It Always Works for the Tech

I’m not sure how this happens, but automobile and computer technicians occasionally strike fear into the hearts of cars and computers everywhere. How is it that a problem that occurs on a daily (or more often) basis suddenly disappears without a trace as soon as you take your car into a mechanic or call tech support? It’s magical, I tell you! Anyhow, following up on my IT calls last week, I’m continuing to have problems with Microsoft Office. Today’s entry is not meant to be a rant against Bill Gates & Co. (if anything, they’ve been more than patient with me). Instead, this is a non-programming technical writer’s observations of the troubleshooting process in action.

How It Began

As near as I can figure, some time in December, my Microsoft Office 365 applications started crashing repeatedly as soon as I installed the new version of Mac OX (Mojave). I was letting the issue go until I started observing basic Office functionality disappearing (being unable to Save As, for example). It was as this point that I discovered my Office 365 subscription had expired.

Fast forward a little…I replaced Office 365 with a regular form of Office that is resident on my computer rather than “the cloud.” I have concerns about internet security, for one thing–and there are plenty of examples out there to go around. However, my fundamental problem with accessing applications only through the internet is that I live in the Southern United States, where afternoon thunderstorms, hurricanes, and other forms of excitement can cause me to lose my connection to the internet. I can still work if the software is on my computer, right? So I called back Microsoft and asked them to replace my Office 365 with Office 2019 for Home and Student. The software downloaded, and life went on.

The Plot Thickens

Despite removing 365 and adding regular Office, the applications continued to crash. Back to Microsoft. They discovered that I still had an older version of Office on my Mac as well (Office for Mac 2011), which might have been creating conflicts. Okay, great. The tech removed all traces of older Office programs and reinstalled 2019. Things were fine…for a day.

The next day, Excel crashed again. Back to Microsoft. This time the Microsoft tech said that it sounded like a hardware issue–perhaps my Mac was getting along in years (3-4 years) and couldn’t handle running OS Mojave and Office. So I called Apple.

Apple had me run a diagnostic. The diagnostic found nothing wrong. Back to Microsoft.

I let the tech read (by now, I’m sure, extensive) my trouble ticket and explained that the hardware was fine. The tech couldn’t find anything wrong and did what some of the other techs tried, which was to close all the apps, reopen them, and see if they could create and save documents. The documents were created and saved just fine. I explained that creating docs wasn’t the problem. When Office was open, the applications worked just fine…until they crashed. I shared with the tech the full code from one of the many crash error messages I got. “That’s a message you get when you first install it. I’m not seeing anything wrong,” the tech said.

At which point I said, “Look, I’m getting a little exasperated with you people. All I know is that Office crashes at random intervals. When I reopen the app, my settings are gone, and the app forgets any recent docs I opened.” (Okay, not my most diplomatic moment, but really, I’ve been fighting this for over a week. It’s getting old.)

“That’s interesting,” replied the tech. Which was better than saying that my issue was utter balderdash, I suppose.

To Be Continued…

Each time this issue comes up, I talk to a different person. The good news is, as the trouble ticket keeps reopening, the previous tech are adding to what’s happened and what’s been tried. For my part, I keep on adding new details as I observe them. Could it be a corrupt document? Possibly, so a couple documents I use regularly were redone. The documents remained the same, but did nothing to recreate the conditions to cause a crash. Now I’m leaving the apps alone to see if/when they crash again (hint: they have).

Mindful of my time answering guest letters, I know better than to scream or use vulgarity on a call or chat–however frustrated I might be. That’s a great way to get my complaint ignored, my call dropped, and my name blacklisted. I really can’t afford that–these folks ARE my work-from-home IT department, for all practical purposes. Still, it’s curious and more than a little vexing to me that there aren’t better ways to show traces of a crash after it’s happened.

I suppose this is a good example of “real-world” engineering, where problems occur for which there is not an immediate solution. Simple solutions are tried first (“Did you download the software?”) before more complex efforts are attempted. Try A, try B, try C, etc., until you get the result you want. It’s also been a good reminder that however formidable our technologies have become, they are not perfect, and they still require, on occasion, human guesswork to get to work right.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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