ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

How to Lose $900m on Surface 2

11/16/2013 3:19:38 PM

Disclaimer: I have this paradox in my life – my Apple-equipped friends consider me a Microsoft shill, and my Microsofty friends think that I publicly whine about MSFTs problems too much. This is going to be one of these whiny posts, but I do it because I care and don’t know where to send it privately.

So we had these sweepstakes

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The main hook of this campaign was that we have launched it in early September, when neither Nokia nor Microsoft would even acknowledge that they have products with these names. So the contest is over now and we are ready to award the winner. Lumia 1520 is not widely available yet, so the obvious decision was to have Surface 2 as the main prize. I’ve checked MicrosoftStore.com and learned that the Irish store ships to Lithuania (where we are located), so I was calm that we can always ship it to ourselves first and then mail it to anywhere in the world.

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But we wanted to randomly pick the winner first and then, depending on his/her location, determine the best way to get the Surface to them. After all, if the stars aligned so that the winner was from US, it would be much easier to ship the prize directly to her. The winner has been selected, but not announced yet. <SPOILER ALERT>He is not from US or any other Surface 2 launch countries.</SPOILER ALERT>

So having this information we decided that the most logical approach would be to buy the Surface 2 in the Microsoft Store Ireland, ship it to Lithuania and then ship it to the winner.

And that’s where the problems started…

At this point I’ve spent at least 5-6 hours trying to order a fricking gadget from an online store.

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I just went to MicrosoftStore.com, switched to United Kingdom, added Surface 2 to my cart and proceeded to checkout. There I selected Lithuania in the list of Shipping destinations and fill out the form. When I clicked Next I was presented with this “Include postcode” error. I’m absolutely sure this is the right postcode. Sometimes people include LT or LT- in front of it, so I tried that – no luck. Tried to enter some real UK postal code (just to check) – still nothing. So I went into the help section to try to figure out what’s going on. And there it said:

Where we ship:

Microsoft Store United Kingdom can only ship to United Kingdom locations at this time.

Hmm… OK. So why exactly do you have Lithuania in the shipping country dropdown? And it’s not like they have all the countries in the world in it. There are like 20 European countries in that dropdown.

While I was looking at the screen puzzled, a popup appeared asking if I’d like to chat to a live support person. Sure! So I started to chat to a person who was really trying to be helpful while I was trying to do something to that form. Unfortunately I did something that forced the page to refresh and my chat window disappeared. The funny thing is, that day I wasn’t able to find how to start this support chat again. Another person confirmed to me that chat button appears and disappears pretty much randomly. Seriously :)

The next day I remembered that I’ve seen that Irish version of the store ships to all European countries. So I went there and … hit the same “Include postcode” error again. What does a geek do when he sees a validation error like that? Hits F12, of course. This is obviously beyond what a normal person would do to pay someone money, but anyway…

So after some research and trial and error, I figured out that the form expected Lithuanian postcode to be a 4 digit number. This would even be correct… if it was like 1997. Anyway, I presume that local post, FedEx or whoever would be handling shipping could figure out the real postcode without the first zero, so that’s what I did. “Yay, I’ve hacked the system!”, I thought. “Not so fast!”, said a voice from above.

Next step was to enter my credit card information. I did just that, hit Purchase and was presented with a message that there were some technical problems and I should contact technical support. I’ve tried that a couple of times and all the times the site was able to successfully reserve 1 Euro in my account, but not sell me the damn tablet.

OK, so let’s try to contact technical support and order the thing via phone or email. Here’s how support page of the Irish store looks:

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Notice this nice 800 number? It’s great that Microsoft have a free sales line, but have you tried calling it from outside of Ireland? Right, you can’t.

By that time I was already pretty upset (as you can guess) so I started venting on Twitter. @MicrosoftStore on twitter really tried to help and gave me an idea that maybe I should call a Lithuanian support line, not Irish. OK, let’s try that… Unfortunately, Lithuanian Microsoft Store doesn’t sell Surfaces and they weren’t able to help me with my issue.

