- Tech Support: "May I ask what operating system you are running today?"
- Customer: "A computer."
A girl walked into the computer center where I work. She said she was having problems with her Mac. I asked what kind of Mac she had. In an indignant voice, she replied, "Duh, Intosh."
- Tech Support: "What operating system are you running? Windows 95?"
- Customer: (a little too excited) "95, 97, 98, I've got them all!"
After conferring with her husband, it turned out she owned a Macintosh with System 8.1.
- Tech Support: "Do you know what operating system you're on?"
- Customer: "Hmmm...what would be a good answer?"
- Customer: "I don't use DOS. What would happen if I deleted that directory?"
One time I had to walk a Windows 95 user through a particular procedure.
- Me: "First you need to open DOS-prompt. I'll guide you--"
- Customer: "MY COMPUTER DOES NOT HAVE DOS! YOU THINK I RUN THAT ANCIENT SOFTWARE?" (click)
- My Friend: "I just installed Windows 98."
- Me: "Cool. But...it's 2001. Why not Windows 2000 or wait for XP to come out?"
- My Friend: "Oh, 98 is more easily hacked, so I want it."
- Me: "You want to get hacked?"
- My Friend: "Yes! Wouldn't you?"
- Me: "No...."
- My Friend: "When you get hacked you get a lot of money! That's a good thing!"
- Me: "???"
- My Friend: "What's your operating system?"
- Me: "Linux."
- My Friend: "You better uninstall it!"
- Me: "Why?"
- My Friend: "The government uses Linux to look through your computer and see your every move. They use it as a security camera into your world."
- Me: "Sure...."
- Friend: "Does Windows 98 support Linux?"
- Customer: "Do you sell Mac OS X for Windows?"
Overheard in a classroom:
- Student: "How much do Windows cost, and do you have to buy each one separately?"
- Customer: "How much do Windows cost?"
- Tech Support: "Windows costs about $100."
- Customer: "Oh, that's kind of expensive. Can I buy just one window?"
- Friend: "Hey, cool Mac! Does it have Windows!?"
- Me: (incredulous stare)
- Friend: "Oh, wait, that was stupid. All Macs have Windows."
- Customer: (angrily) "You said I would get 98 windows with this computer. Where are they?"
- Tech Support: "What version of Windows do you have installed?"
- Customer: "... Double glazed."
A customer called in with modem problems.
- Tech Support: "Ok, we're going to check your modem settings. First thing we need to do is make sure all programs are closed."
- Customer: "How do I know if everything is closed?"
- Me: "Make sure all windows are closed."
- Customer: "But...I'm in the basement. I don't have any windows here."
Lucky me, I made it to the the mute button in time!
I can't even count how many people I argue with about this, yet they insist there is an operating system call "Windows 95 NT."
One day I got a call toward the end of the day from a sales rep in Chicago who couldn't get his computer to boot up. We went round and round for about two hours -- nothing worked. I was ready to pull my hair out, but I don't like losing. To lighten the tension of the moment, I started chitchatting with him as we're waiting to see if the machine will restart. He has an IBM ThinkPad, and I told him how much I like mine.
- Him: "Yeah, they're ok, but I travel a lot, and I got tired of the darn thing being so heavy, so I installed Windows CE to make it lighter."
- Me: "Do you know what the registry is?"
- Friend: "Oh, yes. I take the registry apart and put it back together all the time."
I was calling to sign up with a new DSL provider. When the guy asked what operating system I was using, I said, "Linux." I was put on hold for five minutes, and then a supervisor came back and told me, "You can't use Linux to connect to the Internet. It's a hacker tool, anyway." I almost fell out of my chair.
In about 1993, Cambridge University had a few rooms of 486s, for use by members of the University. You could get into the rooms at any time of day if you had a key, and the site security would walk around every hour or so at night.
One policy, introduced after a few too many noisy games of network Doom, was that playing games wasn't allowed. One evening, however, I saw someone using eXceed (an X-Windows server for Microsoft Windows) to run Motif. Apparently he was doing something on one of the UNIX machines over the network. The security guard came up behind him, and the conversation went something like this:
- Security Guard: "Could you stop that -- you're not allowed to play games in here."
- Student: "This isn't a game."
- Security Guard: "You can't fool me. That's not work."
- Student: "Yes, it is. I'm a computer science student -- I've got a deadline later this week."
- Security Guard: "That doesn't look like work to me. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
- Student: "What? I'm working. I'm working quietly. Why do I have to leave?"
- Security Guard: "You're playing a game, and you're lying to me. Out. Now. Before I turn this machine off."
