It began on Sunday, when I finally got completely fed up with how slow my laptop was running and decided to get a new one. In the interest of keeping up with my Silver Rewards spending goal, and because I didn't figure I'd need much in the way of "service", I decided to get it at Best Buy. I did my due diligence, looking at everything they had and picking the features I wanted, including the pre-installed Office suite (because I hate trying to move documents between Office and Open Office) and a 32-bit OS (because I've heard nothing but bad things from people trying to run certain applications on a 64-bit system). Eventually, I settled on a 64-bit Win7 Dell Studio that had the Office suite, because they had nothing good in 32-bit. I had to ask someone to verify that it had a built-in wireless card, because the floor model's card was disabled so thoroughly that I couldn't even turn it on to try it out, and he handed me some "free stuff" as part of a package deal. (An antivirus that I haven't even opened and never will, and 6 months of Geek Squad support that was probably supposed to be a year, but ditto.) The cost of the extras was properly deducted from the cost of the laptop at the register, and it rang up at the shelf price even though, for once, the Best Buy website listed it at a HIGHER price. So I was satisfied. However, when I went to try the Office programs, I discovered that the pre-installed copy was a "starter" that required an activation key to unlock, and I couldn't find an activation key anywhere in the box.
Well, I did my research, naturally. The laptop box just said "Microsoft Office Home & Student 2010", nothing about a starter kit or needing to pay for an activation license, and the reviews I found online all praised the inclusion of the full Home & Student suite as making the price even more reasonable. I only found one story of someone not having the activation key, and he had to take the laptop back to Best Buy to be "returned" and "repurchased" so they could give him the key. Several other forums had the question of where to get the key, and the listed answer was always that it needed to be purchased separately. I didn't expect much, but I contacted @twelpforce via Twitter to ask about getting my activation key. Their first response just told me where to purchase a key, but over the course of a few more responses, the agent agreed that perhaps the sales materials implied that the key should be included, and I should call or E-mail them for a resolution. It was getting late, so I left that until Monday night. 1-888-BEST-BUY connected me to the Geek Squad, whose rep again told me that the laptop was only supposed to come with the starter kit, and I'd need to pay for an activation key. I asked her how the sales materials were supposed to imply that, and she asked me for more information about my laptop so she could do more research. (I think she should have done that in the first place - this was hardly the only laptop model that comes with a full Office package.) A few minutes later, she returned to tell me that, indeed, I was supposed to have an activation key, which should have been supplied at the store. She told me to bring my receipt to the store to collect the key. Of course, I didn't have high hopes, but my brother was heading to that side of town anyway and let me tag along.
At the store, I waited at the Geek Squad counter for a few minutes, until it became clear that nobody was manning it. I gave up and went to Customer Service, waited in the line there, and finally got to tell my story to the representative, who immediately told me that most of their laptops only come with starter installations, and that I could purchase an activation key if I wanted the full version. Again, I told her that she was wrong, so she went to confirm with a coworker, who sent her back to me with the same story. At that point, the manager got involved and asked me to show him which laptop I'd purchased. I showed him the sales card, as well as the box, and an employee in the computer department came along to confirm that yes, I should have had an activation key, and it should have been in the box. He tried to tell me that the activation keys are tied to the computers, but I didn't even need my brother shaking his head to know how wrong that was. How could I use a purchased key, as everyone along the way had been trying to sell me, if only the specific key for that computer would work? He quickly corrected his misspeech, saying that he was referring to their inventory control, which I can believe. (They also said that they didn't have activation keys lying around to hand me, which wasn't true - my brother pointed out the display where they were kept.) The manager offered to open another box, just to show that there was a key inside and to show me what it looked like, and if I still couldn't find mine, I could bring it back and swap for the box that had the key. (After spending hours patching the one I'd already bought... gee, thanks.) He took the box into the back, where I couldn't see him open it, and came out about a minute later with the paper that had the activation key on it. (The conspiracy theorist in me says it was never in the box at all, but I don't think he was lying to me at this point.)
I went home and searched the box a third time, but didn't find the key anywhere. So I packed everything up, removing as much personal information from the laptop as I could, and brought it back to the store. They had to inspect the laptop to make sure I hadn't done anything to it, which required me to type in my password, but after way too much waiting, the manager told me that the one they'd opened in the store didn't even have the Office starter installed, so they were just going to give me the key from that one and let me take mine home with me. It worked, although the installer warned me that the installation might be corrupt, and I haven't noticed any problems since. What bothers me, though, is how many people along the way tried to tell me to spend more money until I corrected them. What if I'd been the gullible type, or hadn't been willing to stick to my guns? A couple came in while they were inspecting my laptop to trade in a cable modem they'd just bought because they didn't actually have cable. Would they have been able to tell Best Buy and Geek Squad employees that they knew the difference between "included" and "starter kit"? I don't claim that Best Buy were actively withholding Office activation keys unless the purchasers came back to complain in the hope of being able to resell those licenses for a profit, although that was on my mind through most of the procedure, but their employees are obviously too willing to give wrong information rather than doing the research or admitting that they don't know the answers and pointing me to people who can help. That may be worth an extra $130 to them, but it's wrong.
On the plus side, it IS a great laptop, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.