I was hoping that I can send all the info to some support email and consequently avoid this post altogether, but @MicrosoftStore informed me that there’s no email support. Huh?

I’ve been in and out of the Microsoft Store Ireland site and this time the “Live chat” button appeared. I’ve started chatting with one person, explained my problem, was transferred to another person who was really polite and tried to help me with all the suggestions from the guide book that I’ve already tried (obviously). After almost an hour of back and forth the person suggested that I shouldn’t chat to her but to someone from Irish support and provided me with a link to the Irish Microsoft Store. o_O Excuse me, but that’s exactly where I clicked that “Live chat” button! So I gave up on “Chat support”.

I’ve talked to some people from Microsoft (not Store related) and they suggested that I should definitely be able to order it via the phone (and apparently some people already did that). The trick is how to get to the phone sales when the number can’t be dialed? So I called that other phone “Questions about Microsoft products bought elsewhere”, got to the switchboard and asked them to connect me to the store. And it worked!

The sales rep was really nice and helpful and offered to call me back, so I don’t waste my precious Skype credits :) It took him a few seconds to confirm that he can sell Surface 2 to Lithuania. “Yes, we can definitely ship that Surface 2 to Lithuania!” Hooray!

So for the next 15 minutes we proceeded to try and enter Lithuanian street names, etc. over the phone. Not an easy task but we’ve managed…

- Hmm… it tells me that the postcode is not correct…
- Oh, really!? ;) You can try removing that first zero, I think it will be OK without it
- Yes, OK, we are good. How do you want to pay?
- Visa
… (confirmed CC number, etc.) …
- Hmm… Just a minute, please, while I try to figure a few things out

- Hmm… Just one more minute, please

- Let me call you back in 5 minutes, OK?
- OK, thank you very much!

… and he didn’t. And that’s where I’m at as I write this. The only reason I got to that point is that I really need that Surface 2 specifically. No sane person would go through all of this just to buy one of the hundreds of tablets that are available on the market.

In conclusion

When in 2010 Microsoft announced that they will only accept Windows Phone developers from about 30 countries, I was upset and whined about it, but at least I wasn’t given any false hope (which is always worse than hard truth). It was unambiguous. It was a strategic decision that I didn’t like, but it was clear.

Lithuania wasn’t a launch country on the consumer side of Windows Phone 7 either, but you could buy an HTC Windows Phone 7 through most of the local carriers (meaning it was officially available). Windows Phone 7 didn’t have a Lithuanian UI (which is not an uncommon thing here), but a crazier part is that it didn’t even have a Lithuanian keyboard. You just can’t release a consumer product like that.

When Surface 2 was announced, Lithuania, obviously, wasn’t one of the launch countries. And I’d be completely fine (not happy, but used to) not being able to purchase it through official channels. But then they decide that maybe we can hack a form together and sell it to 20 more countries without even trying to go through that form once with a real address. Hint: you can almost always find a Holiday Inn (or other chain hotel) in most places in the world and see that it has a 5-digit postcode in Lithuania for starters.

I wanted to end this with a Dilbert comic strip which shows a “company with strategy” that picks up a phone and just says “We don’t do this!”, but I couldn’t find it. (maybe it wasn’t Dilbert?) The point being, it’s a paradox, but Microsoft could’ve saved me almost a day by just saying that they can’t sell me the Surface directly.

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Modest Windows 8 Wish: System-wide Spellchecker

8/18/2011 4:12:10 PM

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The BUILD conference is coming and lots of cool new revolutionary things about Windows 8 will be unveiled. I, on the other hand, want to ask for a simple mundane change from Windows 7 and earlier versions – move the damn spellchecker from Office [team] to core Windows [team]!

I write in 3 languages on a daily basis – English, Lithuanian and Russian. I have spellchecking for all 3 of them in Office apps.

I only have an English spellchecker in Windows Live Writer. That’s why there are a lot of stylistic mistakes in my blog posts, but not many spelling mistakes ;). But if I blog (say) in Russian, I don’t have a luxury of my PC looking out for me. So I have to either not suck at spelling (impossible when the last time I had to spell correctly in Russian was 18 years ago) or simply subject my readers to crappy texts riddled with spelling mistakes.