Even the other two people in the room couldn't persuade the security bloke that it wasn't a game.
Overheard in a software shop:
- Woman #1: "What this Linux thing?"
- Woman #2: "It's a program that if you have it on your computer, you can't turn the computer off."
- Woman #1: "Oh."
Last year, the temp agency I was working for was arranging a contract for me, and some additional "computer skills" tests were necessary. The branch manager asked what kind of computer I was comfortable with. I said, "Windows PC," although I had used several others. She cut in right then and asked, "Word or Excel?"
- Customer: "I installed Windows 98 on my computer, and it doesn't work."
- Tech Support: "Ok, what happens when you turn on your computer?"
- Customer: "Boy, are you listening? I said it doesn't work."
- Tech Support: "Well, what happens when you TRY to turn it on?"
- Customer: "Look, I'm not a computer person. Talk regular English, not this computer talk, ok?"
- Tech Support: "Ok, let's assume your computer is turned off, and you just sat down in front of it, and want to use it. What do you do?"
- Customer: "Don't talk like I'm stupid, boy. I turn it on."
- Tech Support: "And then what happens?"
- Customer: "What do you mean?"
- Tech Support: "Does anything appear on your monitor? I mean, the TV part."
- Customer: "The same thing I saw last time I tried."
- Tech Support: "And that is what?"
- Customer: "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
- Tech Support: "Yes, sir. What is on your screen?"
- Customer: "A bunch of little pictures."
- Tech Support: "Ok, in the upper left corner, do you see 'My Computer'."
- Customer: "No, all I see is that little red circle thing with the chunk out of it."
- Tech Support: "You mean an apple?"
- Customer: "I guess it kind of looks like an apple."
Then it took me fifteen minutes to convince him that he had a Mac. Even after showing him "About this Macintosh." I spent another fifteen minutes trying to convince him that Windows 98 wouldn't work on his Mac. He said it should work because Windows 98 is for PCs, and he had a PowerPC. I think he's still trying to get it to read that CD, because I never could convince him.
Two night forepersons at our company were discussing our new computer network after just having been to a brief orientation session. One of them wanted to know what "windows" were, so I explained. Just as she seemed to be catching on to the concept, the other foreperson piped up. "Well that's great, because we have ninety-five windows on there!"
- Tech Support: "Do you have any windows open right now?"
- Customer: "Are you crazy woman, it's twenty below outside..."
- Co-Worker: "What version of DOS does UNIX run?"
- Tech Support: "How can I help you?"
- Customer: "Well, everything is working fine, but there is one program that is not."
- Tech Support: "What program is it?"
- Customer: "It's called 'MSDOS Prompt'."
- Tech Support: "What's wrong with it?"
- Customer: "Well, I click on it, a black screen shows up with NOTHING but a sign that reads: 'C:\WINDOWS>', and it just sits there and doesn't do anything. I have to turn off the system to go back to Windows."
For my work-study job, I work tech support at a small college. One night I was working Help Desk and the phone rings. I pick it up to have a student telling me she can't get the computer to work.
- Me: "What operating system are you running?"
- Student: "Hunh?"
- Me: "Do you have a Mac or a PC?"
- Student: "Um, I don't know."
- Me: "Ok. What does the screen look like?"
- Student: "It's yellow."
- Me: "Ok. What does it say on the computer CPU?"
- Student: "What's that?"
- Me: "The big grey box."
- Student: "It doesn't say anything."
- Me: "Never mind that...do you have a little 'Start' button at the bottom of the monitor?"
- Student: "Monitor?"
- Me: "The thing that looks like a TV sceen sitting on the grey box."
- Student: "Oh! That! No. No start button."
- Me: "Ok. Is there a little apple symbol anywhere on the screen?"
- Student: (very puzzled) "Why would I have fruit on my computer?"
Back in the early days of Windows 95:
- Customer: "I have Windows Thirty One."
- Tech Support: "Ok, this program requires either Windows 95 or Win32s. Do you have Win32s on your system?"
- Customer: "No, I have Windows Thirty One, not Thirty Two."
- Tech Support: "Windows 3.1 is the operating system. Win32s is a program that makes your computer fast like Windows 95."
- Customer: "What's Windows Ninety Five got to do with it?"
- Tech Supprort: "You need either Windows 95 or Win32s to run this."
- Customer: "I HAVE THIRTY ONE! WHY WON'T IT WORK?"
- Tech Support: (giving up) "Ma'am, your computer is too old. Buy a new one with Windows 95."
- Customer: "I've heard about Windows Three Hundred and Eleven. Wouldn't that be better than Ninety Five?"
