Don't make assumptions when giving phone support

During a brief visit to my hometown recently, I built a computer for one of my brothers. Actually, I instructed him on how to build it, since I wanted him to have a better understanding of his own computer. He and I went to the local computer mega-store armed with my shopping list and his credit card. I even wanted him to be involved in buying all the parts and pieces we’d need for him to BYOB – Build Your Own Box.

We got back to his house and promptly began unwrapping all the components, we draped a large blanket over his kitchen table and placed that shiny black Antec Sonata case on its side, ready to assemble what was bound to be a real screamer of a computer. His eBay experiences were about to make the jump into relative light-speed.

I must say, it was both fun and challenging explaining to him how to install every component. Doing it yourself and explaining every little detail to a novice are quite different. But it was nice just sitting back, sipping on his own special blend of coffee, letting him do all the assembly work. In just under a couple of hours, he had everything installed, ready to load the operating system.

As luck would have it, however, we were unable to purchase the operating system I wanted – the 64-bit OEM version of Windows Vista Ultimate. We could have purchased the retail boxed version, which I might normally do, and which has both the 32 bit and 64 bit DVDs, but in this case, there was no point in spending the extra money (about a $200 difference). It seems that the store did not have the 64-bit OEM because Microsoft ceased delivery in anticipation of shipping the version with SP1 already integrated.

After only about a 7 day wait, the 64-bit OEM operating system arrived, and we were ready to finish his computer. The only problem was distance - I was now 600 miles away. At least all the hardware was assembled, and I figured I could help him get the OS installed and configured with minimal phone instruction. All went very well, actually, and within a short amount of time, he had everything installed and configured; he had Open Office downloaded and installed; he had his e-mail account configured and working; and everything seemed good to go. Transferring data from his old computer would come last, but at this point a strange thing was happening.

It seems that his DVD drive designation would continually disappear. A reboot would bring it back, but after a while, it would disappear again. I won’t bore you with all the troubleshooting steps I instructed him to take, but suffice it to say that I decided another brand of DVD drive might play nicer with Vista. I recalled that during my own Vista upgrade at my office, I did experience bad performance with some brands of DVD drives. And for some reason, I let the sales representative talk me into a brand different than the one on my original list - one that I knew was Vista compatible.

My brother got back from the store with the new DVD drive, and while I was on the phone with him, we went through the necessary installation steps. After he had it installed, I waited for him to verify the logical presence of the drive. Nope, he said, the computer STILL didn’t recognize the drive? That’s strange, I thought. Even the original one was initially detected when the computer was first turned on. "Should I reboot the computer," he asked? "You just booted it," I told him. "Rebooting probably won’t do anything." "But I never rebooted in the first place," he said. "WHAT! You mean you plugged in the DVD drive with the computer still powered on and running?"

"Yes, by all means, go ahead and reboot," I said (all the while thinking how on earth that motherboard didn’t get fried). I made a bad assumption. I overlooked step one: turn off the computer and unplug the power source.

In this case, I think we dodged that proverbial bullet. (And yes, the DVD Drive remains to be recognized by Vista.)