Subtle Coolness · chrono index · alpha index

Thank you for calling Microsoft, and have a nice day.

by William Jackson on 2007-05-25

In the course of my employment, I occasionally find myself needing to activate a new installation of Windows XP. If the computer in question has a network connection, activation can sometimes be performed over the network. Unfortunately, that rarely works in my situation.

When the activation over the network fails, I get to make a phone call. I have called so many times that I have the number memorized: 1-888-571-2048. This is the Microsoft Product Activation Center.

A few minutes ago I finished a phone call to the Microsoft Product Activation Center. This time, however, is so far and by far the best call I have ever made to India.

Thatʼs right! The Microsoft Product Activation Center is in India. I always suspected this, but today I got it from the proverbial horseʼs mouth. That sounds mean. Rahul is not a horse. He is a very considerate man.

As the call begins, I am greeted by a recording that tells me I should try to activate over the network if I have not already tried (thanks, thatʼs a great idea!), and the average call length is six minutes. Today I brought the average up, because my call lasted 18:55.

About one minute into the call is when I actually start to interact with an automated system. The first question is, “Are you calling to activate Windows XP? Please say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

You canʼt fool me.

I learned a long time ago that voice-recognition systems donʼt like me. And I learned a long time ago that at the Microsoft Product Activation Center, ‘1’ means ‘yes’ and ‘2’ means ‘no’. So I pressed ‘1’.

“Are you at your computer with the activation window open?”


Eventually I get to give my installation ID, which is a (9 × 6 =) 54 digit number that I can either speak or type using the number pad. Just so you know, with a number that long you can uniquely identify one million billion billion billion billion computers. No one ever said Microsoft wasnʼt optimistic.

Ideally, after I give my installation ID, the recording thinks for a few seconds — eerily, I always thought this pause was more for psychological rather than technical reasons — then gives me a confirmation ID to type in a box in the activation window.

However, that rarely works. The recording apologizes — a computer is apologizing to me; think about that long and hard — and informs me that she canʼt validate my installation ID. Now I get transferred to a customer service representative. This is where the fun begins.

I first noticed todayʼs call was different because of the time I had to wait on hold. I seriously listened to the same poor-quality elevator song at least three times, periodically interrupted by, “We are experiencing higher-than-normal call volumes.” Thanks for the update.

I hope youʼre not bored with my story. Itʼs just getting good.

Finally, Iʼm on the line with a live person. I give Rahul my installation ID, and as he is looking up my confirmation ID, he asks me the questions I have gotten accustomed to:

“Is this software installed on any other computers? Did you buy it separately or did it come pre-installed on the system? What is the make and model of the computer? Where did you buy it?”

(About that last question: because Iʼm working at the Help Desk and never activating Windows on my own computer, I always “bought it online.”)

Rahul seems satisfied with how the interrogation went, and we are just waiting on that elusive confirmation ID. He tells me his system is slower than normal today. (Hey, I have that problem at home, too!)

If youʼve ever talked to me on the phone, you may be well aware that I donʼt mind awkward silence. But Rahul must feel (or have been trained) differently, because after a few seconds of nothing, he tries to strike up a conversation with me to pass the time.

Iʼm surprised. This has never happened before. But Iʼm always willing to try new things.

“Where are you calling from?” he asks.


“And how is your day?”

“Itʼs rainy,” I reply. I think this is a great time to confirm my suspicions. “Where are you at?”

“Iʼm in India — New Delhi.”

I smile to myself.

“Texas, is that near the coast?” Rahul continues.

“Well, Texas has a coast, but I donʼt live anywhere near it. Do you get monsoon season over there?”

“Yes, itʼs just coming up.”

“Well, I hope you stay safe,” I say.

A bit more silence. I guess Rahul and I donʼt have much in common.

Iʼm curious, so I ask, “Is there any indication of how long this will take, or do we just have to wait it out?” I was tempted to add, “like a monsoon,” but I resisted.

I must have upset Rahul, because he asked if he could put me on hold again. Oh, alright. I hadnʼt gotten enough of that song, anyway.

About thirty seconds later, Rahul is back with my confirmation ID and we are about to part ways. Would I ever talk to him again?

“It was a pleasure to talk to you, sir,” he said to me. “Thank you for calling Microsoft, and have a nice day.”