The other day when I was writing about my new Ultra 20, I thought I’d visit the competition and check prices. So I headed over to Dell, which I’ve always thought of as the canonical example of a great online store. When I used to buy their servers, it was convenient, linear, and fast: start with your form factor and processor, then pick your memory, disk, network cards, and click “Buy”. But I haven’t been there in three or four years, and things have changed. First of all, I had to choose whether I was a large or small business or a consumer (Huh? I just want to buy a computer, OK?) then picked a reasonable-looking Xeon. The defaults were about right except for I wanted a 250G disk. Nasty surprise; the customizer is nowhere near as good as it used to be; awkward, confusing and slow, and you have to page way down to get to obvious stuff. And I totally failed to configure the disk; there are all these options about the number of disks and kinds of connects that seemed to be interrelated, and when I picked one of the 250G disks, it declared my configuration invalid, and in ten minutes of fiddling around I couldn’t make it go. I also recently visited Apple’s online store; my 2003 PowerBook is pretty well out of steam and I’m not switching to a Solaris portable until there’s Ubuntu or equivalent for it. So I ordered a new Mac; that took like 4 minutes elapsed, start to finish. Maybe an Apple PowerBook has less options than a Dell desktop? But not that I care about; I bumped the default memory and disk on the Mac, which more than I wanted to do with the Dell. I’m shocked; I always thought that Dell’s #1 competitive advantage was that they were easy and quick to configure and buy (Granted, they’re reasonably cheap and well built, but not really ahead of the pack on those fronts). Maybe they’re no longer interested in the high-end consumer? Maybe I just had bad luck? If not, this is a big deal. [Update: Wow, I got a flurry of email saying “No, it’s not bad luck” accompanied by further complaints about, well, everything, but mostly pricing and complexity. So I think it’s a real news story.]

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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October 26, 2005
· Business (106 fragments)
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