How much support should come free with the purchase of a tech product? And when does it become something people should pay for?

The issue isn’t clear-cut, which makes the debut of Microsoft’s new “Answer Desk” online service an interesting experiment, at least. Rolled out quietly by the Redmond company last week, it’s an online adaptation of the Answer Desks in Microsoft’s retail stores (similar to Apple’s Genius Bars), designed for mainstream computer users.

After an initial free online chat with one of the company’s “Answer Techs,” customers can get software support ($99 for about 60 minutes), personal one-on-one training ($49 for an hour-long session) virus removal and protection ($99 for a two-hour session) PC performance (also $99 for about two hours).

“Answer Desk Answer Techs are highly trained, and qualified in their domain of knowledge, including popular software such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint,” the site promises. “In addition, they are professional, friendly, and dedicated to solving your PC issues without resorting to technology jargon.”

It’s a 24/7 service, timed to coincide with post-holiday questions about new PCs and software under the tree. In many cases, Answer Techs will use remote access technology to control the customer’s computer and solve problems as they watch.

Peter Bright of Ars Technica calls the launch of the service surprising considering the basic support that comes with Microsoft software, and the fact that most copies of Windows are sold pre-installed on PCs, with the PC makers providing support in those cases, at least in theory.

Domain-tracking site was first to spot the Answer Desk site.

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  • Guest

    Title is a little misleading, at least as I understand the service. If your problem can be resolved in the initial consultation then there’s no charge. You only pay if that’s not the case.

    I don’t know why any of this is surprising. OEM support generally sucks, and MS can’t force them to do better because MS no longer has full mastery of the channel. OEMs will simply threaten to adopt Android in a broader way than almost all have already. Ultimately the person who cares 100% of your product is you, not some OEM partner. 

    • Jomama Omyballs

      I wonder where they have reviews of this answer desk service.

  • JimmyFal

    Time for Microsoft to swoop in and save the amazing product called Windows that the OEM’s seem bent on destroying right out of the box.

  • Guest

    I find it hard to imagine that MS people without access to the BOM for a given piece of HW are going to be able to provide any materially significant support.  This will not help with OEM related issues, and if I were an OEM, i’d be concerned how this might negatively impact the customers experience with support for my HW.  I think that MS will piddle around with this, and then quietly sunset it as OEMs complain. 

    • Anonymous

      somebody’s got to step up and be the tech support.  Most OEM’s are horrible and end up blaming MS instead of taking heat for thier own lousy drivers, ‘bloatware’
       apps and the like.

  • Scott Moore

    I don’t think there’s anything outrageous about this at all. Apple has a similar program, only there’s is a subscription that you can buy for up to three years after you buy your iThing.

    If an engineer can help me through some issue that’s keeping me from working, and I need a human being to help, I’m happy to pay for it.

  • SoftwareWorld

    Maybe it’s a way to add to their sales from services because currently Microsoft only make money on product reselling and licensing.

  • TechBum

    well, i think it is fair enough to charge for something someone will help you warranty is good for 90 days, so there’s no arguing about getting charged after that. and besides there’s going to be a guarantee that they’ll be fixing the same issue if it re-occurs in the next 30 days, plus if it’s fixed with just easy steps, its supposedly free. not bad for a new MS strategy.

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