What’s worse is that in Internet Explorer 9 there’s no spellchecking at all. I know that there are 3rd party spellchecking add-ons, but they made the browser unstable in some circumstances. I honestly tried to use IE9 as my primary browser for a month or two but eventually gave up. There are other reasons why I use Chrome and not IE9, but absence of spellchecker is definitely my number 1 issue with IE.

The fact that all of the above mentioned products are made by Microsoft and that I have spellcheckers for all 3 languages installed on my machine is ridiculous. There’s no excuse for this except for some organizational issues inside Microsoft and I shouldn’t be exposed to them as a user.

I’m totally looking forward to all the cool things in Windows 8, but, please Microsoft, end this idiocy with spellchecking. There’s no excuse for not having a system-wide spellchecking engine with an API for 3rd party apps in 2012.

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Follow Up on International WP7 Marketplace Petition

12/27/2010 7:15:17 PM

Thank you to everyone who signed the International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition and/or spread the word! As I’m writing this more than 1000 people have already signed the petition. And that without any help from mainstream media (as far as I know). Not bad!

Thanks to WMPoweruser, wpcentral, Mobility Digest, René Schulte, Justin Angel, David Petrla and everyone else who helped us achieve this milestone. Sure this number means nothing if Microsoft doesn’t react but it should be hard to ignore by now.

The feedback has been mostly positive but there were some recurring misunderstandings I became tired dispelling in comments and on Twitter. So I decided to address these in this post one by one.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that everything I write below is 100% accurate but I’m trying to be as accurate as I can

There are some legal, tax, currency and similar issues

First I must admit I’m not a lawyer. And I’m not denying that there might be some issues in this area in some countries. That said my favorite example to dismiss this argument is Belgium and The Netherlands.

These are 2 neighboring European Union countries and are part of Benelux. They have the same currency (Euro) and all EU countries have aligned trade laws so once you can sell in one of the EU countries you can sell in all of them. So why is Belgium is on the list of supported countries and The Netherlands isn’t? The answer is fairly simple once you know that one of the official languages in Belgium is French and there already is a French WP7 app marketplace for a big market in France.

International trade seems to be a boogeyman for most people in USA and they seem to imagine it as something that takes years to overcome. But you know what? I work for and co-own a small company here in Lithuania. We’ve been selling our software electronically worldwide since 2003 and it took us only a few hours to set this up. Sure, we do it through a 3rd party service but Microsoft uses (used?) the parent company (Digital River) of the company we use for their own Windows Marketplace (now Microsoft Store). And guess what, there’s a European Union (English) Microsoft Store.

Anyway I’ve heard that in some countries banks charge credit card owners for international transactions and things like that. This is a valid reason to hold out roll out to these countries, but for many countries and European Union for sure, the English (International) App marketplace is literally no further than one decision and one UPDATE query away. In my humble opinion, for course.

Xbox Live is not global, so what do you want from WP7 marketplace?

Xbox Live is a great addition to Xbox experience, but it’s still an addition to the offline gaming experience. You can go into a store worldwide and buy a game you can enjoy on your Xbox. But guess what’s the only way to get apps onto your shiny WP7 device? Right.

Zune is not global, so what do you want from WP7 marketplace?

Again, you can load your own music and videos obtained elsewhere to your WP7. But guess what’s the only way to get apps onto the phone?

We understand that not everything is in Microsoft’s hands when it comes to music and video. Regional restrictions on music are still lame but it’s a totally different issue and that’s why it was explicitly excluded from the petition:

We are not talking about Music & Video where we understand that not everything is in your hands. We are talking about your own app marketplace.

Additionally Zune is available in some form in countries where WP7 app marketplace isn’t (like Norway and Sweden). This says that these marketplaces aren’t directly related.

Many countries have access to iOS App Store in iTunes but not music and video. These are 2 different stories.

Microsoft wants to localize the marketplace properly before opening it in new countries

Great. So why exactly phones without localization are sold officially in all those “other” countries? If someone bought a phone without localized UI and didn’t return it, would they mind non-localized Marketplace? I wouldn’t.

