Microsoft today touted the new self-help support baked into Windows 7, even as its engineers continue to wrestle with an "endless reboot" problem that has crippled some computers being upgraded from Vista.
The company's revamped technical support relies heavily on a new feature in Windows 7, dubbed "Action Center," said Lori Brownell, general manager of product quality and online support, in a long statement Microsoft issued Wednesday. Action Center is Windows 7's version of Vista's Security Center, but it also offers more than 20 automated troubleshooters that are accessed either at the user's request, or automatically by the OS.
"These troubleshooters can diagnose and solve the most common problems reported by Windows users, including set-up and compatibility issues, hardware defects and the like," said Brownell.
Two other Microsoft executives also called out the Action Center as a cornerstone for the support changes the company's instituted with Windows 7.
"One of the things we've put together is a[n] Action Center script that helps users migrate [data files] out of the Windows.old folder," Ben Bennett, the director of Microsoft's Windows consumer global support group, said in an interview earlier this week. Some users, he added, have been unable to access, or even find, critical documents after upgrading to Windows 7.
"Assuming you didn't completely reformat your drive -- and only a few customers do -- you still have the old folders on the machine," Bennet continued.
"The Action Center is based on PowerShell," added Paul Aaron, Microsoft's senior group manager for Windows supportability, talking about the command line- and scripting language-based tool integrated into Windows 7. "If customers call in, we can run that script by getting them to download it."
Microsoft is using feedback from more traditional support venues -- phone- and e-mail-based support -- to create new Action Center scripts, said Aaron. "Once we've proved them, and hit the quality bar that we want, we'll post them to the Download Center," he said, referring to Microsoft's centralized download site.
Other new support moves Microsoft's made for the launch of Windows 7 include a Twitter account -- MicrosoftHelps -- that it's using to take support queries.
"We're using it more as a routing function," said Aaron. "We have a team looking for those tweets, and they try to look for answers in the Microsoft support properties. If they can find an answer, they'll do a TinyURL for answers. If not, they'll post the question on behalf of the user on Microsoft Answers," he continued, referring to the new umbrella moniker for Microsoft's consumer support. "It's not intended to directly answer questions, but to get people the right answers."
Bennett seconded that. "Every day, we're coming up with new ways to get the word back up to users," he said. "This is the first time we've been able almost to get real-time help to users. I think we're moving faster than we've ever been able to move before."
Aaron said he sympathizes with stymied users. "Customers are frustrated with issues that they're having, but the longer they wait, the more they get frustrated," he said. "Today, we're light years faster than with we were when Vista launched. But we need to respond faster."
Microsoft still offers support via phone, e-mail and real-time chat, Brownell pointed out, even as she urged users to hit the Web first. "We've got some work to do, but I'm pleased with the plumbing we've built into Windows 7. We've come a long way, and we're only going to get better."
But Microsoft's support changes haven't mollified users who have run into problems -- sometimes very serious ones -- with Windows 7 in the last week.
The company has yet to come up with a solution for all the users whose PCs have fallen into an endless reboot loop after they've tried to upgrade from Vista to Windows 7, for example. On the growing Answers thread dedicated to the topic, some users who have tried the steps support engineers have offered still have not regained control of their machines or have been able to access their documents.
"Followed steps and nothing. After reboot, nothing has changed. Still in the loop," said a user identified as "tmanpikos."
Others have given up. "I have had enough. I have now given up and have gone back to XP, which still works fine but is getting a little old," said "daeld" on the same thread.
According to Microsoft, a solution, assuming one is found, will be posted to the Answers forum. "Microsoft is continuing to investigate this issue," a spokeswoman said today in an e-mail. "We will post information on the existing thread as it becomes available."