PC printer problems and enraged execs: When the answer to 'Hand over that floppy disk' is 'No'

Time for the Windows pantomime: 'Oh yes it does...' 'Oh no it doesn't'

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On Call Hey, it's the 111th of March, or thereabouts. How will you celebrate this milestone? May we suggest a biscuit, a beverage of your choice and the schadenfreude that comes from a dip into The Register's On Call mailbag.

Today's tale, from a reader we will call "Tom", takes us back to simpler times at the end of last century, before the days of Windows Update and when making hardware work involved a delve into the box of floppy disks.

Tom was spending the late 1990s working as a field engineer for a small company. His role was the thankless one of pitching up on site to service PCs.

"On the day in question," he recalled, "I was called to a customer's [premises} to look at a printer that wasn't working. I had visited the site a number of times before and was quite familiar with the setup."

The printer was needed by the secretary of the CEO for some ever-so-important letters and so the atmosphere was fraught with tension. Luckily, the solution was a simple one. At least from a technical standpoint.

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Perched on the desk was a brand spanking new PC. It took a matter of moments for Tom to glance at the machine's configuration to diagnose that it lacked the drivers for the existing printer, a common enough occurrence in those early days of Windows. No matter, though – the printer had come with the requisite software; pop in the diskette and all would be well.

Tom asked the secretary for the disks, which required a call to the IT manager in order to bring the things down.

"Then things became a little more surreal..." he told us.

Using the CEO's secretary as an intermediary, the IT manager retorted that the PC did not need drivers and put the phone down.

"I spent five minutes explaining to the hapless secretary why I needed the disks, after which another call was placed to the IT Manager to request the drivers."

We can but hope the call-out was being charged by the hour or part thereof.

Again, the secretary made the call and this time, after much huffing and puffing, the IT manager announced that an in-person visit to the CEO secretary's desk was required "to put Tom right."

"I should explain at this point," said Tom, "that the CEO's secretary had an alcove in the corner of the general admin office, which was filled with bright young things doing their work."

The IT manager turned up clutching a clipboard – often the tool of the work dodger – and some PFYs in tow. However, while there was plenty of indignation, there remained no drivers.

"The IT manager," explained Tom, "began to lambaste me quite loudly for not knowing what I was talking about." The CEO's secretary had always had a PC on the desk, and that PC had always printed to the attached printer. Since it was a new PC, the fault must be with the printer.


Matching the volume of the IT manager, Tom repeated his explanation once again. The drivers had not been installed on the new PC (one of IBM's finest), and the printer (something a bit obscure from Kyocera) would never work until the drivers had been installed.

All work in the office had ceased as the employees enjoyed the increasingly pantomime-like "Oh no it doesn't", "Oh yes it does" retorts being loudly exchanged.

It took a while, but the penny finally dropped and realisation crawled over the puce-tinged face of the IT manager, who flounced off in embarrassment, but not before noting the rest of the office smirking at the situation.

A minion turned up shortly after with a box of floppies, the driver was installed, and test page printed. The secretary was suitably grateful, and Tom was, briefly, the hero of the hour.

The story doesn't quite end there, since Tom arrived back at his office to find himself hauled into the boss's office. A customer complaint had been made, accusing him of deliberately humiliating the IT manager in front of the workforce.

"We had a good chuckle over it after I told my side of the story, and it was often brought up at pub o'clock when we had a bevy or two after a long day."

Ever found yourself on the receiving end of an idiot-blast when a user doubled down? Or demonstrated near magical powers with just a floppy disk and rudimentary knowledge of what drivers are for? Share the moment that call came in with an email to On Call. ®

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