Fast Forward: Out-of-the-Box Experience

Nathan Edwards

Recently I helped my brother get his first new home computer in eight years. (Geek genes don’t run in our family.) Civil War General William T. Sherman said war is hell, but he never had to set up a new PC. My brother and I spent two days on the job—and this system was an off-the-shelf Acer with Windows Vista preinstalled. I’ve built PCs from scratch in less time.

What went wrong? Everything. We had trouble with the monitor, computer, printer, cable modem, optical drive, operating system, and even the blank DVDs and CDs we bought. Nothing was outright defective—replacements wouldn’t have made a difference. No, our problems were mostly caused by poor instructions, crappy product design, maddening customer service, and clueless tech support.

Example: the LCD monitor. Out of the box, the screen tilted toward the floor. We couldn’t straighten it and were reluctant to apply too much force. We couldn’t find a lever that might release the spring tension. The instructions were as terse as a teenager’s text messages, saying nothing about adjustments. We had purchased the system at Best Buy, so we called the Geek Squad. Incredibly, they told us the screen wasn’t adjustable. Finally we reached a lowly salesperson who confirmed that brute force was OK.

Vista Premium was “preinstalled” on the hard drive, but it took nearly an hour to boot and configure itself during the first powerup. Heck, I remember when clean-installing Windows from floppy disks took less time. For hours afterward, Vista’s pop-up dialogs nagged us for permission before allowing trivial actions. But when I accidentally bumped the hair-trigger power button on the computer’s front panel, Vista promptly shut down the system without asking for confirmation.

Instructions for the Lexmark printer told us to install two ink cartridges. We searched the box in vain for the missing black-ink cartridge. Another call to Best Buy brought an admonition to read the fine print on the box: black cartridge not included. The instructions lied.

I could continue, but I’m running out of space, and you get the idea. Doesn’t anyone care about customers anymore? I bet it will be eight more years before my brother buys another PC. And I don’t blame him.

Tom Halfhill was formerly a senior editor for Byte magazine and is now an analyst for Microprocessor Report .

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