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Palm Column

Palm support leaves much to be desired

by Shawn Barnett
March 2001, issue 38

I've never had to call Palm technical support. The Palm OS usually does what I expect and is pretty reliable. Until about three months ago. I've gotten complaints about technical support from readers, though not too many. I've had mostly bad experiences with other tech support lines, so it's not a surprise that I had problems with Palm. The two notable exceptions were a single call to Gateway, where I must have encountered the department's absolute genius; and multiple calls to Microsoft. Frankly, Microsoft's technical support is so good, and their people so honest and capable in my experience that they deserve all the praise I can muster. But I was talking about Palm technical support and customer care, specifically for the Palm VII.

I've been a Palm VII user since before its official launch, and I'm a strong supporter of the service. About three months ago, the "auto location" feature stopped working. This is where a service like the Weather Channel can identify where you are by the ID of the tower your Palm VII is talking to and give you weather information for your area. It's a convenient feature, and it had worked for me in the Sacramento area for over a year; furthermore, it still works when I visit the Bay Area, Reno, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Unfortunately, when I call Palm Customer Care to tell them about the problem I'm having, they have trouble understanding what I'm talking about. When they finally do understand, they try to blame it on my PQA (Palm Query Application), saying either, "You need to reinstall your PQA" or "We're not responsible for the PQAs of other companies." Reciting their mantras, they neglect to consider the already expressed facts that the PQAs work in other areas in their current condition, and that the Weather Channel and MovieFone, among the apps that use the feature, came bundled with my Palm VIIx.

After a long and frustrating conversation with one particular fellow, I finally persuaded him to check the network condition. It was then that he found out there's an error of some sort in my area that's causing the problem, and they're working on it. He "escalated" the issue. Sounds important. Wow. Maybe something will happen now. Two days later, I got an email in which a technician suggested I reinstall my PQAs, and that they are not responsible for the PQAs of other companies.

Interesting. I think I've heard that before. Three months later, nothing. After four more calls, one in which I was accidentally hung up on, the issue was escalated again. So I expect to hear something real soon.

Meanwhile, I'm dealing with my attempt to review the new MyPalm service, in which we can access our information from our Palm VIIs. Sounds cool. For background, Palm last year purchased the web portal, which can synchronize your Outlook database and calendar with a website that you can access anywhere from a browser. They've renamed it, and built an application for the Palm VII, also called MyPalm, that can sync with the MyPalm server. It'll work on other Palms in addition to the Palm VII. Great idea. And it is indeed in beta, so I understand that it's not going to be perfect.

As a subscriber to both and, I had two user names, one for each. Well, they decided to copy the user names for Palm VII users over to the MyPalm service and PQA. Problem is, I have a three digit user name on my Seven, and though the MyPalm website can accept a three digit user name, the Palm VII PQA requires a five digit user name, even though it runs on my Palm VII which knows it has a three digit user name. Ugh. I could go on about how long it took to wait for them to get back to me about the problem-which they never did-and about the time on hold as I tried to just lengthen my user name so it would work and I could review it, but I need to get to the last story.

Right after Comdex, Palm finally decided to release OS 3.5 on the web. Again, I wanted to download it to review it. After two days of crap trying to get the copy I'd paid for to actually download, I got it to install, only to have it hang when it came time to upload the upgrade to the Palm. I called Palm VII tech support. They had no idea the upgrade had even been released. I don't blame Palm VII tech support; it's a systemic thing, which I'll get to soon. A troubleshooter by nature, I was able to figure out both the problem and the solution, and I posted it on our website. Initially, I thought it had to do only with the fact that I was running Palm Desktop for the Handspring Visor. But I have heard from many others without Visors who've tried and failed at the same upgrade for all kinds of Palms. Basically, I think the problem is that the install program updates the HotSync conduit, but other components necessary to upload the software aren't updated until the newly-installed Palm Desktop is actually run. When I conferred with the Palm VII tech support team later, they concurred, but I never heard whether that was really the problem, and I'm still hearing that users are having this problem with the upgrade. I sent my analysis to people inside Palm and Handspring, but I'm not sure if it was ever fixed, or if I was even right. My solution worked for me, so I was satisfied.

Hey, software is faulty sometimes. It's difficult to predict what's going on in all users' computers. I understand that. But tech support ought to be apprised of new software releases before their customers, so they can help their customers and maintain some sense of self-respect as well. Likewise, people at Palm VII customer and technical support should know about the service and that an auto location feature exists, as it has since the Palm VII was born. That a certain portion of the service is down should be common knowledge among the team members, updated on a daily or at least weekly basis.

I do feel bad writing about this, since I'm a big Palm fan and I'd rather promote than criticize. For basic tasks, customer service has been good and fast, but the items I've mentioned have been far beyond their capabilities. I've given them at least eight chances to address these issues, and they've only been resolved with my own persistent intervention and frequent calls back. I feel like I'm trying to get medical service at my HMO; and in a way, working with my HMO has prepared me for working with Palm tech support and customer care. I'm ready now to find out who's in charge of fixing the auto location feature in my area and pay them a visit so I can lend a hand.

I'm slowly figuring out what's going on, and it should have been obvious. Palm is an entirely different company in many ways, and there are lots of loose ends. I recently realized that most of the people I knew at Palm are now only available at a Handspring phone number. At PalmSource 2000, instead of the three principle officers I saw at the Palm press conference in 1999, there were around ten on the Q&A panel, and I didn't know most of them. It's understandable that after the Handspring departures and the spinoff that there would be some communication problems like I'm seeing with tech support and customer care. I'm hopeful that this will get better as everyone settles in. Until then, I just want my Palm VIIx to work as reliably as it has so I can resume praising it here in my column.

Shawn Barnett can be reached via e-mail at

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