Friday, November 20, 2009

Incompetent HP Laptop Support

Not the people, the whole system.  I think they would prefer to have a dissatisfied customer return a laptop rather than giving access to people who can actually solve the problem.

The built-in TV tuner in my brand-new HP dv7t-2200 laptop is not working, and I have now spent over 12 hours of my time (and HP's time) on the phone with HP's response center agents.  As far as I know, we are no closer to a solution.

The Good:  (1) I have had no trouble reaching an agent on the telephone (now seven different agents); and (2) Every one of the HP agents, except the last one, has been polite and has tried hard to fix the problem.

The Bad:  Except for one, every agent has been clueless.  I'm very certain that none have ever seen a TV tuner like mine - one guy asked if I had plugged in the tuner card.  It's built in, and they should know it!

The Ugly:  HP's system simply does not allow for any continuity.  You cannot call anyone back - you always start all over.  They do have a record of what has been done before, but they only half believe it, so they want to repeat everything.  I had a good thing going once with Jason in the USA, who was on a good track and promised a callback and an email.  No email, ever.  There was a call, which I unfortunately missed, and they said they would call again, but they never did.  Most of the agents who say they will call back do not do so.  It's impossible to get anywhere, gain any traction.  As far as I know, there is no way to escalate a problem.  HP just doesn't care about one laptop - they deal in hundreds and thousands of them.

I managed to reach "Second Level" support today, but was informed by Adrian (in India) that I was only on warranty support and had not paid enough money to talk to him!  This despite the fact that I have purchased a 2-year support contract.

The system is totally incompetent.

I have about 12 days yet to send the damn thing back to HP for a full refund.  I don't want to do it, but it's looming larger every day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Windows 7 Does Not Save Window Size or Position Settings

This is as good a reason as any to AVOID buying a computer with Windows 7.  Buy a Mac instead.

In Windows XP and earlier we could set the size, position, and other details of an explorer window, then close the window, and from then on a window with that path would have that same size, position, and details.  Windows Vista retained that function, but occasionally "forgot" everything, so we had to reset every window again.

Windows 7 remembers NOTHING!  Actually, it seems to know only the size and position of the last-used explorer window, even if it isn't closed yet, so all new windows will have that size and will fall of top of that window.  As a result, almost every newly-opened explorer window must be resized and repositioned, resulting in many more mouse-clicks and moves than ever before.

According to remarks on two different forums, by people who may know, this is a deliberate change by Microsoft, not an accident.  It's a feature, not a bug.  If so, then Microsoft solves their little problems by simply eliminating the feature that has the problem!

But it sure doesn't work for me.  I often work with multiple windows open, copying files from here to there or whatever.  I HATE HAVING TO FIX WINDOWS ALL THE TIME.

I've never used a Mac, but people keep saying that it's better in some way.  Maybe I'm starting to catch on.


I haven't returned my brand-new HP laptop to HP yet, but I'm sure leaning that way.

Still No TV Tuner

I missed a phone call yesterday, so I don't know the current status of the TV Tuner problem on my brand-new HP dv7t-2200 laptop. My fault for missing it.

Of course I tried to call back, twice actually, but was both times connected to an agent in India, neither of them able to bring up any record of my service ticket. Both wanted to start all over. After wasting 9 hours on Tuesday, I declined.

The voice message from the missed call said they would try again today. We'll see.  They said that they would send an email and would call.  No email, but they did call.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

HP dv7t Still Doesn't Work

To be slightly more fair, brand-new laptop, the TV tuner doesn't work. At all. Over nine hours on the phone with HP, no resolution. The last HP agent, Jason, said that apparently this is a problem on most or all of the newest HP dv7t laptops.

So don't buy one now, or don't get the TV tuner with it!

The only good news is that I have been able to get through to HP agents fairly quickly. The bad news is that they were pretty much clueless until I reached Jason. And of course it ISN'T FIXED!

HP has a money-back guarantee. Perhaps I'll wind up sending this back and buying a Dell or a Toshiba.

I'm supposed to get an email tonight or tomorrow with a resolution, and a phone call as well. We'll see.

Frustrating HP Support

I don't think I can build a laptop, so I bought one.

At this moment I have been on the phone with HP for over seven hours, trying to resolve a problem with the built-in TV tuner in a brand new HP dv7t laptop computer. Imagine, seven hours, and there is no end in sight. I've had my sweeties bring up both breakfast and lunch, looks like dinner might be next.

I started at 7:41 am with the general support number and got a woman who quickly gave me a service ticket number and turned me over to Vivek, in India. He's a nice guy, but we spent over four hours together, way more than either of us wanted. At 12 noon, 00:30 am his time, he gave up and asked me to wait five minutes for him to document the problem and then call a "Level 2" support number.

