(Follow-up to this post: “How Dell and others can fix the ‘crapware’ problem — honorably“).
This weekend was one of those weekends where good friends with computer problems came a-callin’ in full force. Despite acting as support for many friends for many years now, I still approach the requests with a high level of sympathy for the requestors because setting up and maintaining a PC is still so hard. (Up front: I won’t go to deep into the whole Mac vs. PC thing. . . let’s just accept for a moment that people who are not passionate about computers simply don’t understand why it makes a lot of sense to spend more than $850 for a new Dell with a free printer and a bunch of other accesories.)
This past week and over the weekend, I’ve been helping my friends across the street from me set up their new Dell PC and though it booted up out-of-the-box, it has been ridiculously tedious and frustrating to clean all the trialware and marketing crud off the thing. (Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who has bought a PC recently, but I haven’t bought a new PC in years since I’ve either been using a Mac or a work PC). After tangling with the PC for a few hours, it felt less like a useful tool and more like a child screaming for unneeded candy in the grocery store, except this time the PC was screaming for various online services, anti-virus software suites, printer supplies (hey, the printer is NEW, why do I need toner?!), and online banking services. Click here to sign-up for AOL! Click here to sign up for Earthlink! When I setup their printer, I got the same marketing message in three different contexts at the same time: an icon was placed on the desktop that said “click here for Dell printer supplies,” the small LCD screen on the printer itself displayed the URL for Dell printer supplies (which I won’t dignify with a link here, nofollow or otherwise), and the first test page printed had the same URL for printer supplies. At that point, I expected a Dell representative to kick their front door down and scream the URL in my ear for good measure.
When my kind friends initially called me with questions about all the junk they were seeing, my immediate plan was to go over there and wipe their system clean and only install what they needed. That’s what I’ve always done in the past and it’s a really easy thing to do when a computer is brand new. When I arrived at their house I discovered that Dell didn’t send along a base Windows XP install CD with the machine, though there was a slip of paper in the box with instructions on how to request a restore CD from Dell. Ugh! Why not include this CD in the first place? It’s licensed software that a customer has already bought! (Of course, Dell is not known for good support, so perhaps my expectations are too high in the first place.)
So, Dell is making it literally impossible to do a clean install of Windows XP, then all the junk on the machine makes it more likely that you will have support problems — problems that you will have immense trouble getting solved due to well-documented crappy support (idea: someone should teach the lonely old Maytag repairman how to fix Dell PCs and then he wouldn’t be so lonely).
Of course, I could have told my Quicken-using neighbors to buy a Mac instead, but then they would have had to downgrade to a half-assed version of Quicken, the app they use the most. Sometimes you just can’t win with computers.
I think this explains why a few years ago I saw a discarded computer sitting on the sidewalk near my house with this message scrawled on it in angry black magic marker:
We gotta do something about this state of affairs.
Update: Scott Rosenberg just wrote to note that I mis-linked to “half-assed version of Quicken” (accidentally used the previous link to the Maytag repairman. Oops!) I was indeed intending to link to Scott’s recent post on that subject. Thanks, Scott!
Another update: I said in my initial post that Dell did not distribute the system disk, but I just ran through a Dell config for a low-end Dimension B110, and you can choose a Windows XP system disk for $10 extra. I think they should take the confusion out of it, add $10 to the price, and ship that disk with the machine. It’s not just Dell that plays games with the system disks, as David Berlind notes in his response to my post:
This is apparently the new MO of system makers. For example, an Acer Ferrari that I recently purchased for Vista testing didn’t come with a system disk either. Instead, it has a backup recovery disk which restores the system to the exact same state the system was in when I unboxed it.