HP and the Lame Service Policy

I inadvertedly left our laptop accessible to our 20-month-old, and like had happened few times before, he removed a key or two from the laptop’s keyboard. This time the backslash/pipe key below the backspace wouldn’t snap back in, and on closer inspection I realized that one of the flimsy plastic supports underneath the key cap had broken. No problem, I thought, I’ll just order a new key mechanism from HP. So I dialed their tech support number, and reached a representative (hello, India!) after just couple of minutes of wait. So far so good.. but not so fast, this is where the Good Things end. The tech support rep checked the serial number of the laptop in their system, and soon correctly determined that it was out of warranty (of course, just by couple of months). I said I’d just like to order a replacement key mechanism — a few tiny plastic parts that are standard on many of the HP laptop models, and whose manufacture surely costs HP few cents if that, and for which I would’ve been glad to pay something like $9.99 + s&h, or begrudgingly even some more. But, of course, HP doesn’t sell them—the end-users cannot be trusted for any hardware installation as they’re totally incompetent to meddle with hardware. So the options the tech support rep gave me were: total replacement for the laptop at a premium (a new laptop at Costco costs about as much), or the “inexpensive” option of having the laptop »serviced at a HP service center for only $299.» Such a bargain! Oh, but they would »completely service the laptop at the same time to make sure it’s running smoothly» and »if the laptop is running slow, they could fix that, too». AND I would get three months extra warranty, at absolutely no extra cost!!!

No, thanks. My laptop is not running slow, or in need of any other kind of service than replacement of the tiny plastic mechanism under the backslash key—something I could do easily and quickly myself (if I had the replacement part) without having to ship the laptop away for at least several days, likely for a week or two, and then potentially having to reinstall all the software on it (in the event of replacement to a refubished unit). This is a good example of what plagues today’s manufacturing / business ideology: servicing failed devices, even when it would be a very simple thing to do, is priced so high that consumers rather toss a broken device and buy a new one than attempt to fix (or have fixed) what’s broken.

Cost of the service or the replacement rarely provides enough perceived value to the consumer; in the case of this example all I wanted was a small part which I considered worth a few bucks, but accepted that for logistical reasons it could be priced slightly higher, perhaps at $9.99 or $12.50.  But “complete service” for a computer that is not in need of any other service,  or “three months of additional warranty” provide no added value to me, and certainly not worth $299.

I fixed the broken part with a drop of “Plastic Surgery” superglue that I found in my electronics tool chest. HP didn’t get a dime while they could have made $9.99 or even slightly more, and in the process they seriously annoyed a customer who previously had a neutral, perhaps even a favorable image of the company, and who then went on to write an article in the blogsphere about his negative experience.

Links everywhere

I’ve been cleaning up my PC’s desktop and the countless nested “dump” folders that contain all the junk from the desktop, stored at some point in the past. Most of the stuff is links that have been dragged to the desktop from a browser window. Occasionally the links are something I’ve stumbled across, but in most cases they’re the result of myself having been researching one topic or another. The links that have some kind of loose correlation tend to be grouped on the desktop (I have two monitors so there’s plenty of desktop space to be cluttered). Periodically I become tired with the cluttered desktop, create a new “dump” folder and dump everything from the desktop into that folder. Often this includes a previous “dump” folder (which contains several levels more of “dump” folders).

Over the years I’ve tried various solutions for storing the links. The browsers’ built-in “favorites” lists are completely inadequate; I generally store just the real favorites in them — sites that I actually do visit frequently and repeatedly. More links I’ve stored for later reference are stored in the Link Resource which I started several years back. However, maintaining such a monstrous list takes effort and despite of occasional run with Web Link Validator, the list is bound to contain links that have in some way or another expired. I also use Linkman, which was recently updated, but whose user interface is starting to look rather arcane. I find that I rather seldom actually access links that I have stored in Linkman (and there are many). In most cases I use Google, but on occasion there’s a resource that I know I’ve been to in the past, but that I can’t find anywhere. In such times I go hunting in my link archives, and sometimes the effort produces a result.

I think it’s weird there is no better solution for storing links. Most everyone who is using the web these days needs to store links. Yet both IE and Firefox have a fairly unsophisticated built-in link managers. My wife has been experimenting with Google Bookmarks, but while it would often be handy to have access to one’s bookmarks regardless of the location, Google doesn’t provide a much better way to organize the links than, say, Linkman.

Considering that my preferred way of storing links resulting from researching the web appears to be to drag them into “visual” groups on my desktop, perhaps some kind of program that would allow the links to be organized and placed visually onto some sort of pages, or folders, would suit the bill.  Maybe something like that already exists, but as of yet I haven’t come across it.

But there could be a better solution to the problem!  In the future, “storing links” will probably be so last century.  It is, after all, Google’s plan to replace links simply with web searching, and for the most part this has already happened.  However, sometimes, for example, a solution to a programming problem is discovered by following archived bulletin board discussions.  The final page containing the key piece of information is not the one that came up in any of the searches.  If I don’t bookmark that page or otherwise store the information found on it, I may or may not find it in the future.  But what if it was possible to add a custom “meta tag” to the page?  Let’s say I’d write “Solution to the programming problem X.”  Now the next time I personally would be looking for information about that specific issue, that page would come up in the search even if the original poster didn’t realize the information she provided would actually resolve the seemingly unrelated problem I was researching a solution for. Maybe this technology could be called Wikitags.

More About iBootBar

It turns out I hadn’t introduced a typo in the new admin user name when I renamed it to something less obvious than “admin” (see Hardware Frustrations). When I got the unit back from the manufacturer, reset and loaded with the new firmware that allows password recovery (see Hardware Frustrations, part II), I created a temporary second admin account, made sure I could log in with it, and then renamed the original admin account to what I thought I had renamed it to originally. And sure enough, that admin account was no longer usable! Using the second admin account, I renamed it back — and it started working again! After some more testing I realized that some user names longer than 8 characters made the login name unusable. A firmware bug! Once notified, Dataprobe promptly fixed the bug and forwarded me the fixed firmware. So if you’re buying one, be sure to check it has firmware version 1.1b80 or newer (or create a second admin account and verify that you can log in with it before renaming or deleting the default “admin” login).

Dataprobe handled the situation fairly well; I’d give them a “10” if they would have offered to pay for the overnight shipping of the unit back to them to be unlocked since the lock-out was the result of a manufacturing flaw (firmware bug), and lack of a warning in the manual for a potential of a lock-out if the admin login is lost (with the new firmware this can no longer occur since a hardware-based password reset feature is now available).