I did, but then got transferred (intentionally I think) to another department, where the nice lady transferred me back. Or so I thought, but after spending a couple more hours with Lloyd, also in India, I discovered that he was also Level 1 and was communicating with HIS support person by text message.

I am almost ready to give up on the tuner and just say that HP couldn't fix it. It has never worked, it's dead as a doornail, and HP just won't put me in touch with people who can figure it out. Right now I'm off the phone, but the laptop is doing a scan for channels, which will come up with zero channels as it always has. Then I have a number to call again. I'll let you know how that comes out.

I can't say anything positive about the HP dv7t laptop until this is resolved. I'm pissed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

PC Phone Home (Do It Yourself)

Some time ago I downloaded an evaluation copy of the for-sale PC Phone Home, and reviewed it here and here. I did not recommend PCPhoneHome in that review, and some of the comments left by readers are quite interesting too. Bottom line - at that time it seemed to be mostly a scam, because even if it did work there was no way to get a response from the company if your computer was stolen. Your results may vary.

I had never done anything with Windows scripts, but I studied up a little, and it turns out that you can fairly easily create a pc-phone-home batch file to be executed by the Task Scheduler at system startup. This batch file can automatically send you an email describing the computer, time of day, IP address, and whatever else you wish to add. No changes to the registry (except those made by the Task Scheduler), no secret code, no risk of a trojan in the system, everything is done with standard Windows command-line commands plus one well-proven, free, open-source SMTP mail sending program called BLAT. The same batch file runs on Windows Vista Ultimate, Vista Home Premium, XP Professional, and XP Home Edition, probably all Vista and XP systems, and even Windows 7, though testing is not complete on Win 7. It will not work on earlier Windows systems, and has only been tested on XP and Vista systems that are fully up to date, SP3 and SP2 respectively.

On my computer, the batch file is called BootMail.cmd. Its weakness is that it may be easier for a thief to find and uninstall BootMail than PCPhoneHome. But that would require a knowledgable computer thief, which may be an oxymoron. And there are things that you can do, like hiding the BootMail.cmd file somewhere in the operating system and renaming it something innocuous like GoogleHelper.cmd. In addition, if there is no network found at bootup, it will not lurk in the background waiting for one to show up. I may add that someday.

Previous experience with Windows scripts and with the Task Scheduler might be helpful to a person installing this software, but they are probably not required. I got by somehow, and you may be able to make some simple modofications and otherwise use the example code exactly as is.

BootMail is designed to phone home at system start, but it could easily be modified to run on different triggers, such as the network coming back up, or a disk error, or any other event that is logged by Windows. There are lots of those, especially in Vista and Windows 7. Of course a user knowledgable in windows commands can also modify the information that it displays. Click here for an example of the email message that it sends.

To make it work:
  • Copy the code from this page into a file with a .cmd type extension, e.g. bootmail.cmd. Modify it for appropriate email addresses and user names. See code comments.
  • Download the small BLAT program from and put the executables where Windows will find them. See code comments.
  • Use the Task Scheduler to set up bootmail.cmd to run at system startup. See code comments.
  • Set debug=TRUE at first, until you get it working.
The code looks big, but it's mostly documentation (every line beginning with ::). If you prefer not to do the screen copy, you can download both the code and the example email text in a zipped file here. The files are very small.

What I DON'T know is what to do if a computer is stolen and I do get an email. There is enough information in the email to pinpoint the exact IP address from which it was mailed, but how does a person proceed with that? I guess I'd call my local police, or perhaps better yet the cops at the address where the IP address is owned, as determined by WHOIS. Will the police even care about one stolen computer? Anyone have a better idea?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Windows Live Mail versus Mozilla Thunderbird

I like Windows Mail, the free mail client on Windows Vista. It grew out of Outlook Express, and finally does almost everything I would want. So, naturally, Microsoft has decided to discontinue it on their next operating system, Windows 7. In fact they will not be providing any email client at all, counting on the user to download something, or on the internet service provider to do that for the user.

Microsoft has developed a new mail client, apparenty based on Windows Mail, called Windows Live Mail. Sorry for the confusion in names, but I didn't cause that, Microsoft did! Users will be able to download Windows Live Mail (WLM) at no cost. But it isn't the same. So I installed Windows Live Mail Version 2009 (Build 14.0.8064.0206) alongside Mozilla Thunderbird 3 (Beta 2). Thunderbird is a free, open-source, collaborative email client developed by people who say they want to provide the "most useful and enjoyable communications tool possible." It's a mature product, certainly as mature as WLM. Thunderbird Release 3 Beta 2 is stable on my machine. The comparison between Thunderbird and Windows Live Mail is interesting.

