A Real-Life Story . . .

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Over the last week, I’ve been dealing with a friend of a friend with computer problems.

The person was a sixtyish Sixpack, married, kids grown up, light computing interests and needs. The machine was a vintage 440BX box, PII 400, Windows 2000 on the box.

The specific computer problem was no big deal, but the ten minute boot into Windows was, well, it bothered me a lot more than him.

Language is a funny thing. After initially dealing with the machine, I talked about things like his machine likely having “corrupted files,” and he apparently took that as being along the same lines as he corrupting his daughter.

On the other hand, when he told me a few days later that the machine was working a lot better now, except for a couple “hard drive failure” messages when he booted, he got the chance to look perfectly unperturbed while my stomach clenched.

Very early on in the process, I decided it was time for the dude to get a Dell. He was agreeable to that, and I walked him through buying one last night.

(BTW, for those of you who think I start my day by going to the bathroom and using old Athlons as toilet paper, it was an AMD Dell E521 with an X2 3800. Why? Price. Just thought you’d like to know. :))

There was only one real problem with the transaction. The Dell Configurator of the Day told me I could have any OS I liked so long as it were Vista. They’d give me Basic, and let me spend $99 for Business, or $199 for Ultimate.

Obviously, upgrading to Ultimate for this gentleman would have earned me a perp walk anywhere outside of Redmond, and Business would have meant not just the extra $99 for the OS, but almost that again for a real video card then agonize over whether a mere 1GB of RAM was really enough. Given that the whole box was going to cost just four hundred and something, these were serious extras.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, there will be plenty of advanced beta testers for Vista in the months ahead. For him, I saw very likely pain, and even more unlikely gain. He’s not a spyware collector, and something like UAC will only scare him. He’s a CPA, so he’s not too likely to respond to phishing expeditions with “You want my financial data? Why, sure!!”

So what did I do? I went retro. I ordered an OEM copy of XP Home, and will wipe and reinstall when the box comes. Yes, there still are PCs you can get with XP, but they cost more than this did, even with the extra OS cost.

It’s not the choice I would make for myself, but I wasn’t buying this for me. I was buying it for someone with a much different scale of cost/benefit. A year from now, maybe, probably, I don’t make the same decision

But for now?

He’s hardly locked in. If he wants Vista a few years down the road, he has a copy on the side, and maybe by then having it might be OK after a service pack or two, or at least may get him a bit of a discount on an online upgrade.

The system can take more RAM and a video card if desired, and maybe by then there will be Vista features that will actually benefit him, or at least he can upgrade to a 64-bit version that actually has an environment in place for it.

But then, somebody is going to have to do a lot better than they have so far to convince someone like him that Vista’s worth it, and when the enthusiasts, even the professional ones, are lukewarm at best. . . .

That’s not an impossibility. The old box originally came with Windows ME, and it stunk enough for him to move to W2000 fast enough.

A Postscript

Shortly after ordering, I spoke to the gentleman’s spouse. As you might guess, she is no Grace Hopper.

She said that one of her children had just bought a computer, and upon hearing about this upcoming purchase, had one piece of advice, “Stay away from Vista,” apparently due to compatibility with old stuff.

Not the best word-of-mouth, is it? 🙂

I think people who read sites like this one ought to keep in mind that not everyone loves computers, or newness, or the two together, and in the end, the computer guys are supposed to make the owner happy, not the other way around.

I don’t know about you, but most computer owners I run across want to do just a few things with their PCs, have figured out, often painfully, how to do them, and they’d much rather be left alone to do them.

While I don’t find a horrible lot in Vista to make it an enthusiastic buy for anyone (it’s like asking, “Where’s the beef?” and finding, maybe, a single buffalo wing), the case is even worse for the Sixpacks (especially older ones).

Nor does it help that when push comes to shove, MS’s real answer to the question, “Why should I buy Vista” seems to be “It looks so pretty, and if that’s not good enough for you, we have ways to make you talk buy.” There’s this sense of coercion about it all. You want DX10, you’ll have to buy Vista. You want to buy from Dell, you’ll have to buy Vista. You get the sense they know deep down inside this is Milennium Edition 2.0, at least for the moment, but this time around, they don’t have a Windows 2000 in the wings, or an XP on the way. So they’re stuck with this dog and I guess misery loves company.

I don’t know if this is going to work. Certainly didn’t for me for a typical user at this point in time.


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