By Bobby Lee, special to The Content Wrangler

A hesitant purchase

Our office recently purchased an upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 3. We had held off on purchasing—and then installing—this software package because we work with a number of variable data printers, each with different production software. Many of our print partners were unable to accommodate InDesign CS3 package builds and unfortunately, Adobe CS3 did not allow us create backwards-compatible files in the CS2 format our partners required. Because our partners were still working to upgrade their variable data setup software to support CS3, we faced several difficult and embarrassing discussions with clients when we had to ask that they resend files to us in the older CS2 or InDesign Exchange Format (along with a PDF version) so that we could catch anything that didn’t “exchange” correctly.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, enough of our printers announced that they could support CS3 packages that we decided to take the plunge. CS version 3.3 was available on the Adobe site, but only available in “pre-sales” (not quite ready for prime time, apparently). I contacted Adobe and a customer service representative offered to send me CS version 3.0 and then, later, for an additional shipping and handling fee, ship us CS3.3 when it was ready. Needing to move forward, I took her offer.

Installation nightmare

The next day, a set of files arrived from client in CS3 format. It was time to install the upgrade. After more than three hours of the install program running and rendering my computer unusable, a message popped up on my screen listing all of the components that had installed successfully. Everything looked good (including InDesign), except for the two red X’s that were now present at the bottom of my screen. The installer reported that the Creative Suite package and shared components had failed. Hmmm. Because the icons for the programs I just installed had been added to my Start menu, I tried to open InDesign 3.  No luck. I received some sort of error about the license and the product not being able to run.

At this point, I thought back a day before when I had had another frustrating experience with an Adobe install. During a technical communication conference where I was learning to use Adobe Captivate, I installed the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 30 Day Trial, which included Acrobat 3D. This worked fine for the first boot up, but I noticed when restarting the program after lunch that I was suddenly on the last day of my trial. This was disappointing (and impossible as I just installed the 30 day trial and only one day had passed), but at least I got my class in that day before I lost access to the demonstration software.

Assuming the previous install of the Adobe Technical Communication Suite may have been responsible for the trouble, I decided to uninstall it. This took several more hours—just to run the uninstall program—which was followed by my second attempt to install CS3. After yet another three and a half hours, I was presented with the same frustrating message. So far, having sucked down essentially an entire staff day, it was time to call Adobe technical support.


Like most folks, I went straight to the web for help. Upon arriving at the Adobe support contact page, I noticed a warning icon at the top: “If you tried to use an Adobe trial in June and it expired after one day, see tech doc kb403598 for details.” Of course, the knowledge base article links to a repair tool that will supposedly extend my evaluation for another 65 days. I checked that one off in my mind for later, but for now, onward with CS3!

I was pleased when the phone rang right in to the call center and was promptly answered without a hold queue. That bit of hope was promptly dashed when I heard an Indian accent, something that in my experience usually means a difficult experience lies ahead. The agent on the other end of the call was nice enough, but was intent on running through the customer support “script”. First, he wanted my Adobe customer number, which I did not have. I told him that I did have the serial number of the product, which he entered into his database. Unfortunately, he said that since the product had never been registered (which I was unable to do because the installation error prevented me from getting that far in the Adobe process), no account was attached to it, and therefore, he could not provide me support. I asked if he could look up my account using my name and address, which he did. The one hitch was that he asked that I verify the email address on the account, which was created so long ago; I had no idea what it was. I didn’t want to give out my email address anyway. No dice. He insisted that I verify it. After running through a long list of old email address possibilities, finally he said “That’s it.” Fifteen more minutes of my life gone for no reason.

Back to the “script”. Our friendly CSR asked all the usual questions and then informed me that I needed to:

  1. Uninstall every Adobe product on my system—far beyond the 3 hour run time for just the CS3 package
  2. Download and install a registry cleaning tool from Microsoft
  3. Download and install a command line tool from Adobe
  4. Execute the command line tool from Adobe once at level 1, twice at level2 and 3 times at level 4 or some such nonsense if I recall
  5. After this, I needed to create a new Administrator account on my computer, and then…

…And then, I put on the brakes. I asked him, “What the hell are you talking about?!” He gave me the “Well sir, this is the way the resolution for this type of problem is being executed,” type speech.  After giving him a good ear full about what a bunch of crap this is and how even Microsoft could provide simple executable packages to cleanup and fix installation problems with Visual Studio, I was told that this is the only way their programmers can address this problem. I told him that there was no excuse not to automate this B.S. exercise and that I was shocked he hadn’t tried to troubleshoot the issue using some install log. Becoming suspicious, I asked him where he was reading this procedure from and he gave me a URL to Adobe’s knowledge base. That figures.

The resolution

Reviewing the web page address he provided, I realized that while there were some similarities to the repair process he was describing and the contents of the Adobe knowledge base, there were certainly many differences. The Adobe support page listed many issues that could cause installation problems and their symptoms. Unfortunately, the customer support representative I had to deal with seemed to be combining every known thing to do to get the install working—all together at once!  What a costly and horrible attempt at solving a “known issue”.  As I read through the Adobe support page, it was clear that there were very quick and easy ways to troubleshoot the problem and correct it. A quick look at the install logs and a little help from the system manager, and in less than a minute I found the problem: Flash Player had upgraded to a newer version than what was present on the install package Adobe just shipped me.

Amazing, I thought.  A newer version of Flash Player actually blocked an installation of the entire Creative Suite!  In short order, I followed the directions exactly, uninstalling Flash Player and using a Microsoft tool to destroy any evidence of its prior existence.  Three hours later—hoping that my bet to ignore the advice from India would pay off—I ended up with CS3 correctly installed.

A couple of takeaways:

  1. As a company releasing expensive software to people whose livelihood depend on wise use of time, don’t let your customers down.  Do it right the first time.
  2. If you offer support for installation issues:

    • Don’t make ridiculous demands on the customer.  Look them up and if necessary, do it quickly and then help them.
    • Don’t outsource use customer service reps that don’t have good language and cultural skills.  India isn’t an appropriate resource for complex situations.
    • Don’t supply a canned solution.  Make sure the support representatives listen to the problem being described and then has a way to check log files to investigate your specific problem.
  3. Don’t make multiple stupid mistakes on multiple high end software suites that piss users off. A great product shouldn’t skimp on the install package and should consider a host of conflicts possible and handle them.
  4. Just because you have the best tool on the market for a task today doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore customer loyalty.  I choose Adobe’s product this time, but they destroyed my loyalty because:

    • They didn’t plan well, and
    • They didn’t help me resolve a problem of their own creation.