Customer Service In Action

Trouble Installing Vista Components

We continue documentation of our Microsoft customer service experience while troubleshooting a problem installing Windows Vista components. We use this experience to highlight a few customer service tips for companies that make and market complex products.

This is a continuation on our Microsoft Vista technical support saga regarding our being unable to install Microsoft Vista components within Windows Vista Ultimate.

Three and a half hours after I called Microsoft support, I got a call from a very nice support person. I explained the situation to him and he connected directly to my machine so he could see the error in action.

Even though I explained that the issue was occurring for other Windows components, not just IIS, he walked through steps to confirm this. I guess he either didn't understand me or didn't trust that I had found that it was a general Vista issue, not just an IIS issue.

All in, the session with him took about 25 minutes with the net result being that he, as an IIS person, could not help me and that I need to talk to the Windows Vista support team. So, he queued me up to talk to them, assuring me that I would hear from them in no less than 4 hours. I really hope the next round of support solves this problem!

Hmmm....I got a call back from the first Microsoft tech saying that IIS support team and Vista support team were on different systems, so he had to stay on the phone with me while we connected with a Microsoft traffic handler. They closed out a first case, and set up a second case number for me. I fibbed a bit on the "Is it an emergency?" questions in order to get this new case elevated to a B priority, versus my prior C priority. So, I'm still looking at 4 hours at the most for the new Vista tech support person to call. What a pain. It's now 2PM CST, so they may not call until 6PM CST, which means I might miss dinner with the family.

OK, well they called at 2:30PM CST so not bad. But it's now 4:15 PM CST so I've been on with this new tech for nearly two hours. We walked through the errors again. Then he had me open up some log files and send them to him.

After analyzing the log files, he determined that I needed to reboot and that it should work after that. Well, I knew that was not going to work, given that I had rebooted many times and still got the same error.

So we rebooted, tested again, and of course we still had the same error. So, then he directed me to download a 70+MB update from This is the System Update Readiness Tool for Windows Vista.

According to Microsoft, this tool can fix a variety of Vista problems:

System resources, such as file data, registry data, and even in-memory data, can develop inconsistencies during the lifetime of the operating system. These inconsistencies might be caused by various hardware failures or might be caused by software issues. In some cases, these inconsistencies can affect the Windows servicing store, and they can cause software updates not to work. The System Update Readiness Tool tries to resolve these inconsistencies.

After running this tool, we tried again to install a Windows component. No luck.

So, next, we just tried booting from the Dell Vista operating system DVD and running an O/S Repair. That exercise was fruitless as Vista Repair just said there was nothing to repair.

So, we rebooted back to Vista and I ran an sfc /scannow command. That is System File Checker, which is supposed to check all the Windows files and verify their integrity. After running for some time, it said that some files were corrupt but it was not able to fix them. So, now I've uploaded the CBS log files to the Microsoft tech.

It's now 5:50PM, so I've been on the phone with Microsoft for 3 hours 20 minutes and still not much light at the end of this dark Vista tunnel. I asked the tech what his longest call was and he indicated that his longest technical support call was 7 hours. I really hope that we are not going to be here that long!

I can't believe Vista is this bad. I am running Vista in a very simple environment on a new laptop. You can't get more vanilla than that. Yet, I cannot do something as simple as uninstall a Windows game or install a simple Windows component.

Whatever the problem is, it hasn't been fixed by all the Windows Updates that I've done - which means, in essence, I believe, that Microsoft has no clue what is wrong with Vista or how to fix it. If they did, I would not be having this problem, right?

The Internet is littered with hundreds of instances of Vista complaints with the exact same problem. It's clear that hundreds of people must be having the same Vista problem I am having every day.

If this were a car, there would have been a recall.

OK, 6:15pm, and the reading of the log files are complete. Apparently, the sfc /scannow was not able to do its job because of permissions issues.

So, the tech is running esentutl /g C:\Windows\security\database\secedit.sdb and that quickly tells us that the integrity of the Windows security database is fine.

Now, my tech is telling me that he needs to escalate this issue and get somebody from the Vista Performance team on the phone with me. I'm on hold again.

6:40 pm. I have now been on the phone for over 4 hours..4 hours 10 minutes to be precise. The tech tried this from the Command Prompt: Start w/ ocsetup iis-WebServerRole. We got a "Component Store has been corrupted" error (0x3712), so we rebooted, and now again we are trying Start w/ ocsetup iis-WebServerRole. Well, we got the same error again.

So, now we are using the Dell Vista DVD to Install Vista. He says we are doing an "in-place update" just to correct the damaged files. If you've followed this saga from the beginning, you might notice that this is what I tried to do in the first place to fix this problem - reinstall the OS. Only it blue screened on me midway through the install. I will not be surprised if we get another blue screen in a little bit.

The only difference is that this time I had an Internet connection so the reinstall is using an updated install from Microsoft, slightly different than the code on the DVD. That gives me a little bit of hope that we won't blue screen here. Maybe the Dell Vista DVD (and the original Dell Vista install that came with the laptop) was just messed up and that's what's been causing the problem, in which case the Internet connection on the Vista reinstall might solve the problem. We shall see.

I'm sure most people would have bailed out on this long ago, but I'm determined to see it through to the end. I am ten minutes shy of the 5-hour mark on this Microsoft tech support call. The Windows Vista install has gotten through Copying Windows Files and is now 20% of the way though a Gathering Files step that seems to be going at a snail's pace. This laptop has 4Gig of RAM and a fast processor so it's definitely not a hardware issue.

