Please Microsoft let me buy your software

Posted : Thursday, 22 November 2012 10:03:00

Okay so I’m principally a Microsoft developer, I do dabble with other bits and pieces but for the last 5 years or so most of my paid work has involved either .Net or SQL Server. Up until recently my use of products such as Visual Studio and SQL Server was covered by licence subscriptions paid for by my employer. For various reasons this is no longer the case so for the last week now I have been trying to purchase a Development and Design Action Pack Subscription. I have to say I am amazed how poor this whole experience has been – particularly given the attention devoted by various Microsoft evangelists on the importance of delivering great customer experience. Just watching some of the BUILD2012 presentations its clear that the folk at Microsoft responsible for creating the products and tools we as developers use are aware of the importance of a good user experience and take great care to create a platform that is both productive and easy to use which allows us to create these great customer experiences. It’s a real shame then that other teams in Microsoft are not singing from the same hymn sheet. What follows is a summary of the miserable experience I have endured this far in my attempt to legitimately purchase an MSDN action pack subscription…..

1) Register as a Microsoft Partner using my windows Live ID

This was the least hassle filled stage of the process, I signed in with my windows live ID, filled in some company information and agreed to the terms and conditions.

2) Now I was in a position to order my subscription, having joined the Microsoft Partner network I was now required to undertake a simple assessment – I clicked “Launch” and was taken to a site where I was required to complete a simple assessment – I passed this with a score of 90%. I instantly received an email congratulating me on my passing score and informing me that I should wait approximately 10 minutes and I would be able to proceed to the payment stage of the subscription process.

After 3 hours when I could still not proceed in the subscription process I contacted the live chat on the MSDN help portal and was advised that there was currently a problem with the subscription process and it could take up to 48 hours for my assessment result to be registered. This was Thursday afternoon, by Monday afternoon (a full 4 days or 96 hours later) I was still unable to get past the assessment stage so in frustration I emailed Microsoft and explained the problem and opened a support call. I checked the next morning and was relieved to see that on the subscription page the tick icon appeared next to the assessment stage and the “order now” button was now enabled.

3) I hit the “Order Now” button and was taken to a payment screen where I entered my payment details and successfully paid the required subscription amount. I went to try and download my software and was surprised to find that there was  nothing available? I again contacted Microsoft and was advised that it could take a further 48 hours to activate my subscription? This was quite shocking, I have worked on real time payment systems before and could not understand how this could be the case, credit card payments are authorised and confirmation is obtained instantly – this mysterious 48 hours lag would suggest that somewhere in the heart of Redmond a helpdesk operator receives an email, they then print it out and take it to their line manager for approval. Once approved the line manager returns the print out to the helpdesk operator who logs onto the partner portal and activates the subscription. NB I cant believe this would actually be the case but I’m struggling to understand how it takes so long! Anyway I emailed Microsoft again about this and received a reply apologising for the delay and a pledge to investigate and activate the subscription. This morning I received an email stating that my subscription was now active – WOOHOO!

Incidentally check out the email copy below…


Notice the red crosses? I ordered a development and design subscription but some of this email would suggest I ordered the solution provider subscription?

4) I logged on to the partner portal and saw that I could indeed now download software – some great stuff like Exchange, SQL Server etc. All very interesting but I couldn’t seem to find a download of visual studio? I read again the subscription activation email and was shocked to see the following text which I had missed on my first read….

“You will have download access to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional Edition with MSDN for Action Pack within three business days of receiving this e-mail. “

What????? How can this be??? This is a complete shocker of a customer experience. I have been so impressed with the direction Microsoft have taken over recent years to make the development experience a collaborative, engaging and open process. Embracing the open-source movement, engaging the developer community and disseminating educational material through a variety of channels has made development using the MS stack a truly enjoyable process. I find it such a shame that all this hard work has been largely ignored by the MSDN subscription team who seem happy to lumber any potential customers with one of the worst online customer experiences I have had the misfortune to endure in recent memory.

The grand irony of this whole situation is that I can find numerous bit torrents of pirated versions of Visual Studio 2012 (and other MS products) which I could download and install in less that an hour for free. In trying to legitimately purchase the software I have been subjected to a clumsy user interface, incoherent order process and a full week after starting the process I still haven’t got a copy of Visual Studio 2012 which is the main reason I wanted the action pack subscription.

Come on Microsoft sort this mess out, how many other potential customers have tried this and got so frustrated that they just get a non-legitimate copy from other channels? This will obviously have a negative impact on sales but more importantly what does it do to Microsoft's reputation?

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Tom Chantler Wednesday, 28 November 2012 12:55:45

Good write up! I have just been through an almost identical experience which left me similarly unimpressed. In their defence, when I telephoned Microsoft they explained that they often do some fairly thorough background checks to ensure that their software is used legitimately, which explains why the process is not automated.