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Microsoft Product Activation Sucks

March 26, 2013

Today for no sane reason, Microsoft Office on my PC decided that it was not activated, even though it has been installed and activated on my machine for well over a year. It opened a window and told me I had 28 days to activate it. So, what’s wrong? I tried to re-enter the activation key and Office would tell me that my key was not valid.

This became a very long process. I’m going to detail everything below, but I don’t blame you for wanting to skip the details. It’s pretty dry reading. The bottom line is that Microsoft’s product activation crap screwed up and, due to no fault of my own, cost me several hours. I counted at least 4 hours of wasted time. That did not include writing this up, but this just helps me feel better. :-)

I went through various steps in the troubleshooting page that the product activation window directed me to on Microsoft’s web site. Everything seemed to check out fine and I finally get to a page that says “Microsoft Customer Service may be able to help” and I was presented with a phone number. I call the phone number and select the “business customer” option. I get to a lady who asks if I have a support contract. I’m sure my company does, but I don’t know what it is. She said that it would cost over $500 to provide support to me! My gosh! Seriously!?! I told her the nature of the problem and she went ahead and tried to help me out. She never asked for credit card information, though. I trust that was a free call. I’m still beside myself that a single support call would cost more than the product itself!

She asked me for the product key, the serial number on my physical disc, etc. She verified everything and said it all appeared valid and she then said she will transfer the call to the product activation team for further assistance. She said that is who I should have called in the first place. Well, I would agree, but I have no idea why Microsoft’s troubleshooting guide related to product activation would lead me to customer service.

I then get transferred to some fellow named Raul. He asked for some number that I had never heard of before. I asked what number he was referring to and he just countered my question with “You are trying to activate Office 2010, right?” I said yes and he then made the same request for some number. I again told him I have no idea what number he’s referring to, so he said he was going to transfer me to customer support. “But, I was just there and they transferred me to you!”, I told him. I asked why I should be transferred to customer support when the issue is product activation. He put me on hold for a moment and the next thing I know I am transferred to customer support, but this time they tell me that the customer support is closed. Nice.

So, I called back. The lady I spoke to in customer service before gave me the direct number (+1 866 432 3012). I spoke to a fellow there and we went through the motions again. Finally, he said he needed to transfer me to customer support. I told him that customer support was closed already, but he insisted and asked me to stay on the line. I did, but then the line dropped. I’m not sure if he accidentally dropped the line or hung up on purpose. After being tossed around like a volleyball, I do have to wonder.

There’s apparently a problem somewhere and I don’t think he can resolve it. He did confirm that my product key was valid, but for whatever reason, Office 2010 is telling me otherwise.

It was late at night. I went to bed.

The next day, I called Microsoft’s activation number. Again, they ask me two times to read the product activation key and they tell me that it validates. Now, just in case you are not aware, those product activation keys are very long alphanumeric sequences. To say that I’m tired of repeating this number is an understatement. After verifying that it validates, I was transferred to customer support. I was also provided with a direct number to customer support (+1 800 936 5700) and a case was opened for support (case # 1201074501). The wait time is 33 minutes, but fortunately there is an option to allow Microsoft to call me back.

In the meantime, I was curious as to whether communication was really happening between my PC and Microsoft’s activation servers. Oddly, I could not see any. I used Wireshark to try to watch traffic between my PC and Microsoft. I saw IP packets going to several places that I could identify, but none going to Microsoft. So, is Office even communicating with Microsoft’s servers? I disabled the network interfaces on my laptop and got the same results. Office isn’t even talking to Microsoft!

I got a call back from Microsoft. The support person said they need to reinstall Office 2010. Why!?!? How did it break? I didn’t break it. Nothing new has been installed, except for the updates that come down from Microsoft. So, did Microsoft break Office in some Windows update? In any case, I could not wait on an update, because I had a meeting to attend.

The Microsoft representative called me back after the meeting and uninstalled Office and re-installed it. Interestingly, he said he had to use a new activation key. He blamed the activation server for something, but it was not clear to me as to what the issue was. All I know is that he used a new key, but interestingly he used the old installation binary. So, I’m wondering why the re-install was even needed. If he had to change keys for some external reason, then I don’t understand the need to re-install the software.

He also applied a number of Windows registry changes, change the user account control settings to be insanely generous, changed permissions in the temp directory, and modified my preferred folder view settings. I asked him to change the folder permissions back, but I still had to go change the other things myself and double-check settings. I then had to re-download a bunch of patches via the Windows Update.

Next up, a bunch of applications got screwed up somehow. From what I can tell, some important files in the c:\windows\installer directory were deleted in the process. Damn! How many hours of my day am I obliged to waste because of this crap? I’ve wasted several already and it looks like I’m going to have to re-install a bunch of applications.

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