Update #4: You may now download your hotfixes without contacting support! ... this was the biggest issue that most customers seemed to have. Fixes for the other issues will also be coming online shortly. Thanks for all your feedback.

Update: To be very clear. This experiment was performed by several of the folks in my organization. Just about everyone that used the phone received a hot fix without a credit card or PID in < 15 minutes with <5 minutes spent on their end.   

Update #2: I'm not a complainer, I'm actually involved in several ways to try and fix these issues. I'm a huge internal advocate for fixing our online support story all the way from the QnA on MSDN Forums to getting hotfixes.  That's why I did this experiment, to test the waters and see what was good an bad today from the customer perspective.  The first thing you'll see, very soon, is the ability to direct download the most popular VS hotfixes without going through these hoops.  I can't wait to blog about that in more detail.  

Update #3: I just sent around the text copy for the hotfix download page we are working on. Easy to download hotfixes for developers are coming....


I'm one of those people that generally believes that we should just offer all of our hot fixes as public downloads rather than forcing people to request them directly from PSS.  Not everyone here share's that opinion.  Recently a group of folks decided to see just how hard it is to get a hot fix out of Microsoft. 

A table was sent out to folks asking them to call PSS for a specific hot fix (KB 920805). People were asked to answer the following questions... you can play along to if you'd like to leave your information below.

  1. How long did it take you to find out where to call?
  2. Length of time on the phone?
  3. How long after the call did you wait for an e-mail with the link to the hot fix?
  4. Where you asked for a credit card. 

I added my own personal rule to the list.  I thought it was cheating to know, in advance, what the number of the KB article was so I decided I'd see how long it took from a real beginning of searching Google for the problem I might be having if I needed this hot fix.  Also, I really hate picking up the phone so my rule was that I could not actually call product support services.  Here is my tale.

0 minutes elapsed: "Houston, we have a problem".  I have this really large solution in VB.Net that contains over 10 projects. I just can't stand how slow Visual Studio 2005 is.  My C# solutions seem to work fine.

1 minute: Enter google search for "vb slow vs 2005". Wow, the first link goes right to the KB article. For completeness sake I try the same search on live.com.  No such luck.  If you are looking for this KB article... use google.

5 minutes: Read the KB article and learned there is a fix... but I have to contact Microsoft. According to the article...

A supported hotfix is now available from Microsoft, but it is only intended to correct the problem that is described in this article. Only apply it to systems that are experiencing this specific problem. This hotfix may receive additional testing. Therefore, if you are not severely affected by this problem, we recommend that you wait for the next Visual Studio 2005 service pack that contains this hotfix.

To resolve this problem immediately, contact Microsoft Product Support Services to obtain the hotfix. For a complete list of Microsoft Product Support Services telephone numbers and information about support costs, visit the following Microsoft Web site:


Note In special cases, charges that are ordinarily incurred for support calls may be canceled if a Microsoft Support Professional determines that a specific update will resolve your problem. The usual support costs will apply to additional support questions and issues that do not qualify for the specific update in question.

6 minutes: Not web friendly.  When are we going to realize that no one wants to pick up the phone. The contact us page listed above has a phone number on the top. Not only is that expensive for us, but also, my gut tells me that most people don't want to pick up the phone for something like this. My next chunk of time is going to be spent finding the web option.

8 Minutes In: The "Online Costumer Service" is not what it sounds like. One link is to send feedback on this page and the other is a link to more resources... most of them about signing up for newsletters. Blah.

9 Minutes: The third link down is "Visit the Help and Support Web Site to find answers to your product questions."  Isn't that the page I'm on?  I click that link... they ask me to take a survey. I'm not sure they want my answers just yet so I decline.

10 Minutes: Five links down on this page (http://support.microsoft.com/) is a "select a product" link that tells me I can contact a support individual via e-mail.  It takes me http://support.microsoft.com/gp/assistsupport

11 Minutes: VS 2005 is not listed so I click on "more developer tools".

12 Minutes: 41 links down (below the "rights management ad-ons for IE" and "embedded Visual C++ 4.0"!) I find the link for Visual Studio 2005.

13 Minutes: I get to a page that has a button for "start e-mail request". Have fun mousing over stuff on that page and watching the CSS bugs.  :-)

14 Minutes: After clicking "Start an E-mail Request" I have to sign my life away and agree to some terms and conditions. It makes me wonder if they would have made me wait through someone reading this if I had called. Thankfully, since I work here, I assume that they already own me so I just click accept. (Nevermind, I just read through some of that stuff... wow.)