In addition proper localization is almost impossible. Here’s one comment from a Belgian who signed the petition:

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I live in Lithuania and most of the content sites over here are in Lithuanian exclusively. The nearby Latvia has a larger Russian-speaking population and almost all of the sites over there have both Latvian and Russian versions. You get the picture.

It’s a global world so there’s quite a lot of people living around the world and not speaking (or at least not preferring) the language of the country they live in. There’s a need to be able to switch languages in any region and basically in all of them there should be an option to switch to English. So why not launch English marketplace right now and work on extra languages later?

Conclusion

That’s all I can think of right now. I still don’t see any reasonable explanations to the situation around Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace. A few critics of the petition all rehashed the same things I’ve tried to disprove above and Microsoft keeps it’s silence for now.

We’ll see what happens next.

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International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition

12/22/2010 1:28:00 PM

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a fan of petitions, “calling your representative” and things like that. Yet I can’t understand the current state of Windows Phone 7 experience around the World. The more or less full experience (minus differences in access to Music & Video) is available in 17 countries. At the same time phones are sold in way more than those 17 countries.

Last time I raised this issue the phones weren’t officially available over here in Lithuania. Now I can go into official stores of 2 cell operators in Lithuania and walk out with one of the 2 available HTC models.

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At the same time when I launch Zune Software on my Windows 7 with current location set to Lithuania here’s what I see:

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Notice that the Marketplace tab is missing. It takes switching location to United States (or other supported region)

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to see that tab

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Unfortunately even after this we can only access the free apps and trials because it wouldn’t accept our credit cards.

Some might say we are lucky that we can see free apps in the marketplace on our phones (I’m still not sure if this is the case without any tricks but it could be). People in other countries can’t do even that:

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The worst part of all of this is that there’s no official information on the problems Microsoft is facing with allowing access to the marketplace in countries other than those 17 lucky ones. And unfortunately for Microsoft not many people can come up with a reasonable guess as to what these problems might be.

I’ve heard (and thought of) only 2 reasons:

Guess #1. Localization. Microsoft wants to localize the marketplace into local languages before launching it in new markets.

Here’s why this doesn’t make much sense: There’s no Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, etc. UI in the Windows Phone 7 OS itself, yet the phones are available in Lithuania, Norway, Poland, etc. So absence of localization doesn’t stop them from selling the phones, but stops from providing access to the marketplace? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Guess #2. Taxes. Apparently Microsoft needs to deal with tax differences and similar stuff.

I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure that once you’ve dealt with taxes in one European Union country you can cover all of the EU from there without any substantial overhead. We have 8 EU countries covered by the marketplace (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom). Where are the other 19? And I’m not talking about new members. Where’s Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden, etc.? Looking at the list it seems obvious that selection was made by language rather than anything else. But we’ve covered that above.

Any other guesses? And why do we have to guess? Why is it difficult for Microsoft to come up with an explanation and a roadmap? What’s the point in silence in this case?

Who wins here? Consumers can’t access the marketplace – bad. Developers and Microsoft can’t sell apps to these consumers – bad. And the worst part that there are no explainable obstacles responsible for that. I’m not saying there aren’t any for sure, I’m just asking to let us know if there are.

A week ago I’ve shown my LG Optimus 7 to a non-technical friend. He asked me if I can recommend him buying a WP7 phone. And honestly, being a Windows Phone fan myself, I couldn’t. I don’t want my friend to be mad at me for having to go through hoops just to get some apps on his smartphone. I will recommend the phone once this is resolved, I will highlight it’s great novel UI and try to justify some deficiencies in order to convince my peers, but I can’t do that right now.

So when I saw another desperate cry of frustration with this situation on Twitter, I’ve snapped and decided to create a petition. Here it is:

International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition

If you agree with what’s written there and in this blog post, please, take a few seconds to sign the petition and spread the word. Maybe this way Microsoft will hear us and shine some light on the situation or better yet just flip the switch.

