Microsoft changes retail product support

Microsoft announced late last week that it was changing the support options for products that are purchased at retail or downloaded online, effectively ending free support options for many products. The company says that the change, which brings product support for customers in the United States and Canada inline with what it offers customers worldwide, will simplify its support policies. Microsoft says that it is integrating new support functionality directly into its products and offering a wider range of online support options in an effort to counter complaints that its product support is becoming more expensive.

"We continually study how customers use Microsoft support to ensure that we are effectively addressing their needs," says Matt Fingerhut, the director of Global Support Offerings and Policies at Microsoft. "Our support offerings and policies are very competitive in the industry and we are excited about how our upcoming investments will benefit customers."

The assisted support policy changes affect Microsoft's biggest products, Windows, Office, and downloadable products such as Internet Explorer. All versions of Windows, which previously featured 90 days of free support, will now offer two no-charge support calls instead. Office, meanwhile, will move from an unlimited no-charge support system to a similar system, with only two no-charge support incidents. Downloadable products no longer offer any free support options at all, although customers with unused Windows or Office support incidents may use them for Internet Explorer or related support calls. Users of Windows 95 and Office 95 get the shaft, with a move to a paid-only support model.

Needless to say, Microsoft claims that most users will actually see increased benefits with these decreased support options, no doubt through an attrition system where "users will simply call only when it's really important," a reader derisively noted this weekend. Microsoft says that their two-charge incident scheme is indefinite, a boon for users of Windows, who were previously limited to 90 days of support. Users of the expensive Office suite, however, are decidedly less better off under the new plan. The company claims that the number of customer visits to its support Web sites has grown dramatically over the past year, making it a top destination for users seeking help. And upcoming products, such as Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) will offer comprehensive assisted support directly.

If you do need help with your Microsoft products, and history suggest that you will, here's a URL you might want to bookmark:

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