Fair or foul — Microsoft blames users for most errors

It’s little surprise that Microsoft service technicians listed human error as the cause of most computer problems in a recent survey. It’s not like they are going to blame, you know, the bug-free operating system produced by the company.

It would be easy for me to poke fun at Microsoft’s track record of shuffling of responsibility as an example of why this might be wrong. Anyone remember the General Protection Fault error? It’s the one that said “This computer has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down,” as if you just used your old x86 machine to cook up a batch of bathtub gin.

However, from my tech support experience, both officially and unofficially, I have to admit that most of the time, humans are to blame. Here are some classic examples of problems given to me and their simple solutions.

Problem: My computer seems to boot up and make noise, and the drive light flashes. But the monitor is blank.

Solution: User did not turn monitor on.

Problem: My computer refuses to dial into the Internet. I’ve checked and I have a dial tone on my phone and all my proxy settings are correct, yet it refuses to connect.

Solution: Phone line not connected to computer.

Problem: My mouse has stopped working. My cursor is only halfway across the screen, but my mouse is at the end of its pad and can’t go any further.

Solution: Pick up the mouse and reposition it to get more space. (I really had to struggle to fix this one with a straight face for my boss at the time.)

Of course, those are some extreme examples, and they come from a relatively ancient computing era. But even when you are talking about slow performance because of a virus or malware, it’s still ultimately a human error. A human programmed the virus and another human did something to allow that program onto their system.

In fact, the main reason phishing scams are so popular these days is because it's so much easier to trick a human into doing something stupid than it is to identify and exploit a hardware or software fault. If you tell a hundred people to turn off their anti-virus program and install spyware, a surprising number will actually do it even if, on some level, they know it’s wrong.

Now, I won’t let Microsoft or any other computer company completely off the hook. Some of the biggest, longest fixes often involved device conflicts, memory errors and things almost completely out of a user’s control. But the Microsoft survey breaks it down into 80 percent user error and 20 percent hardware/software errors. I think that’s about right.

The only thing is that, from a technician’s point of view, they will probably spend 20 percent of their time fixing user errors, which are often rather quick, and 80 percent doing the really hard stuff that involves hardware and software problems.

So from the trenches, there is always room for improvement. Plus, if the software were easier to use or more intuitive, it could reduce user error by a bit more as well.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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