Why You Shouldn’t Let Billy Bob “Help” You With Your Computer
Yesterday I had a remarkable experience with a customer whose computer I had restored some six weeks ago. (We’ll call him “Jim.”)
Now you should understand that I had done for him what I always do: a thorough, professional job that puts the computer into really great shape, software-wise.
Jim had called me a couple of days after I restored his system, complaining that he still had “the same damn problem.” His computer was “slow.”
I was a little bit perplexed as to what was going on. I wondered, as we talked, whether he might have gotten it reinfected with viruses already. It had been clear to me that Jim was not at all computer savvy, so I’d gone over the steps and strategies to prevent reinfection with him very, very carefully. But maybe he had promptly run into something bad on the internet. Heaven knows there are plenty of bad things out there. Even the best antivirus isn’t going to protect you from everything, and it doesn’t take weeks to get infected — it just takes clicking on the wrong thing.
I explained to Jim that of course I would be willing to remedy any issue that was my fault. And I would do so at no charge. I absolutely stand behind the quality of my work.
That the problem was of my making seemed fairly unlikely, though, as I had tested his computer and found it to be in perfect operating condition before I returned it to him. But I could certainly look at it.
Well, Jim opted not to have me do so. Instead, I gave him as much advice as I could over the phone.
Jim called again maybe a couple of weeks later, saying there were still problems. And again he opted not to have me look at it. It wasn’t entirely clear to me this time whether there was actually a problem with the computer, or whether something else was going on. A problem with his internet service? User error?
In any event, somebody Jim knew was going to be in town. They knew about computers. He said he was going to have them take a look and help him out.
A few weeks went by.
So a couple of days ago I got a call from Jim. This time he sounded angry. “I told you I was still having problems,” he said. “I’m gonna write a letter to the State Attorney General. And I’m gonna file a complaint about you with the Better Business Bureau.” He pretty much yelled at me through the phone.
Now of course I understand people getting frustrated if their computer isn’t working right. Of course, from my point of view, Jim’s adversarial attitude was entirely misplaced. I had frankly done a fabulous job for him, at a fair and reasonable price. Still, it all cost money, and I do understand, and in the end I offered to come to his house and have a look at his computer — for free — to see what was going on.
So yesterday, I made the trek across town, through 7 or 8 inches of snow, over to Jim’s house. (It happened to be the one day I can remember when even the major streets were totally covered with snow.)
When I examined Jim’s computer, I must confess that at first I literally did not believe it was the same system. It was so different from what I had returned to him that I was convinced — until I inspected the physical machine and saw the name sticker I had attached to the back of the unit — that Jim was trying to pull a fast one on me by getting me to come over and work on some other computer for free.
Gone was the desktop background photo that I had restored of his beloved little dog, the one that he had had for years until it had been tragically killed.
In its place was a skull and crossbones, like this:
And it wasn’t just the background, it was the entire theme. Buttons, windows, everything. Not to mention other, deeper, more technical settings. It was all jarringly, disorientingly different.
And when I checked what the system had to say about itself, that information said the computer was licensed to “Bugs Bunny.” I kid you not.
I started examining files and folders. Strange. The dates just seemed all wrong. Wait — what the heck? Were they in European date format? It looked like the months and days were all backwards.
I eventually figured out that the computer was set up as if it were in Luxembourg, the tiny European country wedged between Germany, Belgium and France.
There was software installed that I didn’t recognize, and that certainly wasn’t needed. I removed some of it. Other software that I knew ought to be there was gone.
And it wasn’t even the same version of Windows I had installed. I had reinstalled Windows XP Media Center Edition. This was XP Professional Edition.
It was about then that I figured out exactly what had happened.
Someone, roughly 10 days before, had been on Jim’s computer. They had reformatted the hard drive and wiped it clean, installing a completely different — and pirated — version of Windows.
Utterly destroyed were the hours of work I had put into it.
Gone was his licensed version of Windows — along with any semblance of legality.
Gone were almost all of the drivers that make all the extra stuff work. I suppose maybe someone had restored the network driver, or perhaps Windows just recognized it, because it was at least possible to access the internet.
But there was no sound any more, because the drivers that run the sound had been wiped out.
The ability to run his web cam was gone, too, because the software that I had hunted down, installed and tested to do that had been wiped out.
Gone was his copy of Microsoft Office. He hadn’t had the license key in a printed format, but I had been able to recover the license from the computer itself and legally reinstall it that way. I had made a copy of the license key and stored it on the computer, but that had been destroyed, too.
So that was a $150 dollar program, flushed down the toilet.
Gone were hundreds of Windows security updates.
And worst of all, gone were all of Jim’s photos — including the photos of his dead little dog. I asked him whether he had a backup anywhere. He said no.
I asked him who had done this to his computer. He said that AT&T had done it. I was extremely dubious. AT&T, in my experience, never, ever attempts to address any issues on a person’s computer at all. They’re a large, professional company, and their technicians stick to their realm of responsibility, which is: Is their internet service working, or not?
If there’s some problem on the computer (viruses, for example), they always tell the customer they need to seek out someone who deals with such issues, like myself.
And they certainly are not in the business of reformatting people’s computers and putting pirated versions of Windows on them.
Hadn’t Jim told me the last time I talked to him that he was going to have some friend or relative look at his computer? Yes, he admitted. But then he maintained that that person hadn’t shown up.
So you’re telling me that someone from AT&T sat down here at your desk and wiped your computer clean, and installed this pirated version of Windows? I asked.
They did it remotely, Jim declared.
Hmmmm. Really? A professional company, for whatever reason, completely reformatted his computer’s hard drive and reinstalled Windows — a pirated version — by remote control?
A process that (as far as I can tell) always requires inserting a physical disk into the disk drive, because the computer has to keep referring to the installation software — and it can’t possibly do that if you’re trying to run it from a hard drive that you’ve just wiped totally clean of all information?
Well, I wasn’t going to argue.
In the end, I told Jim I was going to help him anyway.
I installed an alternative web browser for Jim, as well as a couple of anti-malware programs. I started those scanning, and showed him how to use them.
This was all good. But of course it didn’t approach all that I’d done before.
Jim wasn’t going to pay me another penny to redo the hours of work I had done previously, and I wasn’t going to repeat those hours without being paid. I mean, I can’t.
There’s no warranty on earth that’s going to cover you giving access to your computer to somebody who totally destroys everything on it and then installs a pirated copy of Windows over the wrecked, smoldering ruins.
And aside from doing hours of such work for free being no way to run a business, I have a wife and six children to support, and plenty of other fairly urgent things that I’m supposed to be doing.
I mean, I feel bad for Jim, but this whole thing goes beyond pretty much anything I’ve ever seen.
All of that said, I still gave Jim an hour and a half of my time and expertise. For free. And (interestingly enough) without any thanks at all on his part. I finished, he didn’t say thank you or anything, so I simply said goodbye and left.
This was one of those stories you tell later to your wife, as she listens, wide-eyed. I told her that I knew who did all that stuff to Jim’s computer. It was Billy Bob. I don’t know which Billy Bob. But it was Billy Bob, all right.
And this story is a perfect illustration of why it just doesn’t pay to have Billy Bob “help” you with your computer.
[Update: In the end, I actually decided to go ahead and totally restore Jim’s computer a second time — and yes, I actually did it for free. As I write this, his computer is in excellent shape. And to my great surprise, when I started the restoration work I found that his previous documents were not entirely lost! They had simply been put in an obscure, you’re-not-likely-to-find-them-here location. So I was able to get him back even to his photos that we thought were lost, and this particular story, by a bit of extreme luck, has a very nice happy ending. :-)]