There comes a time in every user’s life when he talks to a techie and the impulse to strangle him is only thwarted by the fact that he is at the far end of a phone line. I was just overwhelmed by that impulse.

Here’s why: My wife has just embarked on a new venture, an apparel business. In partnership with her brother and friends she is launching a line of very cool urban clothing, and so it was I became the IT guy for her new company. They want to have as good an IT infrastructure as they can, which is cool, but, as you all know, getting even a simple e-commerce site and groupware running is non-trivial. One of the things that is not so cool is my hours have become brutal. So it was I found myself at about 11:40 p.m. one night signing the company up for toll-free phone service.

I chose a company by the name of GotVMail, which offers an interesting package of five, 10, 20 or 50 extensions with a full allotment of features; everything from voice-mail-to-e-mail, fax-to-e-mail, call forwarding, call transfer … it’s a complete virtual PBX system. Very cool.

GotVMail has won numerous awards and received enthusiastic media coverage, so having pondered for as long as possible (all of 24 hours), I decided to sign up my wife’s company.

First I checked out whether I could get a number that spelled out some variation of the company’s name. The problem is that so many numbers are taken it is really hard to find something suitable. Then, after 20 or so attempts, the GotVMail Web site told me I had made too many searches and wouldn’t let me do any more.

This has to be one of the dumbest ideas I’ve seen online. If GotVMail is worried about bots, it should throw in a CAPTCHA test (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) at the beginning, but to just cut me off from the opportunity to find a number that will actually make GotVMail money is plain dumb.

But I decided to plow on. The next step was to follow the Quick Start setup. This would be nice except you have to know things such as your account number is your toll-free number but can’t be entered in setup with any non-numeric characters. I called tech support and was told that Quick Start was a new feature and that they should have made that clear. Terrific. I always wanted to be a test pilot. Particularly at midnight.

There were a couple of other gotchas that got me, such as not understanding the distinction between extensions defined as departments (001, 002, etc.) and as people (701, 702, etc.). The distinction is none — if you dial 1, you get extension 1 but if you dial 701 you also get extension 1.

Of course, I must have read all the support materials two or three times trying to find out how to edit the extension numbers because I assumed it mattered. I finally called and was enlightened by a tech who told me that after setup they can’t be changed and it doesn’t matter anyway. He also didn’t hide the fact that he thought I was a pain in the butt.

I may well be a pain in the butt but I object to paying to debug a system that the company apparently hasn’t bothered to thoroughly test. Still, if the system really does what I need then I’ll just live with it and suppress the vision of strangling tech support. Which is just as well as I need all of my energy for the groupware system I’ll be telling you about next week.