get answers" which leads to the Internet Explorer 7 Support page. Here too, Microsoft makes a statement for which truth is not an appropriate attribute. The page says "Support for Internet Explorer 7 is available via the phone based on your locale."

I call the Support number and answer the phone menu questions. In the end, Microsoft says it's not their problem. Because Windows XP came pre-installed on the computer, the instructions say to contact the hardware manufacturer.

I called Microsoft again and this time chose the option for Windows Update returning an error. In response, the telephone system sent me to the Windows Update website with instructions to click on "Get help and support". Speaking to a person was not an option, even though I was calling during the hours of operation. The linked-to web page didn't provide anything useful.

In a third go-round with Microsoft's telephone system, I chose the security and virus problem option figuring that IE7 is supposed to be more secure than IE6. The telephone system told me go to onecare.live.com/scan and run a full service scan. At this point I could take the hint, so I tried Dell.

Dell


At the home page for Dell support (support.dell.com) there is a "Live Chat" link at the very top. I clicked it, opted to chat with technical support and entered my service tag. This starts a hardware chat. My problem is software, but there isn't a software chat.

After entering my name and email address, IE issues two different warnings about problems with digital certificates.

The text in the chat window at the bottom of the resulting page is small, click I click on a link in the top part of the page for large text. This changes the text size in the top, but not in the chat window. Looks like Dell hasn't put much effort into this chat thing.

Fairly quickly, someone starts chatting with me and they confirm that the chat is only for hardware problems. So I ask where the software chat is. Rather than answer the question, the person asks what the software problem is. After explaining it, I'm told "... what I can do is give you the number to Microsoft and they will be able to assist you with this issue." I'm told to call (800) MICROSOFT. Thanks Dell.

I call this new Microsoft number and end up with the same phone menu options as before. Again, when I tell Microsoft's telephone system that Windows XP came pre-installed, they tell me to call Dell (in so many words).

I soldier on to Dells' technical support web page where it correctly auto-detects that I'm running a Latitude D630. I click the Contact us link and end up here where I opt to call Technical Support on the phone.

Calling requires an Express Service Code, a different number from the Service Tag. There is a link to display your Express Service Code but it only works in Internet Explorer. Still, it wasn't hard to find.

The instructions offer different phone numbers to call depending on who or what you are. I don't' know who I am. The computer belongs to a client of mine and I don't know if it was purchased as an individual, small business or perhaps higher education. The phone number for each differs and I'm too pessimistic to call any of them.

Back to Microsoft


But I decide to spend a few more minutes searching Microsoft's site. As Jerry Pournelle often says, I do this stuff so you won't have to.

Somehow I end up at the Internet Explorer Solutions Center. There is search box for searching the tech support Knowledge Base. I enter "windows update", click the arrow and find nothing that answers my question in the search results.

At the top of the list is a link to the Windows Update Solution Center. The initial page has nothing about IE7 disappearing from Windows Update, so I try Other Issues. From the list of products, I select Windows Update, say I'm in the United States and end up at a page where I can submit a problem report. Looks like there is free technical support for Windows Update. Yippee.

But before submitting a problem you're presented with a long "Agreement for Microsoft Services". This is the end of the line for me, I resent being bound by this agreement just to get help with Windows update. Also, there is a section in the agreement on confidentiality that starts with "The terms and conditions of this agreement are confidential..." I want to write this posting so confidentiality is out of the question. It does however, beg the question of why Microsoft needs confidentiality for tech support.

Get the Memo?


Maybe I didn't get the memo. Maybe everyone but me knows IE7 is no longer available from Windows Update. I do a web search for "internet explorer 7 windows update".

IE7 has been in the news lately. Microsoft dropped the requirement for WGA validation. This means that people running illegal pirated copies of Windows can now get IE7 (see Microsoft disables Internet Explorer 7 validation process by Tom Espiner) . The article doesn't mention Windows Update.

Installing


At this point, I download and install IE7 without incident. It's available from microsoft.com/ie and microsoft.com/downloads (where it heads both the popular and new lists).

After the required reboot, I run the Secunia Software Inspector (a future blog topic) for an unrelated reason only to have it point out that I'm missing a bug fix to IE7. Windows Update confirms this, as shown below.

Thanks Microsoft, for letting me download a known buggy version of IE7 and not warning me to run Windows Update afterwards. Or was the bug left there for those running pirated versions of Windows?


P.S. You're still better off with XP as opposed to Vista .

Update: October 14, 2007. According to the Automatic Updates Distribution Process page at Microsoft's website, IE7 is being distributed by Windows Update. Either this page is wrong or there is a bug in Windows Update.

On October 4th, Steve Reynolds, Program Manager for IE at Microsoft, wrote:

"If you are not already running IE7, you can get it now from ... or, if you haven?t already received it via Automatic Updates, this version will be delivered to you as we described previously."

I confirmed on another Windows XP machine that IE7 is not offered via Windows Update.

Update: October 15, 2007. I tried a third XP computer running IE6 and this time IE7 did appear in the list of missing updates. I tried a fourth machine and it too, was offered IE7. The best guess is that it was a temporary problem with Windows Update.

Update: October 16, 2007. Rather than a bug, this was probably a temporary takedown of IE7 having something to do with the recent removal of the WGA requirement. As with so many computer gripes, it boils down to bad documentation.

Update: October 18, 2007. Finally, closure. Susan Bradley, writing for Windows Secrets, covered the disappearance of IE7 in an article today Internet Explorer 7: missing in action or not?. Susan says "We honestly don't know why IE 7 was gone for nearly a week." It re-appeared Sunday October 14th. As noted above, this is yet another case of bad documentation.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

    Disclosure.

     

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