Lauren needs a new laptop. She inherited my 1998-vintage Toshiba Portegé when I switched to MacLand way back last April, and it’s really past its best-before date (e.g. it’s now an “oshiba”). The take-away is that the laptop vendors of the world are in a vast conspiracy to keep you from finding out about their products, and once you do find out, to keep you from getting one. And she still doesn’t have one.
Requirements · Lauren’s extremely computer-literate and we talked it over and it was pretty clear what she wanted. This is a road machine, so small-and-light is crucial. CD-blasting and DVD-playing are right up there on the list, and—more limiting than you think—she really doesn’t like trackpads. Add a half-gig or more of RAM and good wireless to the list, and there’s the recipe.
You know what you want, the vendors want to disintermediate and sell to you, it ought to be easy, right? Wrong. Near as we can tell, the vendors’ websites’ laptop areas were designed by marketing droids who relax with Zen koans. Some of them, before they’ll show you any laptops, demand to know whether you’re a large or a small business. Others require that you choose between this or that mellifluously named product family before you can get in.
Twisty Passages · Right away, the no-trackpad requirement took Apple off the list, and, it seemed, HP/Compaq, once you fought your way through maze of twisty little passages, all different, to look at some computers.
Toshiba actually had somewhat better navigation; unfortunately, in this quarter of this year they’re behind the others in bang-for-the-buck. (I’m sure next quarter it will stack up differently). Dell was too trackpad-oriented.
Which left IBM. Whatever you think of them, the Thinkpad line has had a plausible model for just about every reasonable set of needs for quite a few years now. And in our experience they’re well-built and you can get them fixed anywhere and they pretty well just work.
Closing In For the Kill · Lauren tried to use their web area to match model numbers and packages with the technical specs... well remember we were talking about Zen koans? So she gave up and telephoned and got a marginally competent human; of course, they spent millions on their Web presence so that they wouldn’t have to pay people to work through what should be a straightforward features matrix. I guess they just threw that money away.
At the end of the day, the Thinkpad X31 seemed to be a pretty sweet little package, maybe a bit pricey but probably good for a solid two or three years of use. So she wielded the mighty plastic and became an investor in IBM laptop futures.
Except for, several days later IBM called up and explained they were having trouble because the delivery address was different from the credit card billing address; could she arrange for the bank to know about the shipping address. Kiss a few more days goodbye.
You ought to be able to check your order status on the Web, right? Wrong. You can’t do that unless you set up an account first. OK, she set up an account. But it didn’t know about her order because it predated the account. So, you can check your orders if you know that you can check your orders before you place your order. As it is, if she wants to find out how the order’s doing, she calls up and hears that her call is important to them until a person comes on.
It’s a good thing she did so, because a couple of the miscellaneous parts—in particular the extra power cord that you can plug into an airplane—were back-ordered for as long as six weeks, so IBM was intending to sit silent and ship nothing until everything came in. Could they send along the computer now? Oh, sure, no problem.
Supply Chain · Since IBM (quite decently) doesn’t charge your credit card until they ship, they were voluntarily foregoing several thousand dollars in cash-flow while they waited for an internal power-cord shipment. Right.
Anyhow, we haven’t seen it yet. As the saying goes: “Against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain.”