How hard is it to get a hot fix from Microsoft? It’s not easy online.

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  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 ( is a “select a product” link that tells me I can contact a support individual via e-mail.  It takes me

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 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. 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. 

Comments (16)

  1. BlakeHandler says:

    I promise I’m laughing WITH you — but it’s so nice to hear that "one of you" have the same problems as "us"

    I’m also proud that you mentioned Google — so many Microsoft employees tend to say "use MSN Search" — but if you DID use MSN Search for locating "vb slow vs 2005" you’d NEVER find that KB Article!

  2. Norman Diamond says:

    Thank you very much for doing this experiment.

    I’m not sure whether to repeat some additions.  You were kind and I appreciate it very much, but are you really aware of the rest of this iceberg…

    > 4. Where you asked for a credit card.

    When I phoned, your colleague wouldn’t even let me state the KB article numbers unless I paid first.  I think that payment didn’t have to be by credit card but a bank transfer would take longer.

    > 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

    Yup, IF a Microsoft Support Professional is competent this time then charges MAY be canceled.  May not be.  And if the Microsoft Support Professional isn’t in that category, then this non-promise isn’t even stated, but who knows if you might get lucky.

    > It takes me


    I don’t remember for sure if Microsoft Japan had an assisted support option at the time when I phoned, but I do recall getting 404 errors from some of Microsoft’s links in that kind of area.  For some reason I did find an e-mail contact to report the 404 errors without paying a fee, but Microsoft’s response was the usual crap about even the 404 bugs being my fault and Microsoft wouldn’t fix them.

    One more thing is missing.  You should have tried it with the MSDN-English version of Visual Studio instead of your corporate edition.  A few times I found e-mail contacts in order to send bug reports about the MSDN-English versions of Visual Studio and MSDN Library.  Your colleagues responded by e-mail saying that the MSDN-English versions of Visual Studio and MSDN Library differ vastly from the versions sold in North America and that they are only supported by Microsoft Japan.  So you would have to make an overseas phone call in order to ask for your hotfix, and then you’d be told that you have to open a paid support incident first.

    On the other hand, I think it’s not really cheating to know in advance the KB article number whose hotfix you want to ask for.

  3. Dennis C says:

    Hi there,

    thanks for this article.. I have used telephone requests for hotfixes a number of times, aside from it being a pain, I can’t really figure out what it helps–i.e. it didn’t make me any less likely to install a hotfix i shouldn’t.

    I appreciate your frankness, and hope that someday these fixes are easier to get online.

  4. Peter Ritchie says:

    Those are the steps I attempted as well, except I gave up at the PID problem.

    It appears this process only really supports shrink-wrap versions of VS; MSDN, partner, volume licensing, etc. can’t do this online…

    Quite embarrassing, if you ask me 🙂

  5. MSDNArchive says:

    Blake: No problem. I had no faith that this would be easy to begin with.  

    Dennis: The root of this comes from a policy that went into place when some windows users downloaded some bad hotfixes and that caused a lot of complaints that we needed to be clearer about what’s been really well tested and what was just published as a hot fix.  However, today, I don’t beleive that our developer customers really need this form of babysitting as long as we make it clear that a hotfix is not as well tested as a service pack.

    Peter: So do you have the MSDN sibscription?  The fact that two people now have the PID problem worries me.

  6. MikeGale says:

    What  a great study.

    Really refreshing to see it published, hopefully it will get attended to.

    I remember in the pre-net days waiting 7 weeks for a patch.

    There’s got to be a way to filter out people that need babysitting so those who don’t are not punished too.

  7. Norman Diamond says:

    > The fact that two people now have the PID problem

    > worries me.

    I think it’s more than two.  I don’t remember which MSDN managed newsgroups I’ve read this problem in, but I’m pretty sure Mr. Ritchie wasn’t the only poster.

  8. MySelf says:

    I wish they just put the hotfixes onto the web so people could simply download them. Don’t see a problem with that.

    My experience with MS Support was quite good. Last time I needed a hotfix for VS2003 I just looked up the support number for my country, called them (quick answer), told them what hotfix I needed and a short time (same day) later I had an email with the download link. No credit card required and the support guy was exceptionally friendly.

  9. Peter Ritchie says:

    Josh, yes, I have an MSDN subscription.  MSDN PIDs are nortorious for being ignored by PSS.  I can phone PSS with a problem and give my PID that was received via MSDN and they’ll do everything short of hanging-up to get me to phone the MSDN fufillment center (or whatever MSDN-center applies).

  10. David says:

    Amen! Put the links directly into the KB article, at least for developer tools. We’ve had to install multiple hotfixes for VS2003, resolving various build issues, and it’s just a PITA having to call up for them, with no benefits resulting (except for providing a couple of jobs for phone support guys, I guess).

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  12. My post about hotfixes certainly made it’s way around various internal aliases over the last week. I’ve…

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  14. I just heard about a pilot project that was introduced this past week and I wanted to let folks know