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World's most useless tech support document


The Internet can enable better communication between a company and its customers. One place where you really see that is in the area of technical support documents.

Some of you may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time when if you needed help with some software or hardware problem your only option was to call a support hotline and wait. And wait. And wait some more. Sometimes that still happens, but these days that tech support call is your last resort -- not your first. Instead, you can start your search through the company's online technical support documentation, and often you'll find exactly what you need.

For example, if you do any Windows programming, you probably visit Microsoft's MSDN Library on a daily basis. And if you're a graphics designer or pre-press shop you might have Adobe's knowledgebase bookmarked. And so on.

Generally these support libraries are pretty darned useful. But I was recently struggling with a problem in our Oracle Portal and came across what I think is the most useless tech support document ever. It was so bad I'd like to nominate it as the world's most useless technical support document ever.

If you've got an Oracle MetaLink account, you can look it up for yourself -- the document ID is 218625.1. This is essentially the entire sum of that document:

Error Text: BIB-14820 The root path does not exist. Cause: The specified root path cannot be found. Action: Specify an existing root path.

I kid you not, that is it. Now I don't know about you, but that doesn't help me one bit. Yes, I can see from the error message that a root path does not exist. But what is supposed to be in that root path? Where in the system do I specify it? Do I have to re-start the Java container once I do specify the root path? Do I specify a relative or absolute path to that root path?

You get the picture -- any tech support document that raises more questions than it answers is bad. But when a tech support document answers no questions and raises a dozen of its own, that to me is the world's most useless tech support document.

34 comments
dhays
dhays

It sounds pretty bad, all right. My problem with tech support is when the website is in French and I don't know any French. I can't find an English language support site. Or locally, in my office, the tech support comes back "we don't support Outlook"

jean-pierre.aerts
jean-pierre.aerts

The problem with nominating Note:218625.1 is that this is not intended as a solution. It is instead an error REFERENCE, which means you get exactly what the application presents for an error. Sometimes these messages are useful, other times they're not. It's the nature of the document - it is a reference to the official error message, not a solution.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Every BIOS instruction manual I've seen has just been a screen shot with a list of the option choices for each item - NEVER a flipping word about what each option actual does, or how it may affect what your system does. You need to go off an read other books to learn what SMART drive is and does before you can decide to turn it on or off, and the same applies to everything else. How many people know what the 64K aperture setting does? just to name one odd setting. And off course the error message can be just great too. --------- My favourite is still the basic error message when you don't plug in a keyboard to a system before it boots up - "Error - no keyboard found - hit F1 to continue" Sometimes, the actual wording changed between system BIOS, but in over 20 years of using PCs, I've never been able to work out how I can hit F1 when there's no keyboard found. Once you know how they write the code, you know that you can override most errors by hitting F1, this is a basic command to ignore the error, and is automatically shown with all error codes, but does seem a tad useless with this error. Not sure if this can be overcome now with a USB keyboard and plug it in at that point, but with the older serial and PS2 ones, it meant you had to turn it off, plug in a keyboard, and restart the system. edited to add something I forgot.

RexWorld
RexWorld

Now it's your turn--nominate the most useless tech support document you've ever seen. It has to be a true tech support document. A posting by some person in some tech support forum doesn't count. I'm looking for an actual tech support document published by a company's own tech support personnel. Like in MSDN or Oracle Metalink.

j-mart
j-mart

Win98 message you receive on rebooting after a system crash inferring that you must be a complete moron who has not shut down their computer correctly by selecting shut down from start menu. Of course, as far as MS is concerned it can't be because the crappy system has fallen over taking 30 min of your work with it

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

They can at least try to make an effort to translate it into proper English, but like you've stated, it ends up becoming an illustrated childrens book with a lot of pictures and very little text. I'd like to know what morons write these things, and what even bigger morons translate them into the fisher price storybooks that they are.

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

This deviates from the world of computers/IT but it never the less rings familiar with many comments here. I am in the process if assembling a play set for my little ones and while only a few pages into the thing we (my wife and I) have already run inot half a dozen probelms due to either missing or incorrect documentation. Classic example is the first one in whcih the instructions tell us "If you would like to reverse the layout (switch which side of the main/center fort piece the swings are on) then rotate the posts. What it doesn't tell you is exactly how to rotate the posts. The instructions and the 4 posts are labeled 1-4 which helps if you are doing teh default layout. But if you poted to reverse the layout of the swinigs, the darn instrcutions don;t tell you that after you swap around the 4 posts that you rorate each and each has a different degree of rotation; one rotating 180 degress while another is rotated 1/4 turn. You find this out the hard way, by getting to step 10 and then having to dis-assemble back down to step 1 and re-doing it all. NOT FUN

Labrat636
Labrat636

....that almost always appears at the front of every manual, especialy installation and service manuals, and user guides. Somtimes they even get their own chapter. I used to rip these out of 3 hole binder type manuals. Now I hack them out of my pdf files. I copy out the meat, and throw away the crust.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

All the documents AND error messages were... you guessed it. written in Italian.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Many BSOD errors, when/if anything is found, can be just as confusing. More than once I have run into one that basically said 'most likely it is a SW issue, but it may be a HW issue as well' Hmm, how useful! It could be HW or SW... Who woulda thunk!!!