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Legal Sideloading Scenario for Windows Phone 7

12/8/2010 10:05:31 AM

Disclaimer: By no means I pretend to have all the knowledge needed to make this work and all the challenges Microsoft is facing in this area. This is just my stream of consciousness on the subject.

What’s the biggest worry for Microsoft on the subject off people sideloading apps? The answer to this question is hard to guess wrong. They don’t want alternative marketplaces to appear and compete with the official marketplace undercutting developer earnings, trust, etc. and in turn Microsoft’s earnings and market share.

I’d leave piracy alone since it’s not something you can fight without punishing legitimate users along the way. The phones will be hacked anyway and pirates will do their thing. I don’t have any doubts about it.

On the other hand there are lots of people who would love to be able to load apps to the phone for pretty legitimate reasons like:

  • hobbyist making apps for themselves and friends
  • people who can’t become official WP7 developers (there are more than 30 countries in the world, you know)
  • companies making apps for internal use

I don’t think any of the above mentioned usages constitutes any danger to the official marketplace. So, basically, the goal is to make 3rd party marketplace apps either impossible or, more likely, too complicated for normal people to use.

So, what if people could load XAPs via Zune and these XAPs would be signed on the fly and only signed apps could run on the phone? This way it’s pretty easy for regular folks to sideload their apps, impossible for on-the-phone 3rd party marketplaces to exist and too complicated for web/PC 3rd party marketplaces to gain any mainstream traction.

It sounds too simple for me to be true, so I’m probably missing something. What do I miss?

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Automatic Unit Converter

5/21/2010 2:54:45 PM

What & Why?

On my recent trip to USA one of the biggest challenges was a constant need to evaluate all the US units and figuring what they mean to me. Miles, feet, inches, gallons, ounces, Fahrenheit… Come on, guys, it’s about time to switch to normal measurement system! ;)

Nevertheless I’ve liked it there and would definitely want to go again. So, Microsoft Lithuania contest to make an Internet Explorer 8 accelerator with trip to MIX11 as a grand prize couldn’t come handier.

When first paragraph met the second one in my head, I knew immediately what to make for this contest.

Please welcome my Automatic Unit Converter IE8 accelerator and complimentary site. You just select some text on some site, click the blue accelerator button, hover over “Convert to Metric” and get all the known units in your selection converted to metric.

Automatic Unit Converter for IE8

Why not just use Google, Bing, etc.?

  1. Not everything work automagically with Google and Bing. 60 ft 5 inch works, but 60'5" doesn’t. Often you have to tell Google what your target is. Building an engine to figure that out is one short step away from just converting the values. So I just made that step myself.
  2. Multiple values in arbitrary text. When you are looking at a text containing multiple values (like in the screenshot above) you don’t want to select and convert them one by one.

What about other systems and directions?

I would probably improve US-to-Metric over time and add Imperial-to-Metric. As for converting these back from metric I’m not personally interested in it. That said I’ve created a conversion module in away to allow expansion and I’m ready to make it open source. So, if someone is up for the task, let me know and I’ll post the project online and implement selection and specific accelerators for different scenarios into the site.

Vote for me!

My accelerator is listed on the contest page as “Matų konvertavimas”. Click on “Patinka” if you like the accelerator.

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VS2008 Purchasing Part 3: Great Success... not really

7/29/2008 10:47:03 AM

I have 9 days left on my Visual Studio 2008 trial and suddenly "Upgrade..." button no longer leads to "Content not found" page. It was still "not found" a week ago or so, but now it looked promising. Unfortunately digital registration is only an option for customers in USA and Canada. So we (the rest of the world) are still out of luck.

So I assume I'll have to go the old-fashioned way and it sucks.

See also:

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He DIDN'T say THAT

6/24/2008 1:59:10 PM

Apparently the most popular Bill Gates quote is "fake":

Some of the most oft-repeated comments attributed to Bill Gates through the years were not uttered by Bill Gates. Take for instance "640K ought to be enough for anybody," which he supposedly said in 1981 to note that the 640K bytes of memory in IBM's PC was a significant breakthrough.

