Tag Archives: PEBKAC

Problem exists between keyboard and chair

I like my customers. As well paying my salary, many of them have been incredibly helpful in tracking down bugs, suggesting improvements, giving me testimonials and recommending my event seating planner to other people. But every so often somebody buys my software and I really wish they hadn’t. They just don’t have the skills or attitude that is going to result in a happy relationship between me, my product and them.

It isn’t just me. Everyone who does software support has a few ‘war stories’ about crazy things their customers have said or done. I have collected a few of them here for your enjoyment. I hope they will also be educational to those considering selling software or (horror of horrors) working full-time in support. If nothing else, they might make you feel a bit more sympathetic to the person at the other end of the phone next time you have to email or phone someone in support. They come from the ASP forums and various microISVs of my acquaintance and are reprinted with permission. For obvious reasons the authors are anonymous.

Of course, we shouldn’t  feel too superior. Many (if not most) user errors could be avoid by better design and we’ve probably all done stupid things in areas outside our fields of expertise. But sometime the problem really does exist between keyboard and chair.

The litigious

A couple of weeks ago, we had one guy who threatened to sue us because he received a “second hand” CD from us. Turned out he installed our software from the CD and assumed that our included demo database was data from a previous customer.

The quart in a pint pot

Many years ago, back in the days before Hard Drives I spent some time on the phone with a chap who couldn’t get our software loaded. Eventually he issued the words “I had problems getting the disk into the machine in the first place, could that have something to do with it?” I tried to expand on this a little. He eventually said “The disk was too big, so I had to fold it in half”. He’d bought the 5.25″ floppy version and tried to fit it in a 3.5″ slot!!!

The dabbler

My favourite was the user who emailed me saying he’d tried every setting in the options dialog and the software wouldn’t work. I gave him instructions on how to set the options back to the defaults at which he mailed back saying it was now working.

The literalist

I told a customer to right-click on the desktop. I hear scribbling, then he says “I wrote it. Now what?”.

The shiftless

I spent time trying to figure out why someone couldn’t load our software. It was a CP/M based machine. I can’t remember the exact command now, but the instructions showed that to start the software you had to put the disk in the machine and type run “appname” then press enter. The customer on the phone kept getting some error saying file not found or something similar. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I’d got her to do a dir and the file was listed as on the disk. We’d scanned the disk for errors, no errors. Finally I had her read back to me what was on the screen. She said “run 2 appname 2”. Finally it clicked that she had no idea that she needed to press the shift key to get the quote character and she was just pressing the “2” key (UK keyboard). To be fair the application she was trying to run was a typing tutor.

The vague

Your program doesn’t work. Where do I have to click?

The misdirected

Someone calls for tech support. They tell me what they are tying to do. I tell them how to do it. They tell me either the steps I give them don’t exist or don’t work. Turns out, they arent using my software, they bought a different product.

The hasty

A customer told me that he had spent 8 hours on a task. What he had done was pretty bizarre, completely missing the entire point of the software. I gently point out that he could have done it in 10 minutes if he had spent 10 minutes reading the tutorial. He told me “I didn’t have the time to read the tutorial”.

The beyond help

My favorite of all time is a user who insisted that my app’s Options screen didn’t work.  He said he kept clicking on check-boxes and buttons but that nothing happened.  I had him reboot just to make sure there wasn’t a problem with Windows at the moment and he did so with the same complaint. Finally, while on the phone, I discovered he was clicking on the screen shot in the help file.  When I explained that images in help files aren’t the same as the application screens themselves he insisted that this was confusing and that I needed to put a large, bold notice below the picture in the help file explaining that the picture above was just a picture.

The blonde

I know im BLONDE trust me!! How the hell do I “DOWNLOAD & INSTALL XXXX”??? All I would truely would is my statement, Is that to hard to ask HELP? Im not the computer buffin. Got any suggestions to help blondie? I would be grateful.

