How good is Microsoft support?

So how good is Microsoft support? In my own experience, support calls to Microsoft have generally led to one of two answers: it can't be done, or, it can be done, but we have to buy some other license, or licenses first - and when we do buy those, we're usually sent right back to square one: it can't be done, or we need something else again.

An unguarded sentence from last week to the effect "that Microsoft's products are shoddy and the support worse" drew this response from frequent contributor Erik Engbrecht:

Microsoft Support

I've recently had the opportunity to work with MS support people, and I'm going to have to disagree with you. Their support is stellar.

Of course, I may need to caveat that with "if you pay for it." But we pay for a lot of support from a lot of companies, and MS seems to be one of the few where it is worth it.

Since that's not exactly been my experience, I thought it might be fun to swap good and bad support stories to see whether any kind of consensus exists on whether Microsoft's support is, or is not, shoddier than their products.

(And yes, I know, "the rats weren't really stoop shouldered")

In my own experience the best technical support I've ever seen has come from individuals and small companies making advanced products, and the worst from big companies making volume products. Today that generally means open source providers on the good side with the worst coming from the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, and telcom companies like Telus to whom customer calls are annoyances to be discouraged with IVR, long hold times, and "service" personnel who don't understand English.

Anecdotes don't, of course, establish anything of general applicability -but here's the high level summary of my own experience with technical support:

  1. calls to Microsoft support almost always lead to either dead ends or new purchase orders. What typically happens, it seems to me, is that the guys try to get something working, give up and wait through a support escalation or two, and get told either that it doesn't work or that they need some other license or upgrade - and then stall for days getting that to work before finding out that the original response wasn't quite right, and either it really doesn't work or they need something else. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen or heard of a Microsoft support call that produced a positive result the user couldn't have gotten to quicker and with less hassle through an internet search.
  2. the effectiveness of calls to Sun technical support varies tremendously. On the hardware side, support is generally acceptable but whether it makes it past that depends entirely on the person assigned. Most of the time a failure gets fixed, most of the time within the contractual four hours from notification, and most of the time that's ok because everything's redundant anyway - but we know who to ask for in Vancouver and who to avoid like the plague in Burlington. It's different on software support because only really hard stuff requires a call and most of the people at the lower levels can't deal with those - so it's always frustrating until the right guy gets back to us - and then it usually turns out to be something I should have known but didn't. Slow, frustrating, usually embarrassing in the end, but effective enough because real software emergencies (production down) simply don't come up.
  3. IBM"s escalation procedure works, and the technical depth at the high end of the service chain is often impressive. Again, however, durations are highly variable - there's no such thing as a simple AIX question and a lot of the time my Solaris assumptions mean that I waste a lot of time looking for ways to do things AIX simply can't do.

So, over to you: evidence? anecdotes? opinions? what works, what doesn't? and, overall, is Microsoft support better than, comparable to, or worse than their higher volume products?