Justin James
Justin James

... "world's most useless software vendor". There is nothing helpful about the Oracle corporation. Period. I cannot even figure out what stuff I need to download just to get working with their software, let alone getting far enough to actually need to check documentation. Do not even get me started on their installers, the ones that like to not set file permissions correctly. It is a shame that their database itself is so good, otherwise people would just stop buying their products and forcing developers to work with it. I'll take MySQL or SQL Server any day over Oracle, the 2% performance boost just isn't worth it. J.Ja

hercules.gunter
hercules.gunter

The most unenlightening error message I've ever seen was a standard message box with the words "Insufficient memory to display error message".

bluemoonsailor
bluemoonsailor

My fav has always been the error message "You have been selected as a deadlock victim." This would pop up on the client's screen when our database ran into a deadlock situation. Not only does this message contain no really useful information, it also manages to scare the client at the same time. Nice double whammy.

royhayward
royhayward

When I was working at Microsoft we can across an amusing article in the knowledge base. It went something like this: Issue: Inserting American sliced cheese into 5 and 1/4 floppy drive causes "Unable to ready from floppy drive" error. Well it went on with the normal form of documenting the issue and resolution steps. And it doesn't seem to qualify with your answers to questions ratio, but we all found it really amusing and used it in our training material for new techs.

apotheon
apotheon

The worst tech support documents aren't actually those that just describe the problem in terms you already knew -- they're the documents that simply (and speciously) blame the user without any further explanation.

hercules.gunter
hercules.gunter

Don't blame the manufacturers. Blame a legal system which awards large payouts to, for example, someone who drives with a cup of hot coffe between her legs and then sues for damages when she clamps her legs together and gets blisters in a sensitive region. If the buyer is not required to have the sense not to do something very, very stupid, then the seller must protect himself by giving explicit warnings about the utterly obvious. So we wind up with packaging which tells us to eat only the pills, and not the packaging ...

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

or hire an Italian speaking employee to translate the error messages for them. Mama mia! LOL

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

Here is what I've seen: 1. Remove contents from box and find instruction manual. The other steps are irrelevant because the first step assumes the user is a complete moron if they haven't yet opened the box to get to the user manual they are reading now. Perhaps the authors of the manual assume the end users are all psychics and can read the manuals while they are still in a closed box...LMAO! :-)

Justin James
Justin James

To be honest, BSOD has become a rather special case. With Windows 2000, it became pretty rare (heck, the entire NT line was pretty BSOD free, except for 4). By XP/2003, and even more so with Vista, the only time it occurs is when there is something so wrong at such a fundamental level, it is quite difficult to tell if it is hardware or software. For example, the first time I installed Vista, it was on brand new hardware, all fresh out of box, even the mouse. I kept getting BSOD. On a hunch, I did a RAM test, it turns out I had a faulty DIMM. Replacing it solved that issue. Later on, it started BSOD'ing everytime UAC came up, and on shutdown. All hardware testing good. The problem was resolved when I got a new video driver, it must have been the fade effect on shutdown and the UAC prompt hit a back piece of the driver, giving me BSOD. In a nutshell, BSOD is almost always hardware or a driver, and a bad driver essentially acts like bad hardware as far as the OS is concerned, making it very tough to pinpoint the problem! I must note, this all also applies to *Nix's "Black Screen of Death" too! Modern OS's are quite stable, given functioning hardware and good drivers, even when the software is acting up. J.Ja

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I've always been a longtime supporter and advocate of Compaq/HP hardware, and their website isn't so bad when needed to find drivers and such, but when I was tasked to build an IBM server, it was a nightmare because I needed to run around IBMs' website finding drivers, firmware, support softwarem, etc for one damned model of a server. Calling their support was a bigger waste of time bacause the support staff couldn't even find what I needed, further wasting my time.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

User friendly? HAH! User HOSTILE is more like it!

