November 29, 2004
Q: I keep being told by "tech support" that the only solution to get rid of the problems on my system is to reformat my hard drive and start over. Is this the only way? — Cathy
A: Computers and, more specifically, computer operating systems (such as Windows) have become such complicated balls of string that many companies have determined the shortest way to resolving most any computer problem is to wipe everything out and start over.
While this one-size-fits-all approach may make it easier on tech support folks, it can create a whole host of issues for the user.
Without a very specific understanding of your actual problems, it is impossible for me to say if that is the proper solution. I can tell you that in our service business it’s the last option, not the first, because it’s so invasive for most users.
Keep in mind, the unfortunate support staffers are tasked with the virtually impossible mission of resolving computer problems over the phone on a system that they have never seen and likely will never see while taking direction from a user who is both frustrated and nontechnical.
Add to this the "cost saving" measure that is popular in tech circles of outsourcing tech support to foreign countries, and you have many opportunities for confusion and bad decisions.
To make things more difficult, tech support employees are often given specific time limitations for each call to increase the efficiency of the department and reprimanded when they spend "too much time" per call.
It’s no wonder why so many responses to virtually any problem is to "wipe it all out and start over" (often referred to as a recovery process, which is very misleading to the average user).
The reality is that the only way to fix most of today’s computer problems without having to start over is to spend a lot of time manually removing all of the garbage that has built up in the system.
Unfortunately, time is not something most computer manufacturers have to give. When they sell millions of computers worldwide, spending more than 15 or 20 minutes per call is just not a luxury they can afford.
If you examine the warranty statement on any computer, it will clearly state that the user is responsible for data backup, which includes the reinstallation of any programs that were added after the purchase of the system.
The problem with the wipe it out approach is that it solves the problem for the computer company, but creates a major problem for the user.
Most folks don’t have any idea where their critical data resides, much less how to back it up. (See last week’s column about backup options at www.computerproblems.com if this is you!)
There are plenty of service organizations that can provide a manual cleanup solution for you so that you don’t have to deal with all of the issues of starting over, but don’t expect that level of service in a warranty situation.
If you don’t like what your primary care provider is telling you, get a second opinion.