Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yahoo! Local

A customer came in today, stating she only came in because of the good reviews she found about us on Yahoo! Local. I didn't even know we had any reviews! There is one review that concerns me, but I'm investigating it now. If you have some good news to contribute about us, please do! Referrals and recommendations account for the majority of our business. Thank-you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Custom Built Computers Scare Me"

Part 1. Custom-built Computers are "scary"

That's what I read in an email from one of my customers to Dell last week. I spent some time responding and addressed some topics we talk about a lot in our store. I thought some of this information would be relevant to this blog.

Dell, HP, etc. use components from the same companies that sell OEM parts we use to build our custom computers. However, Dell, HP, etc. strip off components to save themselves money and prevent you from upgrading or repairing the computer. They have proprietary connectors installed (Dell is the worst about this) for your case controls, fans, power supplies, and even sensors for heatsinks that break or fall-off and prevent you from buying replacements. The "name brand" vendors are going to get their parts from the lowest bidder. It's a gamble that I'm not willing to take. One of the quotes from Dell included a "Pentium Dual Core". This is a three generation old processor! I could sell Dell, HP, etc. I choose not to.

That said, there are a *lot* of really bad custom computer vendors out there. Don't immediately distrust someone out of their home, and don't immediately trust a place with a retail store front either. There are a lot of really cheap, really bad OEM hardware vendors and manufacturers out there too. Don't buy OEM or barebones, and don't let your local computer support provider use them either, unless they have full manufacturer warranties that stay in effect even if the local vendor goes away. Many OEM and barebones are limited to 30days, and that is not a gamble worth taking.

We aren't 100% anti-name brand in our store. We do sell (almost exclusively) Lenovo Thinkpad laptops. We're authorized to do service work on them too. (IBM sold the laptop division to Lenovo who has been building their laptops for years. IBM still manages the sales and support, however).

Of course, don't forget we work on all brands, and we do have some engineered work-arounds for the proprietary problems that Dell, Gateway, and others use as necessary. :-)

Part 2. Getting the hardware you really need.

Hardware changes yearly. We aren't really seeing the 10x faster development each year like we used to though. Now it is more about efficiency and specialty applications. This means you have to consider more than speed and capacity when you're picking your new computer.

Small businesses, independents, and serious home users (hobbyists, artists, etc.) need to determine if they are making the best choice for data reliability. Mirrored hard drives are a must if you aren't great at backing up your data, aren't given original CD installation media for applications, or cannot afford for a computer to be unavailable in the event of a hard drive failure.

Home users wanting to buy a laptop that will last a long time shouldn't be fooled by "spend more now, and it will last longer". Usually the more expensive laptop will have multi-media parts for computer gaming (blow-em-up-shoot-em-up kind of games, not solitaire) that will run hotter and die FASTER than their cheaper counterparts.

Quad-core is the big marketing speak right now. The speed of each core on a quad will be slower than a similarly priced (or cheaper) dual-core. If you aren't running threaded applications, you may be doing yourself a disservice by buying into the quad-core market.

I'll probably post more dedicated blogs about these (and more) topics at some point. In short, when people ask us about buying a computer we don't ask "how much do you want to spend" we ask "what do you want to do with it" because the price is irrelevant. Often, the customer's expected budget exceeds what is really in their best interest.

Part 3. Pre-installed software and system installation

In an email from the Dell salesrep that I was given, the Dell person said "I would be weary of anyone trying to sell installation for desktops. Reason for this is that if systems are put together properly, the install is as simple as pulling them out of the box and plugging in the cables. All of our systems will have their software pre-installed and will not require installation".

I must say that pre-installed IMAGES from HP, Dell, etc. do not include network setup, printer setup, ISP setup, network security, email configuration, server configuration, file transfers, software registration, updates, etc. etc. etc. Have you ever opened the box of a Dell, HP, etc. and NOT sat for an hour while Windows configured itself, then had to register everything? Did it ever not require you to set up software or peripherals? I have *never* seen any pre-built system just plug-in and work. They all require setup and I'm very upset that a salesrep would misrepresent their product in this way. Grrrr...

Part 4. Local Business Support

I tell customers I shouldn't be so hard on the brand name companies since I get so much repair work for them. I don't think we ever have fewer than a dozen Dell branded computers in at one time.

