Merry techno rip-off

So, happy holidays, I received a friendly note in the mail from MSN, Microsoft’s idiotic Internet service that came free (like it or not) with a notebook computer I purchased from Best Buy last summer.

MSN hopes I enjoyed my six months of free service and let me know that (though I never once used it) my free ride is up, and it’ll be charging my credit card for the pleasure of doing business from now on.

Holy cow, I said. I’d forgotten all about those harrowing hours I spent at Reno’s favorite chain store trying to spend my money on one of its computers.

“I don’t want six free months of bad Internet service,” I told a sales guy. “I already have high-speed cable Internet. Don’t want MSN, don’t need it.”

The well-trained salesman was patient, reassuring.

If I merely swiped my credit card and sent the info off to Microsoft, he would cancel the service right away, he said.

“I don’t want to send my credit card information to the Evil One,” I said.

But that wasn’t an option. In order to purchase this $1,500 computer, one must submit one’s credit card info to Microsoft.

That’s nuts, I said, but by this time I was worn down.

Best Buy had already scammed me for another $300 or $400 in extended-service warranties (“It’ll be worth the price in free batteries alone!”) and unneeded accessories that came with a discount that increased according to the number of gizmos purchased.

And then, the kicker: They offered (for another small fee) to tune up my computer before I used it for the first time. If they turned it on and did some messing around with it, it would improve the speed of my computer by, can’t exactly remember, something like 30 percent.

“You mean you’re selling me a broken computer and charging me to fix it?” I asked.

I said no and have regretted it ever since. I’ll never know exactly how fast my computer might have been.

By the way, some of the software that came with my computer has expired. I need to go out and get some new anti-virus software and a MusicMatch program that works. A CD-burning function would only create something like five CDs before it demanded an update. And my old Web site building software can’t be loaded onto the laptop because it doesn’t work with the Windows XP operating system.

My laptop is aging in my closet, fresh as a daisy, waiting for this new software so that I can actually use it. Already, the wireless card for which I paid extra but never used is considered “old.” (See RN&R Editor D. Brian Burghart’s cover story on hacking wireless networks, page 10.)

This cycle of technological obsolescence lines their pockets and our credit card statements.

As far as MSN goes, I never touched the account. I didn’t give it another thought until about a month later when I stopped at the mighty chain—who can’t resist those low, low prices!—for printer ink.

A Best Buy sales guy was pushing an Internet music subscription service called Rhapsody. If I merely enrolled in Rhapsody for free, I would get a $25 Best Buy gift card, he said. I could cancel before I had to pay a thing. I let him sign me up.

“When do I get my $25 gift card?”

“They’ll send it to you,” he said.

I never got a gift card.

After a week or so, my Significant Techie put the Rhapsody software CD in his computer so he could “unenroll” me before I was billed.

Turns out we couldn’t sign on and cancel because I didn’t know my password. It had been e-mailed. To my MSN account.