What Happened to Support?

You may remember that we linked to an article a few weeks back that detailed the industry wide decline in customer support by major brand PC manufactures. PC World has just posted a follow-up article which takes another look at the data. They've concluded that "The Store Next Door," or Mom-and-Pop shops as they are often called, fared much better in terms of customer satisfaction than did all of the major computer manufactures.

They do make several caveats, though. The first is in respect to the quality of the components of a system. Of course, you will want to ensure that any PC you buy, regardless of whether it comes from a major manufacture or from the store next door, contains quality, name brand components.

Their second caveat is directly related to the first: a computer purchased from the store next door can be more expensive than a major brand. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is that major brand PCs tend to come in preset configurations that aren't customizable or upgradable. And for many people, this is fine. It is similar to trading in for a new car every 2 to 3 years. However, business customers tend to recycle computer components and systems, passing computers from one employee to another in an attempt to get the most value out of their investment. In addition, many people can't afford to "throw away" a computer every couple years. For these types of customers, the ability to upgrade a computer gradually over time can save a lot of money in the long run.

The last stipulation made in the PC World article is one about bundled software. Now, there are two types of bundled or "free" software. The first is free software as you would think all free software should be, software that can be used as is. These often include word processing or accounting programs. Though generally not the best in their class (usually manufactures include Microsoft Works for $100 rather than Microsoft Office for $450), they are usually suitable for what most people need to do. Business and customers upgrading will want to ensure that new software will read all their existing documents.

Of course, this kind of software isn't really free: its cost is just hidden in the price of the system or comes as an add-on to the base system price. Regardless, this software can be a good deal, assuming of course that you haven't already purchased the software you need to run your computer. In most cases, however, customers are upgrading from one computer to another and do not need new software.

If, however, the bundled software does meet your needs, ensure that you will be getting a copy of the software on disc so that you can re-install it if necessary. Unfortunately, this is not always a given, and if you do not have a copy on disc, you may have to go out and purchase the software anyway.

The second type of bundled software is never a deal. It can't be used without having to purchase a subscription to a service or an upgrade to a limited, crippled or trial product. Sure, the software is free, but it isn't too useful. Now, speaking from the perspective of someone who just purchased a major brand laptop, not only is this type of software useless, but it actually made my laptop slow and crash prone until I did a fresh install of Windows itself. This got rid of all the "extras" that the major brand manufacture had taken the liberty to load on my computer. The biggest culprits were the "free" AOL and other asorted Internet access icons on the desktop. With a fresh install, however, the computer runs fast and flawless and connects to the Internet without a problem.

So, like many things in this industry, bundled software rarely works out in the consumer's benefit. However, if you know what you are looking for, there are deals to be had. If not, you can always swing down to the store next door and ask.

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