My father decided that it would be a nice surprise to install Windows 95 on my seven year old computer. He had one of his employees give him step-by-step written instructions but neglected to mention that my computer is so old. When I got home he had Windows 95 installed and was struggling to install the first piece of software.
- My Dad: "It says there's insufficient disk space. How much stuff to you have on the hard drive?"
- Me: "It was almost full. You shouldn't have been able to get Windows 95 on there."
- My Dad: "Well, I just followed these instructions."
I looked at the instructions and saw that he had backed up everything and wiped the hard drive.
- Me: "If you followed these instruction properly, the only thing on the hard drive should be Windows 95. How much space does that take up?"
- My Dad: "It doesn't take up any space. It's an operating system."
- Me: "No, it takes up a lot of space, and it shouldn't even be able to fit on this computer."
- My Dad: "No, you don't know what you're talking about. The problem is that you have too many files. You have to delete some of them."
- Me: "You already deleted all my files. They're on that stack of disks now."
- My Dad: "Yes, and those disks are taking up too much space."
A friend just got his new Aptiva/Win98 system and bought a bunch of software to go along with it. He installed everything, then complained that when he started his computer up, the screen was so cluttered he was having a hard time finding his desktop. I talked him through the process of making his desktop a more simple place by turning off fancy wallpaper, toolbars, and so on. He rebooted and said it was just as bad as it ever was. Sighing, I took a quick trip over to look at it.
Somewhat to my amazement, I discovered that every time the computer booted up, a half dozen or so program groups opened up on the desktop, and all sorts of programs were spilling their menu contents onto the screen. After some poking around, I discovered that he had installed everything -- everything -- into his StartUp folder.
I asked him why he installed all his programs in there. He said, "Well, I wanted to be sure they'd start up when I needed them, so...."
My father likes to delete things from the Windows System directory because he's convinced that's where the swap file lurks. I have to reinstall Windows 95 almost every day.
A friend of mine had an old system with a small hard drive and not much memory, so she continued to use Windows 3.1 rather than suffer under the strain of Windows 95/98.
She called me one day to help her because her computer will no longer run Windows. Past experience had taught me most of her computer problems were self-inflicted, so I asked her what she had done to the computer recently.
- Her: "Well, I needed more space from the hard drive so I could get more JPGs and WAVs from my friends on mIRC."
- Me: "Ok, so what did you do?"
- Her: "I just deleted all the blank files from my computer."
- Me: "Blank files?"
- Her: "Yes, blank files. I deleted tham all."
- Me: "What exactly is a blank file?"
- Her: "When you run File Manager, every file shows a picture. I just deleted all the ones with the blank page picture."
Say goodbye to every .DLL and unassociated file on her system. She was somewhat indignant when she found out she would have to find some Windows 3.1 install diskettes and reinstall every piece of software she wanted to use.
About two months ago, a client called in screaming profanities at me and demanding that I either give him a refund on his one year old system or send a technician out to repair it immediately. His problem was that the taskbar was on the right-hand side of his screen, and he couldn't get it back to the bottom.
A few days ago, a client called in wondering why he couldn't delete items off the Windows desktop. It was soon discovered that he'd already dragged Internet Explorer, MS Outlook, and a few other items off into the recycle bin, and was trying to delete 'My Computer' and 'Network Neighborhood.'
I saw two older looking ladies trying to figure out the computers at a local store. I knew one of them would say something that I could send to Computer Stupidities, so I tried to listen in.
- Woman 1: "What is that little trash can on the screen?"
- Woman 2: "My son says that is call the 'recycle bin'. He tells me when I don't want a Word document anymore and I delete it, it really goes in there."
- Woman 1: "Why in the recycle thingy? Can't you just erase it?"
- Woman 2: "Oh no, Word wouldn't work for very long if I did that, I would run out of blank pages."
- Woman 1: "Why?"
- Woman 2: "Because it cleans the words off the pages, then sends the blank sheets back to Word so they can be used again. That's why it's called the recycle bin."
My coworker (who uses Windows 95) was having trouble downloading a self-extracting archive off the net. In an attempt to make it easier to open the file with WinZIP, he associated *.EXE with WinZIP.
Nothing worked after that. Every program he tried to run would load WinZIP first. He couldn't even run REGEDIT to delete the association.
He ultimately had to reinstall Windows 95 and all his programs.
From a Windows 95 user:
- Customer: "I think my computer doesn't know what it is doing."
- Tech Support: (pause) "Why? What is the problem with the system?"
- Customer: "Well, it keeps asking me, 'What is this?'"
- Customer: "I keep getting an error message whenever I try using the MSDOS mode in Windows 95."
