A few years back I got a call from one of the guys that did helpdesk and user support on my team. He said he was absolutely baffled by a problem with a laptop and wanted some advice. It was an older Dell and the apparent issue was weird lines or pattern on the screen. Naturally, I’ve asked him if the screen was hosed and apparently it wasn’t.

I was somewhat annoyed and told him to update the video drivers and he should be fine. A couple of hours later he says that the problem is still there. At this point, I am beginning to seriously doubt his technical acumen and I told him to bring the laptop over.

I took a quick look and the lines would only show up once Windows finished booting. Nothing was there during the BIOS/boot-up screens. “Obviously” it had to be some kind of a driver problem and he just screwed up the re-install somehow. So, while in my office, he started going through the process again. Remove the drivers, install the drivers, rinse and repeat. I’ve had him try Dell drivers, generic drivers, signed drivers from Microsoft and drivers from the card manufacturer. End result: the lines were still there.

Now it got somewhat interesting. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Another engineer walked by, asked what were we doing and next thing you know; 3 of us are spending hours with this laptop, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. This was a completely unproductive use of everyone’s time, but by then we just wanted to see an answer. Extensive googling yielded nothing. I was close to throwing my arms up and blaming this on the mystery computer gods or “user error”, when one of the guys shouted: “Eureka!”.

Turns out, Dell came up with a “software privacy filter”, which presumably would be a great alternative to the hardware option. This software would pixelate the screen to reduce the viewing angle. Don’t know if it really worked or not, but the user accidentally turned it on and forgot about it. We’ve wasted close to 7 man hours on this. This one could be chucked up to the category of: “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.