The irrelevant

for father mobil problam
sir my father name is XXXX XXXX XXXX  live in india State is Rajasthan my Distt. is bharatpur and address is XXXX XXXX XXXX my father Mobil numbir is not work please help me.

The paranoid


The clueless

There was this lady who had bought a license but could not enter it in the program. I politely responded and tried to guide her to the dialog where to enter it. Btw. this was all in the early days, I didn’t have canned responses yet, I didn’t have ready made screenshots yet, I think there wasn’t even a help file yet. Every day, for 10 days, she responded that she could not find it. I tried everything possible to politely explain it to her, also with screenshots. Her tone was getting nastier with the day, pointing out writing mistakes (UK “s” vs “USA “z”) etc. and claiming she “knew” computers as she had entered data for 40 years. Every day I digged deeper trying to figure this one out. The 10th day she explained that she had entered it in Windows Word, NotePad, Windows Run, and whatever else she could type the code in … yet *nothing had happened* that would rescue her CD data.

Turned out that she had not even installed the software yet. She fell from the sky when I told her to download and install the software first, THEN try to enter the code in the program.

The super signature

the software did not work

Eschew cruelty. It is not only unkind, but unwise to start the spiraling decent that will lead to all parties falling to a lower level!.


What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
[URL removed]
or e-smoke supplies at  [URL removed]
Never be arrogant.

[URL removed]

Whiskey makes you think you’re smarter than you are.

Always, always make sure you know who has the power.

Don’t mess with old men, they didn’t get old by being stupid.

The rambling

yes i’ve got to question the true & honest nature which encompasses your company as well as your free downloadeable software. it’s always been my personal experience when something “seems to good to be true”, more often than not it generally is. being a victim of a scam or two on & offline i’d be a complete idiot,  more honestly in laymans terms, that’s just “stupid”. i question everything, good, bad, or indifferent. point!, blank!, period!. so my bottom line question for whomever receives this msg. & responds is this; how do i know this isn’t another one of the 1,000s of  con/scam artists online waiting to take advantage of ignorant, naive people with the mind set of ” sure, why not? as long as it’s free,” type attitude to come along & with one click of a button fall prey just like i did years ago?  i learned real fast if i was going to continue surfing the net as such, i had alot of work/learning to do. as a result, i  became a vessel for stockpiling any/all information. i still look for the catch behind all FREE DOWNLOAD”, “JUST CLICK HERE & IT WILL TAKE CARE OF ANYTHING ELSE”, due to my lack of knowledge surrounding the internet & all the evil, dishonest, “i’m too lazy to get a real job & make an honest living”, “why work for someone else when i can be my own boss & constantly take advantage of all these stupid people?”. damn this is the life. inflate the truth a bit here & there;& wait,wait,& wait. hell, this is just like fishing. i’ve got my bait, my line,pole,&all the time it takes for someone to take hold of my hook, i so easily cast out there,. hell the hard parts over”_ now the easy part, slowly yet carefully reel them in,hence mission accomplished. ironically, they never added illegal activity & a jail /prison sentence into their day of fishing., but i digress &please respond as soon as possible. if nothing else, you’ve definitly sparked my curiousty. be advised in the event your response is filled with big $.50 words dressed in a blanket of bullshit you will be eventually facing several fraudulent type charges, a long time behind bars, not to mention a victiim of your own circumstance.

never again,


If that isn’t enough check out Nico Westerdale growing increasingly exasperated by people confusing his magnifying glass application with the built in one on Windows (I’m not sure how many of the comments are other developers having a bit fun at Nico’s expense).

Thank you to everyone that contributed. Please feel free to add your own stories in the comments. If you are worried about the comments not being anonymous enough you can email them to me and I will post them for you.

10 things non-technical users don’t understand about your software

If you are writing consumer software you have to understand that you and your average user have a very different level of understanding of computers. When you first start doing support it can be a shock to realize just how vast this gulf is. It doesn’t mean that your users are stupid, just that they haven’t spent the thousands of hours in front of a computer that you have. Below I have summarized a few of the things I have come to understand about non-techies through answering thousands of support requests relating to my own table planning software.

