The user did not know what the PC power switch was • The registry


on duty Modes of operation always present a challenge to users. Especially when they invent their own. Welcome to a mysterious On Call with an all-too-obvious solution.

Today’s post comes from a well-known reader “Ivor” and relates to a particularly confusing support call from a customer struggling with Ivor’s software.

It was about a PC setting he had never heard of. We should explain that Ivor has worked as a developer and head of development for his employer for over a quarter of a century and he’d be forgiven for thinking he’d heard it all. But there is always this particular case.

“Your software isn’t working,” was the complaint. Simple enough, right?

Maybe not. Ivor explained that the customer “reported that our software would only work if the computer was in ‘I’ mode”.

“It wouldn’t work in ‘O’ mode.”

Ivor was bewildered. “It was the 90s,” he said, “and no one could think of such a configuration option in our software.”

There were different modes in the platforms of the time. Who can forget Windows 3.1’s “Constant Crash Mode” (aka “Standard Mode”) versus “Slightly Less Crash Mode” (aka “Enhanced Mode”) or MS-DOS MODE command, responsible for configuring the operating mode of the printers or the serial interface?

But ‘I’ mode and ‘O’ mode were new to Ivor and the team and they gently probed the increasingly frustrated customer to determine what the problem was.

The customer explained again: “Your. software. does. not. run. in. O. mode.”

Maybe it was a reference to MODE control of the BBC Micro Model B. MODE 0 would put the best of Acorn in 80 column mode while MODE 1 was a bit more graphic. The BBC Micro (along with its successor, the Archimedes) was, after all, only discontinued in the 1990s. So not too far-fetched…if it weren’t for the fact that this software was designed to run on a pc.

The interrogation continued and when “we managed to determine that it was a button with ‘I’ and ‘O’ on it”, the penny dropped.

The client was referring to a toggle switch on the PC. “To be specific,” Ivor said, “the on/off toggle switch.”

There is no record of how the conversation with the client went, as Ivor explained that “O” meant the PC was off and almost nothing would work, not even its software. We imagine the phrase “‘O’ is for Off and ‘I’ is for Idiot” wasn’t too far from his mind.

Still, at least it gave Ivor a new twist on an old IT truism: “We’re still not talking about ‘turning it off and on again,'” he said, “but rather ‘putting it on’. [it] in ‘O’ mode then in ‘I’ mode”.

Have you ever had a user who thought so highly of your software that they expected it to work even when there was no power? How did you reset their hopes and dreams? Share your story of support shenanigans with an email to On Call. ®


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