- Tech Support: "Can you describe what happens?"
- Customer: "Well, I keep getting a black screen with an error message saying, 'C:\WINDOWS>'."
- Customer: "Something's wrong with my computer."
- Tech Support: "Like what?"
- Customer: "When I turn it on the screen goes all black."
- Tech Support: "Totally black?"
- Customer: "Yes."
- Tech Support: "Does it say 'C:\>' in the corner?"
- Customer: "Yes."
- Tech Support: "Then it's not really all black, is it?"
- Customer: "I guess not."
- Tech Support: "Type 'win' and press the enter key."
I work at an office supply store. When Windows 98 came out, we had a sale on new computer systems. There were more than a few people who were completely taken in by buzzwords and had no idea what they were talking about. The worst case was a person who spent five or ten minutes looking through Windows Explorer, apparently trying to find something. Trying to make the sale, I stayed with her, helping her when necessary. Eventually, I asked to know what she was looking for. "I'm trying to run Windows 98," she said.
Read in a message board of a local BBS: "I try to avoid using Microsoft. That's why I use MS-DOS."
- Tech Support: "What software are you using to backup?
- Customer: "Ms. Dos." (spoken like it was a person, like Mr. Dos or Mrs. Dos)
- Tech Support: "What, are you just copying the files with the xcopy or copy command?"
- Customer: "Oh, no I use Ms. Backup for that."
At least three people from our company have come to me panicked, almost crying. They all say, "I think I just erased a program!! Help!!" In reality, it turns out they just minimized the window. When I open it again, they gasp, "What did you DO?!?!?"
We maintain a 24 hour, 800 number call desk for our maintenance contract customers, a very expensive undertaking. Non-contract customers can call as well, but our per-call maintenance charge is $250/hour, with a minimum of three hours. If you only call us occasionally, it's a lot cheaper than a contract, but it's clearly designed to discourage trivial calls.
In 1996 a per-call customer called. "What does MSDOS stand for?" she asked. We told her. Her firm paid the $750 bill without demur.
One time a user was trying to clean up his hard drive. He saw a folder called "system" which took up lots of space but only had a few things in it. So he moved the fonts and sounds to a new location and deleted everything else.
One of our users, upon receiving his new computer, deleted most of the files in the system area. He said he didn't know what those files did, so he got rid of them. For some strange reason, the system refused to work properly afterward.
Had a user that called the other day, complaining that all her files were "garbage" and that I should take her computer back and fix them. It turned out she was looking at system files. She couldn't read the binary code and assumed, therefore, that the files were corrupted.
I was asked to fix Word Perfect once, when it had apparently "just quit working." They didn't know why, but it didn't take long for me to find the problem. They had cleaned up their hard drive by erasing all binary files because "they weren't readable."
One user -- a regular caller of ours -- got herself into some serious computer trouble when she set about cleaning up her system. She had been exploring the hard drive in the file manager and discovered hundreds of files in the Windows directory with all different file extensions. Being of an orderly mind, and with several hours of free time, she had created a TXT folder, a COM folder, a DLL folder, and so forth, and moved all the files into these subdirectories.
- Me: "You really should exit Windows before you shut down."
- Friend: "Why?"
- Me: "Well, otherwise you could end up with fragmented files and hard drive errors and that sort of thing."
- Friend: "Oh well. Who cares about hard drive errors?"
- Customer: "My machine won't do anything."
- Tech Support: "What's on the screen right now?"
- Customer: "It's frozen, it's showing my Windows desktop."
- Tech Support: "Try hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete, tell me what happens."
- Customer: (taptaptap) "Nothing."
- Tech Support: "Did you hit all of them at once?"
- Customer: "Umm...just a second." (taptaptap) "I did that time. Nothing happened."
- Tech Support: "Try it again."
- Customer: (taptaptap) "No, it's just sitting there."
- Tech Support: "Move the mouse around. What happens?"
- Customer: "Nothing, the arrow doesn't move."
- Tech Support: "Ok, last try, hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete again."
- Customer: "Still nothing."
- Tech Support: "Hit your numlock key. Does the light flash?"
- Customer: "No."
- Tech Support: "Ok, you're going to have to shut your computer off. Just press the power button, wait for a couple of seconds, and turn it on again."
- Customer: "I've heard that's bad for Windows."
- Tech Support: "Um, well, you can't do anything else, right?"
- Customer: "No."
- Tech Support: "Well, you can't hurt it any worse then."
- Customer: "But I've heard it's bad for Windows to just shut it off without shutting down first."
- Tech Support: "Yes, but it's locked up. There's nothing else you can do."
