OneCare Frustration

April 25, 2006

One of the joys of owning and using a Windows based computer is protecting it against the constant onslaught of viruses, worms, exploits, and malware. The ThinkPad came with a (surprisingly) short trial subscription to Symantic. When I started getting notices about the end of the trial at 60 days I began looking around for other software to use.

Through a magazine article I was aware of Microsoft's 'OneCare' beta and thought I'd give that a try. It combines virus protection, spyware protection, and some basic system performance tuning and maintenance functions in one spot. The beta is free until the end of April and if you sign up for a year prior to May it's only $19.95.

Downloading and installing the package was rather cumbersome. In typical myopic Microsoft thinking the install process would only work with IE. I actually had to dig down into my Program Files folder to find the executable for IE, as I had removed it from the desktop, quick start menu, and start menu. You have to use a Microsoft passport id to sign-up for the beta, and all future dealings with Microsoft regarding OneCare go through that id.

Once installed OneCare acts a bit like Zone Alarm in that it notifies you of outbound connections as well as inbound ones. By and large it has been unobtrusive and easy to configure. Digging through the advanced settings I was able to add the necessary ports for Synergy and Tivo Desktop to work. It even schedules backups of your data.

After using it for a couple of weeks I was ready to buy. Clicking on the "purchase now" button in the software triggers a web page in my default browser. Once again I had to dig up IE and transfer the URL in order to play. The OneCare site insists on treating you like you haven't got the software. You have to sign in, and then run an Active-X component to test your system. In three attempts over the past two days I have been unsuccessful in getting past this step. Basically their site refuses to work and it is preventing them from collecting my $19.95. Even using the "help" feature was a bust. All it would allow me to do was sign in and sign out repeatedly. I did finally manage to send an email to their support group stating my problem and the error code I was getting. Depending upon their response I may be at the computer store this afternoon picking up a copy of Zone Alarm.

Update: I got a response from Microsoft OneCare support. It consists of four major sections comprising nineteen (19!) steps for me to take to complete the purchase. In effect they want me to delete all my IE cookies, reset the security levels on IE, disable third-party extensions in IE, un-install OneCare, and then re-install it using the purchase option. All to give them $20.

Unbelievable.

The rest of the software world lets you convert beta or trial editions to fully functioning software by going to a site, entering your credit card information, waiting for an email, and pasting the serial number into the software. I guess making money the easy way was too difficult for the id10ts at Microsoft World Domination HQ.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.