15 Minutes: Just noticed that I'm signed into passport on this page. I can assume I skipped that step since I was signed into the MSDN Forums already and it just kept me signed into Microsoft sites.  Amazing when technology works.  I have to select a computer... it's the one I'm using so I choose that one.

16 Minutes: It brings me to a screen that's going to try and find my PID.  I hope it works. :-) I wonder what I would do here if my install was messed up and I couldn't get to the help about screen to find my PID. The scan started... it couldn't find my PID.  I click "How to find me PID".

17 Minutes: The "how to find me PID" page sucks because it doesn't realize I had already selected VS 2005. Now I have to select navigate to it again.  You begin to realize how badly Microsoft doesn't get the web since most people who did this experiment and called... had their hot fix 2-5 minutes ago. If it takes longer to use the web site... somehow you've failed miserably.  Thankfully, it was once my glorious job to test the "Help About" dialog in VS so I'm pretty confident I can find it there.  (Hey, you have to start somewhere. :-) )

18 Minutes: Apparently the PID I copied from VS 2005 is not valid. Now I'm stuck. All the PIDs are the same in my help about screen so none of them are valid.  Also, I clicked continue 4 times before I figured out there was an error because nothing but the text on the page changed.  It suggests that I could "ask others in the newsgroups at not charge"... maybe the hot fix is available as a rouge download.  I'll try that quickly.

22 Minutes: No luck finding a rouge download. Chris Mayo tells me I should e-mail VBperf@microsoft.com if I see this issue.  Sounds like cheating to me so I'll go back to my PID issue.

25 Minutes: My PID still doesn't work. It says I can pay $99 dollars via credit card as an option. I make an assumption that most people wouldn't make.. that they will reimburse me.  Besides... I'm going to use my corporate card. :-) Thankfully they take American Express.

30 Minutes: Located and entered my credit card info and I'm finally taken to a "describe my problem" page.  Wow, the red fonts and changing sizes can give you a head-ache. Forget about making IE CSS compliant... how about fixing our own CSS bugs.  I wonder what the page looks like in Firefox, but at this point I don't want to go backwards since I had to jump through so many hoops to get here. Here is the text I send them.

I'm trying to use VB.Net in VS 2005 with a large solution. I'm experiencing the performance issues that are described in this KB article. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/920805/en-us. I know there is a hot fix for the issue and I'd like to download it. The article says I have to contact you.

For some reason my PID is reported as invalid so I choose the credit card option. I have a legal copy of VS 2005 and want to make sure I'm not charged for getting this fix. Can you also validate that I will not be charged for downloading the hot fix?



32 Minutes: I'm taking to a confirmation page. It confirms that I submitted the request, but I received the active-X control warning in that yellow IE bar.  It was trying to collect information from my machine automatically.  I click the yellow bar and say "allow Active X control to Run".  (I guessing this part is not Firefox compliant. :-)  )

It attempts to refresh the page, but I can't get past the "An unknown application error occurred. Please try again in a few minutes."  message in the web page.  Now I'm worried that my request was lost so I go to check my Hotmail to see if I got a confirmation mail.

33 Minutes: It didn't lose my request!

Your question was successfully submitted to Microsoft.
A Microsoft professional will respond to you in e-mail within 1 business day.
You can also view your response on the Support site when you have signed into Passport.
Print or save this page or record your confirmation number for your reference.

And now... we wait...

150 Minutes: I haven't heard anything so I log back into the support site to try and check the status.  This link (View support requests you have submitted online) allowed me to see that I still have "No Response".  Thankfully I'm not 100% blocked by this problem since I don't really have it.  :-)

210 Minutes: Am I a pirate? I've just received the following mail. 

I have contacted customer care and had the credit card charge refunded to your card, before I can send the hotfix out to you I need you to contact the Anti-Piracy group first and resolve the issue with the PID servers. You can do this 2 ways by email or by the phone, I have provided a link below to the directions for doing both. After this is resolved please contact me by replying to this email. I will re-open your case and provided the hotfix to you after you have resolved the other issue.


On the upside they already refunded my credit card.  On the downside I need to take more action to validate that I'm not stealing Visual Studio before they will give me the fix. 

215 Minutes: I've carefully read the page the support engineer sent me to and I can't find a way to "resolve the issue with the PID servers" that doesn't scream "Hey everyone! Look at the software pirate!".  So I've replied with the following mail.

Hi ????- The link you sent me to is all about reporting piracy.  There are no instructions I can find on that page that tell me how to "resolve the issue with the PID servers".  How am I expected to resolve this?  What additional information is needed from me that will allow you to send me the hotfix?


