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Microsoft Says It Can Recover 'Most' Sidekick Data

The hundreds of thousands of users of T-Mobile's Sidekick phones may yet recover the contacts, calendars, notes and other personal data that a server meltdown had apparently vaporized last weekend.

Early this morning, Microsoft, which took over the Sidekick's data-synchronization service when it bought Sidekick developer Danger Inc. last year, posted a statement on its Web site headlined "Microsoft Confirms Data Recovery for Sidekick Users":

We are pleased to report that we have recovered most, if not all, customer data for those Sidekick customers whose data was affected by the recent outage. We plan to begin restoring users' personal data as soon as possible, starting with personal contacts, after we have validated the data and our restoration plan. We will then continue to work around the clock to restore data to all affected users, including calendar, notes, tasks, photographs and high scores, as quickly as possible.

The statement -- credited to Roz Ho, vice president for "Premium Mobile Experiences" (and before that, the head of Microsoft's Mac software unit) -- did not, however, provide much clarity about what had gone wrong, much less why Microsoft didn't have a separate, offline or off-site backup:

We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up. We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way. This careful process has taken a significant amount of time, but was necessary to preserve the integrity of the data.

A successful recovery and reloading of this data will be more than welcome, but it won't end this story. For one thing, T-Mobile has a lot of unhappy customers to deal with. It didn't cause this problem, but its name is on the Sidekick and on the bill, and it needs to make amends for this fundamental betrayal of trust. (T-Mobile can always sic its lawyers on Microsoft, egg Steve Ballmer's car or post insults on Windows' Facebook page later on.) Unfortunately, a few readers have told me that the company has been anything but considerate in dealing with their complaints. Wrote one St. Petersburg, Fla., user:

I can't cancel as they say they will charge me 200.00 They can give me a new phone but I have to pay for an upgrade.. NOW that is an insult!!

Uh, T-Mobile, can I offer a hint here? This is not the time to nickel-and-dime cranky customers. Let them go now, and maybe they won't spend the next nine months telling everybody they know to avoid your service -- instead, if you're lucky, they'll find a new hobby after only two months.

Some of us who review technology for a living have amends to make as well. Many Sidekick reviews -- mine included -- noted the Web-only nature of the Sidekick's synchronization service but didn't spell out its lack of a data-download option that would let users keep their own backups on their own computers. I'm sorry I didn't nail this product for that failing when I had the chance.

You are, of course, welcome to call me out on that in the comments. Or you can talk about the Web services you use today: Have you checked to see what sort of data export features they provide? Have you taken advantage of them lately?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 15, 2009; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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The only web service/cloud computing/whatever the latest buzzword is system I use is Gmail, and when I want to save a message, or thread, I forward it to my home mail. Google Docs I just use as an alternative to a USB key for transferring data around, or a semi-portable notepad replacement.

Posted by: wiredog | October 15, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

This is why Google's Data Liberation Front is a good idea that needs to get more publicity.

Posted by: tundey | October 15, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

"Uh, T-Mobile, can I offer a hint here? This is not the time to nickel-and-dime cranky customers. Let them go now, and maybe they won't spend the next nine months telling everybody they know to avoid your service -- instead, if you're lucky, they'll find a new hobby after only two months."

Uhh, too late.

I don't have a problem with a company making a mistake. Mistakes happen. Anyone that expects a company to never make a mistake is in for a very anger and anxiety ridden life.

What is important is HOW a company responds after the mistake: how they "fix" it.

T-Mobile was a victim as well in this Microsoft screw-up but how they handled it after the fact leaves quite a lot to be desired.

Now they will have a bunch of dissatisfied customers bad-mouthing them and I would imagine a lot of people jumping ship at contract renewal.

Too bad...they could have really gotten some good press out of this and attracted new customers.

Posted by: inverse137 | October 15, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Danger did not do tape backups because it is expensive. I suspect that many cloud services hope to get by without tape backups. Azure has a tripple redundancy disk system that is supposed to guarantee data reliability. I doubt they plan to do tape backups in addition as a standard serivce. It is still far from clear what exactly happened in this case. But the problem does not seem to have been a disk drive failure. The problem does not seem to have been the standard failure mode that backups typically guard against. It may well be that nobody actually knows what caused the problem. But it seems likely that it was either human error or a problem in Danger's system management automation. The Danger system ran into some software problems. Somewhere along the line of trying to recover from them someone or some script probably accidently but intentionally deleted the data. As we know, data is never really deleted. So with enough work, it sounds like they have been able to go back to the physical disks and recover it.

Posted by: dnjake | October 15, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I was a loyal T-Mobile customer since the very first Sidekick. I've had 3 2 year contracts that I signed with them, my last one ran out in July of 2008. I kept paying for the service on a month to month basis. One of the main selling points of the sidekick was that my data would always be safe, no matter what happened to my phone. Unfortunately, my SIM could only backup 250 contacts and I had over 1,300 contacts in my sidekick. The thing is, that I am deaf and my only way of communicating with the outside world is through the sidekick. I can't just pick up the phone and call people, start getting my address book / numbers back. I contacted T-Mobile and told them that I no longer trusted the Sidekick like because I felt it was unreliable, not secure and most of all, I had no clue that Microsoft was running the datacenter for the Sidekick. If I had known that, I would have canceled my service immediately. I do not trust that company to handle my private data in an appropriate fashion.

