Although 90 percent of Windows 98 customers are said to be satisfied with their purchases, those that aren't may be out of luck.
Microsoft today released the results of an independent survey which found that nine out of ten Windows 98 customers are either "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied" with Windows 98. But customers who aren't so pleased are finding Microsoft support to be an inconvenient and often expensive solution, complete with long waits on hold, "busy-outs," and long-distance phone charges.
Support calls for Windows 98 are down 50 percent compared to the same time period after Windows 95 was launched, according to Microsoft. Windows 98 customers get 90 days of free calls to a support number, and access to a $35 pay-per-incident phone number for calls made after regular business hours or after the free period has expired.
But those that turn to Microsoft technical support for help with Windows 98 upgrade problems have complained that the free support line is often busy, necessitating calls to the $35-per-incident support number. Also, the "free" line is a toll call to a Redmond, Washington number, which can result in a hefty phone bill by the time the troubleshooting is done.
Microsoft concedes that tech support will only take a set number of calls at a time in an effort to decrease each customers' time on hold. However, Microsoft does not calculate how many callers are turned away each day by busy signals.
"We only let in as many calls as we can take? We don't regulate how many calls get 'busied out'," said Eileen Crain, marketing communications manager for Microsoft technical support, who called it a standard company support practice.
But if Microsoft is not keeping track of how many customers they are turning away, how do they know that 50 percent fewer customers are calling? Crain says that Microsoft support is answering between 4,000 to5,000 Windows 98 calls per day, compared to 10,000 calls per day with Windows 95.
"In terms of busy-outs, every one doesn't represent a customer," Crain noted," because of automatic redials. We're 50 percent down, based on the calls we're handling."
The drop-off could also be accounted for by the almost-doubled traffic on Microsoft's Windows 98 support Web site. "Our average hits on that site are about 100,000 per day on an average time period," Crain said. Since the Windows 98 launch, that number has jumped to 190,000 hits per day.
Customers frustrated by upgrade problems say that support obstacles have added insult to injury. Even those that call the "free" line can end up with steep charges after trying to troubleshoot.
"Microsoft doesn't make it easy for end users to get help," wrote Windows 98 customer Judy Freeman to NEWS.COM. "I was on the phone for almost two hours and it probably would have cost me more than $35 if I had called one of the numbers the next day. I was so enraged by the bill on my bank statement that I called Microsoft to complain about fees for their bugs."
Crain says that tech support staff do not generally advise callers that they can still call the free support line. "It's a separate phone number, and you wouldn't transfer one to another," she said. "If Microsoft determines you've called in because of a bug, we will refund the call."
In other Windows 98 news today, Hewlett-Packard confirmed that its corporate notebooks will not begin shipping with the upgraded OS until a "dual boot" implementation is completed, sometime this fall. HP notebooks will then ship with an option to load either Windows 95 or Windows 98, said an executive in the notebook department.