I suppose I could have played the "Microsoft Card" at this point.  (I'm using my snazzy cool Windows Live Mail account address for this. :-) )There could be some issue with the internally distributed build of Visual Studio I'm using, but I would have assumed our PIDs where valid. So I'm not going to play that card just yet.  If I have to, and that's not the reason my PID is invalid, then a customer would have been up some creek without a paddle.

216 Minutes: I get a nice automated mail telling me that my e-mail was received.  :-) In total I've received 6 automated mails from Microsoft. Three initial confirmation mails, two telling me there was action on my case with the initial reply from PSS and the most recent one that said "we got your mail".  Three probably would have been enough.  But we strive to exceed customer expectations I guess. :-)

241 Minutes: The support engineer was nice enough to send me the download link to the hotfix with the following explanation.

I will be sending you the hotfix that you have requested, but I suggest that you contact the Anti-Piracy group, so that they can help resolve the issue with the PID server. The reason I am suggesting this is because if you need help in the future they may not support the product you have on your machine, until it has been cleared by the Piracy group.

I'm still not sure what they really expect to do here, but if I were a customer I suspect I'd probably just forget about it since I got the download I was looking for.

242 Minutes: I go to unzip my hotfix. Thankfully I didn't delete the mail they sent me since the ZIP was PW protected. I'm not really sure what this step buys us other than annoying the customer since I could always rezip the files in an unprotected manner and republish them. And the pain of going through this process really makes me want to, but something tell me that action might be against my employment agreement. 

244 Minutes: The installation instructions are pretty useless. They seem to believe there is only one file I have to run, but the zip had two installers. One for the .NET framework and one for VS.  The rest of the instructions contained three paragraphs telling me that redistributing this thing would be a bad idea.

245 Minutes: I run the NDP patch installer first.  I get another agreement. This one makes me feel better.

You may use a copy of this supplement with each validly licensed copy of Microsoft Windows operating system software

I guess it doesn't mind if my copy of VS is pirated... as long as windows is valid. :-)

247 Minutes: First hotfix installed and I'm onto the actual VS fix. This EULA does actually want my copy of VS to be valid, it's almost 4 pages long, and provided in french as well. :-) The one for the NDP was a paragraph in English.  Just an interesting difference.  I'm sure there is some law about the ENU release for Canada requiring a french EULA, but why then, did the NDP one miss out on French education?

250 Minutes: The VS Hotfix install seems frozen and something is chewing through CPU time... this is not a good end case yet. 

252 Minutes: Closed down any managed apps I had running on my machine. As soon as a closed Windows Live Writer the install completed. 

254 Minutes: Trying to launch VS again to validate the problem is gone and everything is working. I get the dreaded "Help Update in Progress" dialog.... and wait...

260 Minutes: Success!!! VS Launches, VB.NET projects are now more performent, and there are other side-effects I can see. 


Not counting the time I spent logging the effort, this process took about 1.5 hours total from my day. It was over 4 1/2 total hours from problem to resolution.  If this were a blocking issue for me I probably would have called. To be fair ~10 other folks on our team that tried this via calling were all done in under 15 minutes.  But that just means that we suck at online support today.  To recap:

  • The style sheets on the pages are broken and it makes them very ugly.  
  • Good luck with Firefox
  • The validation of my PID appears to have failed for unknown reasons and that means I had to push harder to get my hot fix.  Next time I may have to call to confirm I'm not a pirate to get support. :-(
  • The active X control designed to collect more information on my machine configuration failed after I allowed it to install.  I went back a second time and it failed again.  I am using IE 7 Beta 3 so that may be an issue.
  • The response time was OK, but not great.  I've done online support with comcast and been e-mailing back and forth or IMing within 5 minutes of reporting the issue.
  • The support engineer was nice, but no one apologized for the inconvenience.
  • I ended up being charged $99 dollars before it was refunded. No one that called had to give a credit card.
  • Google was the most helpful part of my support experience. I didn't think I'd find the KB so quickly.
  • The "online support" options where really hard to find and the process, once I did find them, was confusing. (No VS 2005 listed on one page, listed 41st on another.)

In the end this experience makes me further believe that we should just link to the hotfix download from the KB article. On the off-chance a hot fix is broken then let customers call support. Don't make me go through it just to get a hot fix for a problem I know I have. 

It also makes me wonder when/if our support processes are ever going to go Web 2.0.  If we continue to push products like Office Live, Windows Live, Spaces, etc but we don't have great online based support then we'll be judged by the weakest link in the product chain... the support link.  Offline (phone support) seems like a model that just won't play in the new world we're entering. If I want all my programs online then I want my support online to be great as well.