Anyway, the sidekick comes with a data only plan that allows unlimited text/web. You were not required to purchase minutes for the phone. So, when I tried to upgrade to a different phone -- T-Mobile wanted me to pay 47.99 and that was hugely discounted. But what really irked me was the fact that I could not get a data only plan for the G1. They were requiring me, a deaf person who has never talked on the phone or used minutes, to purchase a rate plan. The basic minimum rate plan was 30.00 a month. I explained to T-Mobile that I was Deaf and I wouldn't be able to use the rate plan. I made an analogy between them requiring me to pay for a rate plan and giving a blind person a new HDTV with a library of blueray movies and then tell him to enjoy it. I was really, really insulted and the fact that they wouldn't even work with me to just have a data only service was pretty much the end of that. I made it plainly clear that if I was not helped, I would cancel my service and switch to AT&T/iPhone. To T-Mobile, customer loyalty doesn't seem to mean much. They couldn't care less about whether I'm deaf or not; they just wanted to use this to turn a profit. I was more than willing to commit to another 2 year contract and pay the 47.99 but requiring me to purchase a rate plan, I felt, was discrimination. They know that the Sidekick platform is very popular among the Deaf community. The fact that they wanted me to pay all this, plus an extra 30 a month because of a shortcoming on their behalf is just inexcusable.

So, I purchased an iPhone 3GS 16 gig for $99.99. I informed the AT&T representative about the t-mobile / sidekick situation and their utter lack of regard for my deafness when considering the purchase -- they gave me a huge discount and switched over my number. I've also gotten 7 of my deaf friends so far to cancel their sidekick service and switch as well. T-Mobile puts fiscal gain over that of Customer Service so, for that reason, I'm out.

Posted by: KenTheMan | October 15, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

It's Microsoft. It was fixed using their tried and true method. They called Bangalore for help, and were told to turn everything off, wait 30 seconds, then reboot.

Posted by: stan2 | October 15, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Forget Microsoft and Apple. The new open source Android phone's are the future. With the commercial OS's you are merely supporting companies that outsource American jobs. You get steaming piles of **** like VISTA and System 7 as a result of their replacing their U.S. and European engineers and software workers with cheap Indian indentured servants, H1-B "guest workers" that the treasonous swine in Congress have inflicted on us, costing us 4.5 million jobs. And, Apple is just as bad. Android has barely been released in this country and it already has over 10,000 app's and is due to overtake Apple's iPhone within 2 years. It's rock stable and the hardware supporting it makes the iPhone and pathetic Windows mobile phones look insanely antiquated.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | October 15, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Really? I had no clue Apple was horrible like that. Thanks for the information on the Android phones that google is pushing, I will explore that. However, I'm already locked into a 2 year contract so perhaps I'll switch over to Android after that. I have no intention of supporting a company that outsources jobs to third world countries to save a buck or two at the expense of Americans. The Vista operating system that Microsoft released was absolutely atrocious and I refused to purchase it. However, Windows 7 is what Vista should have been and I'm actually impressed with it and definitely will switch to it. Sure, I could just switch over to Linux OS and use Ubuntu or Slackware but I do like using my computer for more than just office productivity -- play video games from time to time. Most companies who make video games tend to support Windows/Mac platforms but Linux is relegated to the minority since a huge percentage of their market uses the former platforms.

Posted by: KenTheMan | October 15, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

KenTheMan: It's a little Kafka-esque that T-Mobile won't let deaf users opt out of a calling plan. I'll ask my contact there if that's what they really mean to do.

inverse137: Agreed, I'll give a company a fair amount of credit if they'll cop to a mistake and try to fix it. (I hope my editors have the same attitude when I explain why we have to run a correction for something I've written...)

mibrooks27: But with open-source, it could still be developers overseas doing coding in place of U.S. workers, couldn't it? (FWIW, I do like Android's software, but the phones I've tried so far don't quite match up to the iPhone, hardware-wise.)

wiredog: Thanks for the shout-out on /.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 15, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

Rob - Don't get me wrong, I think the iPhone is a pretty good product, but I have gotten my hands on some android phone that are being sold in Europe. The Samsung Galaxy I7500, in particular, will blow you away! It has a real, functional GPS, WIFI, build in FM radio, an 8 megapixel camera (NOT 5, as is sometimes reported) with very good focus and other controls - it's as good as any digital camera that you will plunk $300 down or and just as full features, dual video modes (the hi-res mod is unbelievable), stero quality sound that is better than iTunes (and you CAN use it with your iTunes library, including movies and video), the single best display screen I have seen to date, and memory up to 34 gigabytes. Oh, and it's weather proof and shock resistant. There are at least half a dozen phones that are in the same league, all them make the iPhone look pathetically clunky. In Germany and Sweden they are releasing second generation android phones right now that will have even more functions. Plus, the European's are developing app's at an incredible pace with no corporation looking over their shoulder, telling you what you can and cannot do. So, you get Skype, free television, and all sorts of other goodies. The iPhone, although Apple doesn't know it yet, is dead.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | October 16, 2009 3:34 AM | Report abuse

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