Not "My special flowchart says I have to," just "Linux is probably reaching out from the hard drive, where it sits as nothing more than a collection of magnetic potential unkissed by so much as a single read head, just waiting to influence the hardware before GRUB can even find it, or the hardware can even acknowledge the existence of GRUB for that matter (deep breath)... Linux is reaching out in that manner and wrecking your laptop and it must come off."
Our next HOWNOTTO is, then this: When Confronted by a Technician Who Believes Linux Has Special Hardware Warping Powers, Cooperate With His Demand to Reformat Your Hard Drive and Start Over.
I'd backed up my machine, so I wasn't worried about losing anything in particular (even though I knew it wouldn't be quite right after I restored it, because things never are), and I quietly went along. As the Windows ME install began, we sat talking. The tech then became impatient and said I seemed to know what I was doing and didn't need help through the Windows installation:
"This probably fixed your problem, though... Linux probably just caused it."
I expressed polite doubt, but told him I'd certainly keep an eye on the machine for a few days to ensure that his cure worked. Sensing closure to the call he chirped "So did this call resolve your problem?"
"I don't know," I said. "I don't think so, but we'll take a few days to find out."
Faster than he could spit out "ThanksforcallingDell" he hung up, clearly miffed that I hadn't said "Why yes, I bet that now that Linux is all gone from my machine, everything'll work great!"
I walked out of the room, had lunch, and came back as the WindowsME install was wrapping up. I rebooted the machine for the last time of the install, it forgot it had half its RAM, and spontaneously rebooted before I could even finish the Beck demo that comes with the Windows Media Player. Linux, no doubt, reaching from beyond the grave.
My next call to Dell was considerably sharper in tone. The technician wanted to reinstall WindowsME again, which prompted the thing I should have said in the first place:
"I'm going to seem very hostile to you until we establish a relationship that involves you listening to me."
After a little more firmness, a final run of all the diagnostics on the disk, and some hard words, a third technician (who had to keep getting off the phone to report to a supervisor who could, evidently, tell him what to say better than he could say it to me) agreed that I must have a hardware problem and that a certified technician would be on his way the next day.
From that point on out, the Dell folks behaved splendidly. A technician did come, the motherboard on the laptop was, indeed, replaced, and it works great now, a mere 60 days shy of slipping out of warranty.
So, what's the harm done?
The laptop, for one, still has WindowsME on it and I'll be spending some time getting rid of it, and even more time trying to put things back to the way they were. There's also a technician out there in Dell-land somewhere who thinks it's o.k. to tell customers they don't know what they're talking about, and that Linux is able to make machines forget how much RAM they have in the middle of their POST. I can fix the Windows problem quickly enough given a little time to invest in a fast Linux install.
The technician is a different story, though, and the issue of fixing him is a little murkier because I've been in situations close enough to his own that the only thing I can really blame him for is pretending that he'd diagnosed Linux as my problem when he was likely reading a script from a monitor that told him that whatever was on the hard drive was going to have to come off. Some will say he needs to be eviscerated publicly as a Redmond mole, or at least punished for his ignorance. I think he needs to be punished for pretending he had decision-making authority, and I need to be punished for playing along with him instead of demanding to talk to someone who did have that authority in the first place.
Fellow Linux Planet columnist Dennis Powell offered the best insight, though, and one I think I'll keep in mind for next time: companies continue to make the assumption that any sort of high-handed behavior on their part is perfectly excusable in the name of their own efficiency. The fact is, though, that I paid a goodly sum for that laptop when I bought it, and the service I receive ought to be better than "we don't care what the facts are -- just do whatever we say no matter how small an amount of sense it makes, and no matter how inconvenient it is to you." This sort of thinking is marginally acceptable in places like the military, where enlisted people openly abuse each other as schnooks for enlisting in the first place knowing full well that they'd be subjected to some miserable indignities. It's no good, however, out in "the world," as we wistfully used to call that special place where all the civilians are polite and respectful to each other, and where, if you give people your business, they treat you as something better than a moron.
If there's a next time, things will turn out a little differently. In the mean time, for those who approach things like me, generally willing to play ball to stay on the good side of random strangers, consider this HOWNOTTO a fairly thorough list of guideposts in your regimen of self-improvement. It may be the only way you can keep that Linux install intact.
This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.