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Q. I want to alert your readers to a problem associated with software pre-loaded by Dell on one of my home PCs.

This PC was purchased just under 3 years ago with XP Pro pre-loaded by Dell. Last week I received a notice that, under Microsoft’s new WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) programme, the version of Windows on my PC was not valid and I needed to pay £92 to buy a valid software licence.

Since then I have descended into voicemail hell between Dell and Microsoft. Dell claims this is a “bug” sent out by Microsoft, Microsoft claims that Dell loaded the wrong licence key and have sold me a Volume Licence Key, that is not valid for a single PC. No one at Dell is willing to supply me with a valid licence number, or tell me how to input this into the PC. Similarly, MS is only interested in screwing more money out of me. Even after a conference call with both Microsoft and Dell on the line when Microsoft clearly demonstrated this is Dell’s issue, Dell still refuses to accept responsibility or liability for my costs.

I have spent about 4 hours on the phone over the last four days and have had to call in my IT consultant who has had to pay £92 for a new licence (even though I paid £1000 for the PC in the first place). Inevitably, Microsoft now says this may take 2 weeks to come through so I will incur another call out fee and the cost of reinstalling the operating system and reconfiguring the PC.

Have you or your other readers experienced similar problems?

Maggie Stoker

A. Sorry to hear about your Dell/ Windows XP problem. While I have not received any similar complaints from other readers, there have been lots of complaints (and lawsuits in the US) about Microsoft’s WGA and problems it has caused.

As a result Microsoft has modified some of the its features but continues to justify the use of WGA (downloaded as part of the Windows automatic update process) as a valid attempt to clamp down on piracy while ensuring that users of legitimate Windows software continue to receive updates.

One lawsuit in particular claims that “Users of licensed Windows software have been erroneously subjected to pop-up displays warning (once per hour after 14 days) that WGA considers Windows to be non-licensed. Thereafter, these users are denied certain important software updates.” Microsoft has described that lawsuit as “without merit,” but has issued a final version of the WGA tool that it says no longer conducts daily check-ins. The tool also has a modified license agreement that spells out in greater detail what WGA is and what it does.

However this does not address your problem which appears to be a classic case of ‘buck passing.’

Good luck.

Base QuietComfor2 headphones

Q. I share your enthusiasm for the Bose QuietComfort 2 headset. So much so that I am on my third set.

There is a “but” in that statement…because the first two sets broke and were replaced, gratis, by Bose.

Put simply, the construction of the headband (if that is what it is called) is inadequate. It is plastic, and tends to break just above the earphones, themselves, with surprisingly little “hard use” (like falling asleep on an airplane – and isn’t that one of the objectives of having noise canceling earphones?).

I was on a plane the other day, and found myself sitting next to someone who was also using the QC2s. He said he was also on his third set. “Design flaw,” he said, even before I had a chance to say it. He also did the obvious: taped his new QC2s with duct tape as soon as he got them. I am doing the same.

It’s like when we were kids and wrapped our new hockey sticks in black electrical tape.

The QC2 is still a great little machine. Too bad that Bose didn’t choose make the head band out of a durable material (a quality ceramic?) at $299 a pop.

Robert Hunter

A. Hmm. I haven’t come across this problem myself but thanks for drawing it to my attention.

There is clearly a trend in consumer electronics to use lighter, cheaper and sometimes more fragile materials. Whatever the device, manufactures should clearly use materials that are ‘fit for purpose’ and stand up to a reasonable amount of use.

Blocking out annoying mobile phone conversations

Q. Could you kindly tell me if any of the headphones you reviewed block the irritating sounds of nearby people talking on cellphones? Thank you.

Gary Kraut

A. The noise canceling headsets I looked at are not specifically designed to block voices (including people talking on cell phones) - they generally work best blocking more-or-less constant background noise.

However I found that the ‘passive’ earbuds, particularly those with foam or rubbery material that fit snuggly inside the ear, do a pretty good job at cutting out most noise. But a set of good earplugs are a lot cheaper…

Backing up Mobile Phone Data

Q. I recall reading in your useful column some while ago of devices that I believe enable one to transfer and manage the data stored on the card in a mobile ‘phone. Am I correct? If so, I would be most grateful to be reminded of the sources. I have an older Nokia which is no longer supported with PC software and cable and if I can, I would like to preserve some text messages.

I’d appreciate you knowledge of this technological challenge.

William Jensen

A. I would suggest you take a look at some of the products below but check out first that they are compatible with your phone (and service provider) and that they backup SMS messages and other data on the SIM and not just your contacts.

1. Backup-Pal (www.backup-pal.com) is a hockey-puck-shaped device plugs into your phone’s proprietary connector and transfers data from the phone to the unit or vice versa. The company claims Backup-Pal is compatible with many cell phones on the market, including handsets from Audiovox, Kyocera, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sanyo, Siemens, and Sony Ericsson.

2. Spark Technology’s CellStik is another of the devices I looked at but it is only designed to back up contacts stored on the phone. One end of the unit plugs into your phone’s proprietary connector (usually where the battery charger plugs in) and the other end plugs into a USB port.

3. SuntekStore’s Universal USB SIM Card Reader and Writer (www.suntekstore.com) may be your best bet though I have not tried it myself. This is a standalone GSM SIM reader that allows you to read, backup and modify information stored in any SIM card including phonebook data and SMS messages. To use it you simply insert the SIM in the reader and then plug the reader into the USB port on a PC.

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