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Stuck at Customs in the United States of Microsoft


As all three of my loyal readers know, I used to work at Microsoft. I still am pretty pre-disposed to used Microsoft products over others. My preferred web mail address for receiving offers for online casinos, herbal viagra, and porn sites is still Hotmail™. My home page is MSN™, and it’s customized with all my stocks, preferred headlines, and the local weather forecast. MoneyCentral™ gives me my real-time stock losses. And all these things require the much-maligned Passport™. Yes, the Passport, which will destroy civilization when WindowsXP is released and all will be eternally tortured to sign up and be tracked.

Well, imagine this world, where all your web passwords, your credit card verification, your digital signature, and your email is dependent on a password that…doesn’t work.

Cue Rod Sterling

Customs Agent: Welcome back to the United States of Microsoft. Anything to declare?

Me: I declare that OfficeXP™ is pretty ok since I bought a 60 GB hard disk.

Agent: Passport™ Please.

Me:Here you go.

Agent: What’s the password, please?

Me: God_Bless_Bill_Gates!

Agent: Sorry. Invalid Passport or passphrase. Try again.

Me: Dude, what are you talking about? That’s my passport.

Agent: takes off sunglasses... Mr. Greenstein, It seems you've been living two lives. In one, you're Howard Greenstein, director at a software company in New York City. You have a wife and kids. You take out the garbage. In another, you're known as Neo, a hacker that has broken every computer law on the books. One of these lives has a future Mr. Anderson...

Me: God-Bless-Bill-Gates? God Bless BillG? g0d B1ess B1llGates?

Agent: See the help desk way over there at the other end of the building with the long line. They’re going to need to search your body cavities. NEXT!

Picture if you will...

A few weeks ago, in fact, around July 1, a week BEFORE the great MSN Messenger outage of 2001, my Passport™ stopped working. I was expecting an important email. I am on the board of a trade organization. I had an upcoming event in planning. I asked someone to send a note to my Hotmail™ account. And now this account was not working. I tried variations on the password. No dice. So, after exploring help screens, I finally found an option for emailing the helpdesk (from another email account, of course, seeing as Hotmail, well, you know).

The conversation went something like:

Me: Hi, when I try to log into Hotmail, or the MSN Home Page or Messenger, I get <specific exact wording of error message>. Can you please fix this for me? Thanks.

Customer Service Auto Reply: Working.

Customer Service Rep #1: (time to respond– 45 minutes, and I wasn’t waiting for it, so, not bad!) - Thanks for writing. We see there’s a small problem. I’ve reset it. Please wait 5 minutes and try again.

Me: Uh, hi again, this did not work. The error is <exact wording of error message>. Can you check it again.

Customer Service Rep #2: Dear Sir, We’re sorry form letter text. You Obviously don’t understand what a “password” or a “cookie” is. Try this form letter explaining how to reset your Passport password and this form text explaining how to make sure your cookies are working in IE 4 and IE5.

Me:(sighs, resets Passport and ensures cookies are being accepted, even though I know DAMN well that this is a useless exercise). Not working. Please don’t send me more form letters. Look back in the record – the first person seemed to think something was wrong with my account.

Customer Service Rep #3: Sir, I’m sorry you’re having this problem, but usually when someone has this problem, its because of form text about cookies and password resets.

Me: (after resetting yet again): Thanks, but I am asking for someone to look at this problem and NOT SEND ANY MORE FORM TEXT about how to reset my damn password and cookies. I worked for Microsoft on the Internet Explorer team and I KNOW that my settings are right. So don’t insult my intelligence and look at the account.

Customer Service Rep #4: Useless Drivel.

Me– ( I look at the bottom of all the service reps emails and find that there’s a .sig message that if I have comments on their performance, I can go to a web site and rate them. I do this. I give rep 1 a good score and the rest bad scores and cut and paste the email trail for this problem. I realize that these people’s livelihoods depend on getting good ratings – hey I used to work there. So I give them a wake up call – other people’s livelihoods depend on Passport!)

Ok, Please, someone look at the FIRST RECORD for this problem and see what the FIRST rep did. Don’t send me any more form letter text about resetting my password. This is a Passport system problem.

Customer Serivce Rep#5: Ah, I see the problem. I’ve reset it again, and I believe if you reset your password one more time (sorry, but it’s a security check) that this should clear it up. If it does not, here is my private email address and I will work on the problem for you until it is resolved.

Me:(Resets password, and Hallelujah, it works!) Thank you. (Went to customer service site, gave this rep a good rating, but the overall experience a poor rating).

He's sending you a long distance email...from the Twilight Zone

1. Well, with customer service like this, Passport™ isn’t going to conquer the World™ anytime soon.

2. It is pretty annoying, time consuming, and unnerving when you lose the digital equivalent of your wallet.

And what action steps have I taken to address this problem? First, I went out and activated at an inexpensive hosting provider. I can now be found at public at That way if I am unhappy with my provider, I can switch ISPs a lot easier than email addresses. Then I went to Yahoo and made sure my password was up to date, and that MyYahoo’s page had some of the same info as the MSN page. Just in case. Competition is a good thing.

My hotmail still works. I will still use Microsoft’s products. I trust that if I install Windows XP it won’t suddenly stop working because I add memory to my computer. But just for the hell of it, I installed Mandrake Linux in a spare partition the other day (story to follow). Hey, you never know.

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Last update: 8/23/2002; 9:24:50 PM.