- Customer: "Will it hurt my Windows?"
- Tech Support: "Probably no worse than it already was by locking up."
- Customer: "Well...ok...but if it doesn't work, will you come over and fix it for me?"
There is a gradeschooler who lives in an apartment complex down the street for whom I built a 486 some time ago. It's running Windows 95, and I am forced to fix it for him constantly. One day he called me up and said that his computer is opening up all of his files. I grabbed my coat and hat and popped over to see what he had done to the poor thing. He had selected everything on his desktop and made shortcuts of them in a new folder on the desktop, in the quick-launch, and, worst of all, his startup folder. Imagine booting all the MS Office 97 applications at startup on a 486...quite painful.
I put my foot in my mouth rather firmly once. I was teaching a new user some basic UNIX commands just so she could get around on the computer when she needed to. I thought I was doing pretty well, but, in a moment of self-doubt, she said that she didn't think she'd ever learn how to use a computer. My feeble attempt at consoling her follows:
- Me: "Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it. When I first started using UNIX, I didn't even know how to change directories!"
- Her: "What's a directory?"
- Customer: "File manager? What's that?"
- Tech Support: "How long have you had your computer?"
- Customer: "Three years."
Talking to a Mac user:
- Tech Support: "When was the last time you rebuilt the desktop?"
- Customer: "Did what?"
- Tech Support: "How long have you owned this computer?"
- Customer: "Four years."
A customer walked into the computer store I work in, wanting to return a computer.
- Me: "Sure, is it defective?"
- Customer: "No, that's not the problem. When I took it home and turned it on, I realized it was only half programmed."
- Me: [scratching head] "What do you mean by half programmed?"
- Customer: "Well, look at the computer on display." [points to the Windows 95 desktop] "Do you see how all the programs are on the left side of the computer?"
- Me: [biting tongue] "Well, you are right sir, I will take your computer back."
I decided the moron had to solve his life before he could buy a computer.
A guy at our company asked to have Lotus Notes installed on his Mac. He said he'd be away for a couple days, and I could install it then. When I went to do it, there wasn't enough disk space, but there was about 96 megs in the trash. Ah, I thought, he's forgotten to empty it.
When the user returned to work, he came straight to see me after switching on his machine.
- Him: "Where're all my files?"
- Me: "What files?"
- Him: "The ones I was keeping in the trash."
Recently, I had a guy from the local tech school come in for an interview for my computer assistant job opening. I was taking him around the office, trying my best to explain to him what my job entails and what he'd be doing if he worked for me. One of the very first things I showed him was our NT server, which runs Wincenter Pro, a third-party enhanced version of Windows NT Server which allows us to have multiple people logged into the same NT box and to start up a remote NT session from an X-Windows desktop. He was pretty impressed by that, having been trained in a vanilla NT environment. The next thing I showed him was one of our old DG 300 UNIX workstations. He scoffed along with me when I explained that the workstation used an old 16mhz Motorola processor, so it was not exactly fast. The interview seemed to be going well up to this point, with the guy seeming to understand most of the stuff I was throwing out (even the stuff I wasn't too sure about myself) until I happened to mention that the DG workstation, along with all the other workstations and servers in our office (save the NT server, of course) ran DG/UX 5.4R3.10:
- Me: "Yeah, and this thing runs DG/UX 5.4R3.10."
- Him: "What's that?"
He stares blankly. My heart sinks.
- Him: "So does that run as a thread under NT?"
- Me: "No. It's an OS. It just runs by itself."
- Him: "Oh oh, so you start up NT, then--"
- Me: "No. UNIX. It's an operating system. It runs by itself, not under NT."
He stares blankly. So much for this prospective employee.
Two girls walked into the University's Linux cluster one time. They were obviously unfamiliar with computers and chatted with each other trying to figure everything out. I was doing my own work and had tuned out a lot of the conversation, but at one point one of them turned to me and asked how to get into Windows. "Type startx," I replied, for the Linux machines booted to a shell prompt, and you had to type "startx" to get into X-Windows. I never did find out if that worked for them or not, but they spent quite some time trying to correlate the instructions they had on paper (presumably given out in one of their classes) with what they were seeing on the screen. A full hour and a half passed, and finally one of them turned to me again and asked if this was the Microsoft Windows cluster. "No," I replied, "that's downstairs." It was hard to stifle the laughter until they were gone. An hour and a half before they realized they weren't even using the right operating system. Wow.
A lab technician (legendary, where I work) deleted a large and seemingly useless file named /vmunix from a Sun workstation. (This file is the UNIX operating system image.) The machine worked fine until I tried to reboot it.