I recently attempted to install Windows XP Service Pack 3 on my vintage 2003 Dell Inspiron 8500 laptop. And for the first time ever, I encountered a problem which I could not fix myself, or find a solution for out there on Google.
The problem I had was that the SP3 install would go belly up about 2/3 of the way in with a cryptic "Failed to install catalog files" error message.
I tried for the better part of a week to isolate and resolve the problem with no success. I found some articles regarding this error and suggested fixes in the Microsoft Knowledge Base, but none solved my problem. I also found a few suggested fixes via Google, but again they did not solve the problem.
I was on the verge of relegating Win XP to the big trash can in the sky and turning the laptop into a Linux machine (it was already configured to boot either Win XP or Ubuntu Linux). But then I discovered that Microsoft offers free technical support for problems related to Windows Update. So I filled out a problem report and off it went to support(at)Microsoft.com. Since this was "free" support, my expectations were very low. I figured my problem report would go to the very bottom of Microsoft's support food chain and it would languish there until some low-level microserf had nothing better to do...or maybe drew the short straw that day.
Imagine my surprise when I received a reply from a Microsoft support person within 48 hours! And the response contained a trouble-shooting procedure and instructions on what files and screen shots were needed if the procedure did not resolve the problem. I went through the procedure and, unfortunately, this did not resolve the problem. So I gathered up the files, screen shots, attached them to my reply and off went the email to Microsoft support. > As I was doing this, my expectations were that the next email from Microsoft support would most likely say: "Sorry about that - Reinstall Windows XP and then apply all the Service Patches!"
I received a response from the Microsoft support person about 24 hours later and I was mildly surprised as it contained another set of trouble shooting procedures rather than the expected "Sorry about that" response. I dutifully went through the procedure and unfortunately, the problem did not resolve. Once again, off went a message to Microsoft Support with the attached files and screen shots. And I really did think that the response this time would really be to do a clean install of Win XP.
In day or so, back came an email from a Microsoft Support person. Here is an excerpt of the contents:
I received the information attached. I understand that the same error message was received after our attempts. To ensure that the issue will be addressed in the most effective way, we need to involve a Windows XP System Support Professional to work with us. For your convenience, I have created a new case for you...One of our Windows XP System Support Professionals will contact you as soon as possible. The new case will be free of charge for you....
This was completely unexpected...my problem was being escalated!
In a day or or, I received an email from the Microsoft System Support person:
Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Support Service. My name is...You can contact me directly by writing an email to... with the case ID in the subject line...Generally, this type of installation issue can occur if....
The problem was resolved after a few more email exchange containing my feedback and the Microsoft System Support guy's recommended procedures. SP3 installed without error, as did a couple of other updates that were waiting in the queue. I won't bore you with the details, but the root cause was some corrupted hidden system folders. I haven't a clue how or when they got corrupted.
Considering the support was not paid for and was for an OS (Win XP) which, in Microsoft's eyes, is nearing the end of its life-cycle, I must say that I was impressed with the support I got from Microsoft. They get a lot of bad press for many of the things they do, some deservedly, some not. However, in this instance, they performed admirably....at least in my opinion.