1. Copy and paste

It is very clear from many support emails I have received that users will often re-type a licence key emailed to them because they don’t know how to (or even that they can) copy and paste text. Yes, really. You can mitigate this to some extent by including instructions on how to copy and paste where relevant and making licence keys easy to type (short and without ambiguous characters, e.g. ‘0’ and ‘o’).

2. The difference between web and native applications

Many users are used to web applications and don’t understand that they need to download and install new versions of desktop software to get access to the features in a new version. You can avoid this by automating the update process, but this can be pretty catastrophic if you get it wrong.

3. Data storage

Many users don’t understand how or where data is stored or even that it is separate from the application. They don’t understand that some data is stored on their local harddisk and some is stored ‘in the cloud’. And they don’t understand the difference between storage in a file, a database or the Windows registry. Consequently, when they install a desktop app on a new machine they are often surprised that it can’t automatically access the documents they created on a previous machine. So it is worth having something in your FAQ about moving from one machine to another.

Given that users don’t understand the basics of data storage it should come as no surprise that they also don’t understand the concept of file formats either. For example when told to ‘save a .xlsx file as a .csv file’ some users will simply change the file extension from .xlsx to .csv and be surprised when the resultant .csv file is gibberish when they open it in Excel. You can try to avoid this by providing clear step-by-step instructions on how to save a .xlsx file as a .csv file.

4. The jargon you use

Using terms that your users don’t understand can be very off-putting. For example, non-techies have no idea what a “dialog” is, let alone a “modal dialog”. Just call it a “window”.

5. Right click

Some users have not discovered (or will not think to try) clicking the right mouse button. You should therefore never put something only in a right click menu or anywhere else that it can’t easily be discovered.

6. Concurrency

Some applications can handle concurrent access (e.g. client-server and web-based apps) others can’t (e.g. most desktop apps). But many users assume that all software can be safely used by multiple concurrent users. If your software can’t it might be worth spelling this out in your marketing so as not to raise false expectations.

7. What changes can be reversed

Techies are happy to play with software to see what it does. They aren’t usually too worried about trying things because they can rely on some combination to undo, version control and backups to reverse most changes and they can usually judge when a change won’t be reversible. Non-technical users aren’t so confident and won’t try things in the same way. In fact some of them seem to think that a wrong move could cause the computer to burst into flames. So try to stick to conventions they will understand (e.g. on Windows those used by MS Office and Outlook) and offer step-by-step guidance for complex tasks.

8. The need for backups

Every few days I get an email from someone who has lost all their data because they had a major hardware problem and no backups on a separate device. Sometimes this is because they don’t even realize the data is stored on their computer. You can mention the need for back-ups in your documentation and/or in the software, but it is unlikely to make much difference. History shows that this is a lesson most people have to learn the hard way (techies included). Mentioning it doesn’t hurt though and it might help to defuse an angry users if you point it out to them after the event.

9. That they should read the documentation

People are using your software because they have things to do. Like it or not, your beloved software is just a means to that end. Although some users will read documentation, most consider it a waste of their precious time. In fact, support emails I receive provide incontrovertible evidence that some users won’t even read a single sentence of text in an error message explaining what the problem is. This means you need to write clear and concise documentation, but you also should develop your software under the assumption that most users won’t read it. That is where usability testing comes in.

10. Problem exists between keyboard and chair

Unskilled users often don’t realize how unskilled they are. Consequently they may blame your software for problems that are of their own making. One just has to be as polite as possible in such cases. Making your customer feel stupid is never great for business. If it is clear that the customer doesn’t have a sufficient level of skill to use your software, you should politely suggest that it “obviously isn’t ideal for their requirements” and offer to refund them. However, if several people have the same problem then you need to change your product to be a better fit for your users (changing your users to be a better fit to your software unfortunately not being an option for most of us).

Have you been caught out by assuming technical knowlege that your users don’t have? If so, please leave a comment below.