RexWorld
RexWorld

Though I make a living using Oracle software, I can't really argue with your anti-Oracle statements. They are especially bad in the middleware space, stuff like the Oracle Application Server and the Oracle Portal are just horrible pieces of software to deal with. On the other hand, it is nice to have a big company that you can yell at for support when you need it. That's why I think Oracle continues to grow, despite the less-than-steallar software they produce.

lavinmansukhani
lavinmansukhani

A co-worker of mine at Microsoft once made a nasty "your mama so fat" Solution Object about one of his colleague.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

Uhhh...I bet some dumb schmuck must have gotten a bit too frisky with the jacuzzi inlet and wound up with a serious wound on his schwinky.

jhuybers
jhuybers

Do not attempt to stop blades with fingers or genitals. Someone had to do it to get that one there.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

the consumer to contact the service dept for everything. What's the point of having a troubleshooting section then if all it does is to pass the buck?

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]A few years later, when I tried this on a Win XP system, the amount of RAM still shrank, but at some point, Windows would suddenly transfer the little used stuff to virtual memory and flush the RAM, then when VR got too low, it'd ask to increase it. XP started doing what Linux had been doing for years, hurrah.[/i]" That's only part of the Linux solution -- and not the biggest part. Linux has been doing that with running applications for years, but hasn't needed to do so with applications that are opened and closed repeatedly without cleaning up after itself. The Linux kernel's memory handling cleans up after applications so that zombie processes and junk left in RAM don't persist after the application is closed. As of XP, MS Windows still hadn't incorporated the sort of memory management Linux (like other free unices, for that matter) does. I haven't seen any evidence of such behavior being incorporated into Vista, either, but I don't know for sure that Vista hasn't finally caught up with that piece of functionality.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

common with MS applications. I was doing studies at a college from the late 1990s through to 2001 - they had Win NT4 until Win 2K Pro was released, and replaced most of the student desktops with Win 2K pro. In both cases, when a machine was first turned on, it did a virus scan, and also checked with the main server for it's baseline settings - turning a machine off resulted in all the setting being set to the college defaults from the server. Anyway, back to the memory issue. With Win NT 4, if you opened MS Word, closed it down, opened it up, closed it down, and continued doing this - after about a dozen openings, it would give a warning about 'insufficient memory to run program' and crash - if you had a program open to note available RAM, after each cycle of opening and closing RAM, you'd notice the amount of usable RAM was reduced - the program didn't clear all of itself out of memory, and didn't reuse the code still in the memory next time around; nor did the OS manage the RAM and clear it out when the program closed. With Win 2K, it took nearly 2 dozen cycles of Word to crash the system in the same way. A few years later, when I tried this on a Win XP system, the amount of RAM still shrank, but at some point, Windows would suddenly transfer the little used stuff to virtual memory and flush the RAM, then when VR got too low, it'd ask to increase it. XP started doing what Linux had been doing for years, hurrah. The machines we did this on were new middle of the range systems for their times. The problem was due to the application not cleaning up after itself, and the Operating System not checking if the application cleaned up. It was very interesting to note the only apps we used that did this were MS Word, MS Excel, and MS Access - the third party apps we used all did a good job of flushing the RAM as the last part of their closure process. edit to correct a misword.

Justin James
Justin James

Yeah, grubby RAM used to do that, due to sloppy coding. Program A is sloppy and does not clean up after itself, Program B is sloppy and forgot to initialize newly allocated memory, and accidentally gets some of Program A's old data. Win 2000 Pro ran each process in its own memory space, so I am rather surprised that you saw that at all, unless it was graphics, since that runs in ring 0 ever since NT 4. J.Ja

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

contain information that would lead one to help a little. But 2x I ran into one for a specific message that was very generic. Basically, it lead nowhere. It read something like It may be due to a faulty disk controller, hard drive, system board, processor, memory, or other device. It may be due to drivers or, corrupt files, or 3rd party software That basically means, well, take a guess. For that they might as well just wrote "Dont Ask, we do not know" or "I Know Nothing!" (Sgt. Schultz).. I do understand your point, and it was well stated. Just once in a while though, a BSOD doc is totally useless, or worse.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

I saw a lot of BSODs with systems running win 95, win 98, and Win 2000 Pro - I was able to stop them happening (in most cases) by installing a program that regularly cleared out the RAM and the virtual memory when the amount of available RAM got too low due to Windows NOT clearing out the memory or checking it. In my experience about 2% of BSODs were due to faulty hardware.

Justin James
Justin James

... is not so hot either, I agree. For a company that can build a computer that can beat even the best chess players, you would think that getting a good searching system would be a milk run... J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Well documented (http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/programming-and-development/?p=76). :) I once got so frustrated with their Web site, I tried to call them to complain, but when I called them, it was 5 AM their time. Oddly enough, a security guard answered the phone. Even he was incompetant, took me 5 minutes to figure out that I was talking to a security guard, and that they were closed. J.Ja