However, these companies have a far greater marketing department than I do. It's these marketing companies and finance offers that hurt small businesses like mine. Our margins are small, but every decision that goes to a big-box vendor or the Internet instead of a local business of your choice impacts that company's ability to support jobs in your local community. The customer I'm trying to help that led to this post is discussing computers for his small office. Every 2 computers he could purchase from me would essentially sponsor 1 employee's payroll for a week. He could make a choice to provide employment for 2 and a half of my technicians this week. I hope he does :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vista... Is That Your Final Answer?

No way. Unless you really need DirectX 10 support for the latest and greatest games, we still use XP as our default operating systems for computers we sell. Both XP Home and Pro are still available to OEM system builders. If you aren't building your own system, systems that are pre-installed with Vista Business Premium can exercise "downgrade rights" to install XP on those systems without purchasing an additional XP Pro license. Keep in mind that you have to backup any files you created on the Vista system, and obtain CDs of any programs you need to install before completing the downgrade. Your data and applications will be lost during the transition.

Why don't we like Vista? Ignoring the Microsoft versus the rest of us reasons, Vista requires much more computer hardware (more memory, more CPU, more video) to complete the same task as efficiently as XP. Many of our tips & tricks simply do not work on Vista. Many technical tools and features were removed that allowed us to repair Vista without risking data loss. If you're going to go ahead and make the leap anyway, don't invest in the 32-bit versions. Pick up Vista Home Premium 64-bit or Ultimate 64-bit. Yes, you can dual or multi-boot with Vista and XP, so long as you have valid licenses for both.

If you like (or are stuck with) Vista, we can still help you. Got something strange going on? Don't forget we don't charge to look at something and tell you what's wrong.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So, What's the Deal With the Penguin Anyway?

We get this question a lot. My answer is typically "Well, if you know who he is, you know what we do... Otherwise you just think he's cute". My answer is usually reciprocated with some type of chuckle and we move on to whatever technical topic the customer needs help with that day.

So who is he you ask? His name is Tux. He is the Linux mascot. Linux is an alternative operating system to Microsoft Windows. We not only sell and support Linux based systems, but we utilize it when we sell and repair Windows based systems as well. In fact, we utilize many Open Source software solutions in our company for both Linux and Windows environments for ourselves and our customers. His image was created by Larry Ewing in '96 as a submission in a mascot competition.

Open Source is a term we care a lot about in our business and our personal projects. In technical terms, Open Source refers to a particular type of licensing for software or document publishing. Software developers who publish their software using Open Source licenses make the source code (the actual readable code written by a programmer) available for public use. The public can edit this code to fix bugs, add features, or simply customize for internal use free of charge. They are limited only by being required to also publish any of those code changes if they choose to distribute the program beyond internal use.

Open Source projects, such as those found on SourceForge, encourage group or community participation. This allows unlimited developers world-wide to create, improve, and support the project. These projects grow quickly and develop a large testing environment for applications. This is a benefit to software companies because these testing environments are larger than what individual companies can do themselves. Many large corporations have begun to develop Open Source applications or have released prior application source code and changed their existing programs licensing. IBM and SUN Microsystems are two very large companies who have managed to find huge benefits from working with Open Source projects.

Why does this matter to you if you aren't a programmer? It matters if you are making software decisions for your company or care about future support for software you want to use. We don't think it is fair to small businesses to be forced to invest thousands in software to run their companies, then forced to spend thousands more in support to continue using it. When these private software companies fail or release a new product (discontinuing support for what was purchased) businesses are forced to buy new products or lose their old data, or worse. You don't get any choices once you've invested in non-open source software. You lose control over upgrade options, support choices, and your wallet.

Open Source programs are not shareware, freeware, or limited trial programs even though the programs themselves are generally free for download. How would you make money by giving away your software? Commercial Open Source projects make money through support and customization of the code for customers.

I have been heavily invested in Open Source as a community contributor and supporter for over 10 years... 13 actually now that I stop to think about it. My husband, Steven, has a few years on me though. We believe that you should have a choice in your computer hardware, software, and support. We want you to come to us because you want to, not because you have to.

Here are some Open Source programs you should check out (for Windows): 7-Zip, Audacity, Blender, Firefox, GnuCash, Gimp, OpenOffice, PDFCreator, Pidgin, Scribus, SuperTux, Thunderbird, and VideoLAN.

If you want to know more about Linux (or what Linux projects we support) come see us at the store or come to a Linux Users Group meeting the 1st Wed @ 7PM or 3rd Sat @ 4PM in our store's training facility. All users from newbie to kernel developer are welcome.