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Microsoft Launches 'Answer Desk' Help Service

Microsoft commenced a new help desk service today, called "Answer Desk," that appears to be aimed at consumer users.

Answer Desk is described as "new service" in a Microsoft blog that was posted today. The service appears to have been launched with little fanfare. The Answer Desk Web portal shows something like 15 "techs" that users can chat with for free, if they are available. The techs vary in experience, as shown in their profiles. One tech has already logged about 1,900 cases.

The service is free of charge to a point. Users can pick a tech for a "complimentary consult chat," according to the portal's FAQ page. Next, users will get a "complimentary troubleshooting session" to diagnose a problem on a PC. After that, the tech may fix the problem or offer to fix it for a service fee. The products supported are described as "Microsoft's latest software," such as Windows 7 or Microsoft Office 2010. Presumably, Microsoft checks the user's licensing status, but that detail isn't described.

Premium software support costs $99 per hour, covering PC diagnosis, software updates and dedicated chat. Virus removal costs $99 for 2 hours and may also address spyware and PC security configurations. (Microsoft also offers a free Safety Scanner service for emergency checks that will scan for viruses and spyware and remove them, which can be accessed here.) Answer Desk also offers personal training on Microsoft software for $49 per hour. Finally, there's an advanced tune-up service for PCs that costs $99 for two hours. The services and costs are listed here.

Microsoft has long offered some software support services as part of its lifecycle product support policy. For Microsoft products that are still within the "mainstream support" phase (typically the first five years after the initial product release), Microsoft offers "no-charge incident support," according to a Microsoft's product lifecycle description. That help is available by e-mail, phone or online, according to a Microsoft Support page.

Given Microsoft's existing lifecycle product support, it's unclear how Microsoft Answer Desk may be different. However, it looks like Answer Desk promises greater time and personal attention. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to share further information, but indicated that Microsoft is continuing to back both support services.

Microsoft Answer Desk appears to be separate from Microsoft Answers, which is a consumer forum page where people describe their software problems. Sometimes Microsoft contributors or MVPs provide text answers there, but there is no personal interaction as with Answer Desk.

Answer Desk has an extensive privacy policy, which allows Microsoft's partners to sell services to those users opting into being contacted by them. Microsoft also puts "persistent" cookies on the user's computer to help serve up display ads and track the effectiveness of those ads, according to the Answer Desk policy.

Microsoft has experimented in the past with paid support services for consumers. In late 2008, Microsoft scrapped its OneCare service, which was a short-run PC update and security service for consumers, priced at $49.95 per year. However, Microsoft used that experience to form in its "Morro" security service project, which later evolved into Microsoft Security Essentials, a free antimalware solution available to Windows licensees.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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