Windows Live Mail:

THEY DUMBED IT DOWN! Windows Live Mail is Windows Mail with fewer controls. They added a calendar and included it with a large set of other applications called Windows Live Essentials. Here are some comparisons between Windows Mail and WLM:Windows Live Logo
  • WLM supports multiple POP accounts, but each is treated quite separately, with no way (that I have found) to direct mail from all or several POP accounts into a common inbox. This is most inconvenient. I have lots of POP accounts and do not use web-based accounts.
  • Further, when a new, unread email does come in, WLM says there is a new one but doesn't say which inbox it is in! Inconvenient and annoying. There is a "Quick View" that can help, but it takes space in the list of accounts, see next.
  • The list of accounts cannot be deleted or moved and has way too much space between accounts, so that scrolling to search for an email is always necessary if there are several accounts.
  • WLM has no "Send All" command. When you finish an email, it's gone. No "Outbox" unless the send actually fails. This can be good or bad, but I don't like it because I'm accustomed to clicking on Send All to really send it.
  • WLM apparently uses yet another type of address book. For sure it does not use the "Contacts" directory used by Windows Mail, though it will import that directory into its book. I'm not sure where the WLM address book is, actually, though I probably could find it if I cared. It will export its address book in only two formats: VCF and CSV.
  • The "New Mail" sound file cannot easily be changed. I like a louder one in case I'm not at my computer.
  • When I installed WLM it tried to copy all of the mail in Windows Mail into its own file system, but failed. Email POP accounts also did not transfer over. I don't know why.
  • Help, like all Microsoft help these days, is entirely web-based. Don't plan on any help without an internet connection.
  • The good news is that WLM works and seems quite appropriate for a user with one POP account, or with only web-based accounts, because the list of accounts will be trivial, and there are fewer things to screw up. Too bad Microsoft couldn't include an "expert" button of some kind to make it more configurable for the rest of us.
Mozilla Thunderbird:

I tried both Release 2.0, the current "stable" version, and Release 3b2, ending up with 3b2. Comparing Windows Mail and WLM with Thunderbird:Mozilla Thunderbird Logo
  • WLM and Windows Mail have a "drag and drop" capability, allowing the user to drag an email out of the Inbox, for example, into a normal Windows Folder as a .EML file. I love that feature and use it all the time. Thunderbird does not have that feature. Why would anyone want that? I like to keep all files for a project together, whatever their file types. For example, if I'm planning to run a marathon in Paducah, there will be a folder named Paducah containing an internet shortcut to the race web site (.url), maybe one to the hotel web site (.url), a copy of the course map (.jpg or .gif), printouts of car, air, or hotel reservations (.pdf), and copies of communications (.eml). No need to look in different places for different file types. Thunderbird will correctly display an email in .EML format, and will export them too, but not as easily as Windows Mail and WLM will do.
  • Like WLM, Thunderbird has no Send All command. In fact I haven't found anything quite like WLM's Sync command. I admit I haven't missed it though.
  • Thunderbird would not import my email messages from Windows Mail. There is a separately-installable extension called ImportExportTools, but it only imported the file structure and not the files themselves. Perhaps it would work better with a simpler file structure than I have.
  • Thunderbird would not import POP accounts. But neither did WLM.
  • It will export contacts only in LDIF, CSV, or tab-delimited formats.
  • HOWEVER, Thunderbird does have a global-folder structure called Local Folders. Any email from any account can be directed into the global Inbox on Local Folders, or the global Spam box that I created, for that matter. This allows me to pull email from any of several POP accounts into one place.
  • All three clients have filters that can be configured to redirect or simply delete known spam, or to direct email from specific addresses into specific folders. Thunderbird allows these folders to be global, hence accessible to any POP account.
  • Further, Thunderbird has a "Junk Mail Learning" feature that seems to work pretty well, far better than the simple junk filter levels in WLM.
  • Thunderbird has WAY more controls than WLM, and more than Windows Mail as well. So it's possible for a user to get things pretty screwed up. The good news is that the most dangerous options have a "restore defaults" button. I haven't needed that yet, but ...
  • Thunderbird can include "add-ons," contributed extensions which may add class and functionality for the discerning Thunderbird user.
  • Thunderbird won't go away. I hate that about Microsoft - they just want to sell new copies of operating systems, so we (obviously) can't depend on them for continuity.
For my money (they're both free), I far prefer Thunderbird over Windows Live Mail, even without drag & drop. I have already switched to Thunderbird on my Vista x64 system, even though I do have the venerable Windows Mail on it too. But there are other users on my network, people with only one POP account. It may be a while before they have computers with Windows 7 (or beyond), but perhaps I will install Windows Live Mail for them when they do. We shall see.