It occurs to me that Microsoft might have better software if they didn't have these techs over in India to rely on. The guy I am talking to is in Pune. I guess he makes $5K per year. If Microsoft had to pay its techs $50K per year, they would certainly write better software to keep tech support costs down. Globalization leads to lazy product development, it seems.

OK, so now that it's 7:30 pm and I've been on the phone for 5 hours, my tech informs me that it's the end of his shift. So we've hung up and he's given me the email for his colleague. If the reinstall doesn't fix this problem, I'm to email his colleague and then his colleague will call me. I'm now at 41% on the Gathering Files stage, and there are still three more steps after this: Expanding Files; Installing Features and Upgrades; and Completing Upgrade.

I guess I will run out and get some food and then come back. I just have this bad feeling that I will come back to a Microsoft Blue Screen of Death.

Back from grabbing a bite...the install is still going. It's at "Expanding Files (21%)" now. It's 8:30 PM and I think I should just head home and let this run its course during the night.

Next morning...

Wow, the reinstall actually seems to have worked. No Blue Screen like I got the first time I tried a reinstall.

I try uninstalling Mah Jong. Previously, this would have given an error message.

Tada! No error message. It successfully uninstalled.

Now, let's try IIS.

OK, IIS has installed. No error messages!

Case closed. At least for now.

Trouble Installing Vista Components

So, if you are using Microsoft Vista Ultimate and cannot install any Windows features, I would recommend that you dig out your Vista Install DVD and do a reinstall. However, prior to doing a reinstall make sure you have an active Internet connection, so you can get the latest Vista install updates. This is probably the highest-probability way to fix the problem. Other sites say uninstall language packs, change user rights, etc. - none of that worked for me.

The symptoms of my problem, again, were that in attempting to install or uninstall Windows Vista component, I first saw: "Please wait while the features are configured. This might take several minutes." The status bar stayed white for some time (a couple minutes) and then I got this Vista error message: "An error has occurred. Not all of the features were successfully changed."

Hopefully, this saves you 5 hours of being on the phone with Microsoft. Obviously, this problem is one that Microsoft is finding intractable. People have been experiencing the problem for over a year and there is no fix other than to reinstall. So, the fix is known but nobody knows the cause or how to prevent the cause (as of mid-January 2009) anyway.

Customer Service Takeaways

If you've landed here via some search, you should know that this site is not about troubleshooting Microsoft Vista or doing development on a Microsoft Vista PC. Rather, this site offers helpful advice on a variety of topics related to entrepreneurship and business ownership.

So, with respect to Microsoft's customer service, what lessons learned are there from my struggles?

First, don't rush a complex product to market too early because you are only going to frustrate and annoy your customers. Engineering is the tip of the sword for customer service. Get the product right first. I'm sure this is a Microsoft mantra, but with Vista, it seems they went to market a bit too early.

Second, never make a customer wait up to 8 hours to get service. I know that Microsoft has capacity issues on service, but when they told me I'd have to wait up to 8 hours to get a tech support call, I started fuming. Without a computer to work on, I spent that time (while waiting for the tech to call) dissing Microsoft Vista in a variety of places (on Twitter, in the hallways at my office, on the phone with friends, etc.). I'm fairly certain that the damage I did to the brand was worth much more than what it might have cost to get me talking to a competent support person immediately.

To be sure, customer service on complex products is no cakewalk. Microsoft does a fairly good job on support, but the monopoly days are long over -- with Unix, Linux, and other competitors being very competitive options, Microsoft needs to do better.

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Please leave your comments below, either on problems installing Windows Vista components, this article, or customer service in general. Thanks.

  • jcwags posted on 3/26/2009
    Thank you for the very informative article. I am follownig your suggestion that worked for you. After inserting my Vista Business disk from Dell and running setup.exe, I click "Install Now" and then "Go online to get the latest updates ...". Mircrosoft lets me know that the computer will need to remain connected to the interet during installation, which I know is good from having read your article. It next asks me to agree to the license terms, which I accept and click Next. It then ask what type of installation I want, but the Upgrade option has been grayed out. Below it says: "Upgrade has been disabled. The upgrade cannot be started. To upgrade, cancel the installation and then choose upgrade to a version of Windows that is more recent that the version you are currently running." Unfortunately when I cancel, I can never get to the screen which gives me the option of choosing to upgrade. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks.
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 3/26/2009
    Ken Gaebler
    jcwags, sounds like a slightly different issue than mine. A good strategy is to take the error message you got and put it inside of double quotes and do a Google search. If there's a solution, somebody will usually have posted it. Good luck!
  • appyface posted on 3/31/2009
    I was hoping there was another answer than doing a repair-install from the Vista install media (CD/DVD) to fix this. I live a few hours away from Dad, it's his laptop I'm working on. Totally my bad, I forgot to get the media from him when I took the laptop home with me. Ah well, I can wait until I take the laptop back to him and use the media then. Was just hoping to get more done with it while I had it with me here at home. Thanks for a great article.
  • Chris posted on 2/22/2010
    You complain about waiting for 8 hours to get technical support, but you are the one who set your own priority (priority c). If it was higher priority, you should have made that clear. Should MS have dropped all priority A and B requests just to help you? In order to start working on your issue before another issue, it has to be prioritized ahead of the other issue. Is that a hard concept to grasp? By the way, 8 hours response time for a medium priority issues from a company that is supporting millions of users across the world is actually very good.

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