... Gates has addressed the 640K quote in interviews. "I've said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time ... I keep bumping into that silly quotation attributed to me that says 640K of memory is enough. There's never a citation; the quotation just floats like a rumor, repeated again and again," he told Bloomberg Business Applications in 1996.

The Quotable Bill Gates

Dang. The world will never be the same.

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Visual Studio Trial Upgrade: 24 days later

6/2/2008 10:57:28 AM

vs_trial_66days

I wanted to wait a month before checking back on this issue but recent post by ScottGu (more on this later in this post) changed my plans.

So, it's been 24 days since that post. Thanks to DotNetKicks, Dzone and, obviously, Google that post was viewed more than 1100 times directly (not counting views through RSS, as part of the whole blog, etc.). I'm pretty confident that someone from Microsoft directly responsible for these things or at least someone who knows someone who is in some way related to this has seen it.

Today I tried to repeat the quest and failed exactly the same way as almost a month earlier. The only difference was that MSDN's header design has changed and "Content Not Found" page looks prettier now.

Now back to the a/m ScottGu's post. Only things why I wanted to upgrade to VS2008 right now were to play with Silverlight and ASP.NET MVC. Sure I'd like to use VS2008 with other things but for now I work on 2.0 projects and there's no immediate need for 2008. And from that post it appears that I can do my playing from VWD Express 2008 meaning that I can delay upgrade to VS2008 for as long as I want (if ever). This is no way a solution for the actual non-upgradeability problem but it's not my fault that Microsoft doesn't want my money.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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Why is it so F#...ing Difficult to Buy Visual Studio!?

5/8/2008 5:59:04 PM

I remember going through something like this with Visual Studio 2005 but back then I've swallowed my pride and called my local "pusher" and got the VS2005 old fashioned way. Now, 3 years later, I want to buy Visual Studio 2008. Let's see how this goes...

Note: I live outside of USA and any other "major market" for that matter

Upgrading through the Trial

I've download and installed Visual Studio 2008 Professional 90-day Trial. Now I go to Help->About and see the "Upgrade..." button. Hooray!

vs2008about

When I click it my browser opens a page saying  "Content not found".

ms-content_not_found

How crazy is that!? This is a current product by a MAJOR corporation so how could something like this happen?

Other ways

OK, let's swallow some pride again and go through the product page. Closest to the words "buy" or "purchase" is Pricing - let's go there. First link there is Worldwide Purchase Information. Hooray again. When I go there I see information about buying an MSDN Subscription but I only want a standalone VS2008 Standard or Professional. OK, there's a section:

Additional Purchasing Options

[Skeptical] hooray. So now we get to this page. Looks promising. I click "Buy or upgrade now" and get to Windows Marketplace page where all of the online merchants listed ship to USA and Canada only. And I would actually prefer a simple license key (which must be an option (see below)). Dead end again.

Now I remember that there was something about upgrading from Trial on the Trial download page. Here it is:

Upgrading from Trial Editions

When you are ready to upgrade from an installed trial edition of Visual Studio or Team Foundation Server (or the Workgroup Edition of Team Foundation Server), you don't have to completely uninstall and reinstall those products. For more information, see How to: Upgrade from Visual Studio Trial Edition (a Visual Studio 2005 topic, but still accurate).

The "how to" page has the following:

To obtain a product key
  • Purchase a copy of Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition at a retail location. The product key is listed on the sleeve of the DVD or CD.

    —or—

    Order a Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition product key online at http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/howtobuy/. The product key is sent to you in an e-mail message.

Click on the http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/howtobuy/ - "Content Not Found"

Our local Microsoft website has a list of "old-school" companies who can order you a hard copy from the warehouse and you'll get it in couple of weeks or months (which was what I tried to avoid and was supposed to succeed).

I hope that someone at Microsoft reads this and at least fixes all the "not found" issues and specifies accurate information. At the very least tell me that there's no way for me to buy this online but don't make me waste half a day trying to find a correct way to navigate your website! Theoretically I wasted more time (equals money) looking for a way to make a simple transaction than the transaction is worth. Very frustrating.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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