GEEKNOTE: Those of you who have been following my posts for any length of time know that I have a generally low opinion of the level of service provided by the big box stores. This opinion was reinforced this past week when one of my business customers referred a very nice couple to me to help them sort out their computer problems.
The couple, we'll just call "Mr & Mrs. Smith" (not their real names) had purchased two nice notebooks and a Lexmark printer over the last six months or so from a big box store that has "techs" on staff.
Mrs. Smith couldn't scan or print from her computer. The Lexmark printer/scanner they bought has wireless networking built in, but there is no way to manually configure it and their cable modem/router doesn't have the feature you need to get the printer to try to automatically link up with the router. No problem, she always sits right next to the printer anyway, so we got things working with a USB cable.
Mr. Smith's Toshiba was another matter. This machine came with Windows 7 when he bought it back in the spring. Mr. Smith somehow managed to lock up the computer the last week of October and so he took it back to the big box store, where two techs (and I use that term loosely) and the store manager tried unsuccessfully to solve the problem. Since Windows 8 was due out later that week, they instructed Mr. Smith to bring the machine back in at the end of the week and they would sell him a Windows 8 upgrade and install it on his computer. This was, according to them, the only way to solve the problem.
Fast forward to last week. When I arrived, the Toshiba could not see any wireless signals. The machine claimed that the wireless radio was off and no amount of pressing the proper key combination would do anything. Adding insult to injury, the upgrade to Windows 8 had removed the start button and all the program lists, so finding anything on the machine was difficult at best. The radio claimed to be alive when you looked at it via the Device Manager, but nothing worked.
After confirming with Mr. Smith that he had nothing stored on the machine, I rebooted with the F12 option and fired up the recovery routine, rolling the machine back to the way it was when the machine came from the factory. Once this rather lengthy process was completed, the wireless radio on/off soft switch (FN-F8) started working, not to mention ALL the other FN soft switches that had been killed by the upgrade to Windows 8. The built in radio was indeed dead, so Mr. Smith brought the Toshiba by the office the next day and I put a USB wireless adapter in. Mr. Smith could have gotten the Toshiba fixed under warranty, but he didn't want to darken the door of the big box store that had messed things up with the Windows 8 upgrade and we correctly guessed that a new USB wireless adapter would be cheaper and faster than shipping the notebook back to Toshiba for service.
There are several things we can take away from this tale:
1. Upgrading to a new version of Windows frequently breaks things, especially when upgrading to a newly released version of Windows.
This is nothing new. I once spent three weeks of quality time getting my own machine working right after upgrading it. I'm now a firm believer of keeping whatever OS came on a machine originally. If you want a new OS, buy a new computer with it already installed.
2. When considering any Windows machine, it is probably a good idea to let someone else figure out the problems with a new Windows release. I strongly suspect that six months or a year from now, Windows 8 will be a fine OS and the current shortcomings will have been addressed.
3. Just because a store claims to have techs on staff does not mean that they have a clue.
Experience counts. So do certifications, especially as you talk about more complicated hardware. For what it's worth, your best bet is often to do what the Smiths did and ask a friend they trust who they would use. I'm pleased that the Smith's friend recommended me.
4. Computers DO break and having anything of value backed up is important. Mr. Smith didn't have anything to speak of on his computer, but Mrs. Smith had tons of photos on her machine. I encouraged her to make sure she keeps copies of all of them somewhere other than on her computer.
5. Computer hardware sometimes comes with limitations that you need to know about before you spend your hard earned dollars on it. The Lexmark printer is a very nice device that would have worked fine wirelessly if the cable modem/router the Smiths have had supported the autoconfiguration mode that the Lexmark printer demands. I would have steered them toward an HP printer that could be easily configured for wireless use in their situation. I might even have sent them to a big box store to buy the printer, since there is no margin on printers and we don't stock them.
If you are in the market this year for a new computer for someone on your list, give STRONG consideration to picking up a Windows 7 machine.
Feel free to drop me a note or give me a call if you have any questions about your computer.
Finally, as a non-GEEK aside, the City is currently rethinking how to rehabilitate the Hacienda Hotel. I would encourage you to follow this breaking story on the New Port Richey Patch site and feel free to call me or drop by the store to chat if you have any ideas, questions, or if you want to volunteer to help.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)