Category Archives: Technology

Dell and the Art of Spinning Business Decisions (part 2)

Bob Pearson replied to my previous post on this topic.

I thank Bob Pearson for the reply. Nobody can accuse Dell of not paying attention to what people are saying. However, I remain skeptical that I, as a customer, am going to see anything dazzling come out of Da Vinci. Again, the evidence on which I base my skepticism is provided by none other than Dell.

Last month, Laura P. Thomas, reported that Dell’s beta for a new home page was found to be more difficult to use than the current page. I did not say anything at the time but now I have the impetus to comment. How on earth can Dell design a site more difficult to use than the current one?!? (I’m assuming that although the term “home page” is used, we’re talking about a complete site overhaul.)

Case in point: I went to Dell’s site this morning to order a monitor. The only reason I even went to Dell’s site was because I had researched reviews and found that one of Dell’s monitor fit my performance/price ratio. So I went into the “Home and Home Office” store and put the monitor in my cart. Then I decided I should check what price I’d get if I went through the educational channel. Being affiliated to UVA, I can benefit from better prices, right? Nope. After I put the monitor in my educational cart, I found that a free 2-day shipping deal I was able to get in the “Home and Home Office” store was not available to me if I ordered through the educational store. Now, let me be clear. If I had obtained exactly the same result through both stores, I would have said “fair enough”. It is the fact that I get different results depending on how I navigate the site that irritates me to no end. And then Dell will send coupons by email which, once applied, invalidate rebates already offered on the site. So shopping in Dell’s store is an exercise in frustration.

That kind of nonsense is precisely why I hate the Dell store and why Dell’s store is never my first destination when I shop online. It is utterly unpleasant to think that if I had ordered the item from the same dealer but through a different set of clicks, I might have gotten a better deal. I keep having to check and recheck that I have not missed any click, any coupon, any change in barometric pressure which may result in a better deal. That also played a part in why the last laptop I bought was not a Dell. I paid a little more that I would have for a Dell but I felt the dealer respected me and my time.

And then I read that Dell is unable to create a better site? What on earth is going on? There’s nothing in the Da Vinci announcement that makes me believe that the new partnership will solve this problem so why precisely should I get excited? It seems to me Dell has bigger fish to fry than spinning their business decisions into some sort of second coming.

Dell and the Art of Spinning Business Decisions

Dell has recently announced a new partnership with the WPP marketing company. The post on the Direct2Dell blog leads me to believe that Dell is spinning a run-of-the-mill business decision into some sort of ground-breaking partnership. Casey Jones is quoted to say:

Instead of dating 800 agencies, we are creating a partnership with one firm. We want our partner to spend 100% of their time thinking about our customers, rather than how they will get the next assignment.

It may appear that with this partnership Dell will be able to replace the complexity of 800 agencies with the simplicity of only having to deal with one agency but that would be incorrect. With this partnership, Dell is merely pushing away the complexity of marketing on a global scale behind an organizational entity called “WPP”. It may be that WPP is better equipped than Dell with managing that complexity and it may be that by letting WPP handling all of Dell’s marketing, the overall complexity will be reduced but it is not going to be reduced by a factor of 800. I have for evidence the following passage in the post:

We will empower our new agency to handle all subcontracting relationships with talented professionals and firms who want to work with Dell. They will be encouraged to join our Da Vinci team.

The hundreds of marketing agencies Dell is currently dealing with are going to be handled by this new Da Vinci partnership between Dell and WPP but the complexity of hundreds of agencies is not going to disappear.

And then there are the content-free statements:

The agency will be charged with building shareholder value via programs that are centered on “creativity with a business purpose”.

Ok, by opposition to what? Are there any divisions of Dell or partners of Dell that are not supposed to be “building shareholder value”? True, Dell’s partners have for mission to build value for their own shareholders but Dell entered in a partnership with them because the executives at Dell believed that it would help build value for Dell’s own shareholders. Which publicly traded business would say that they don’t center on creativity or that they engage in activities that have no business purpose? Basically, the statement I quote above could be uttered by the PR firm of just any publicly traded business. It is a given. Stating it does not convey any new information.

We want Dell’s agency to be the agency of choice for the most talented people in the world.

Again, by opposition to what? Are there publicly traded companies out there that will say “we want our company to be the company of choice for mediocre people?” Really? All companies want the best. Whether they can get what they want depends on the compensation packages they come up with and what kind of working environment they are able to nurture, everything else is just hot air. (About a dozen Dilbert strips are flashing through my mind as I write these lines.)

Here’s a gem:

One great team at WPP to match up with our team, so we can create magic together.

There’s a business plan: “create magic”. We’ll synergetically utilize leprechauns to produce unicorns while leveraging the power of imps and elves.

Don’t get me wrong. The executives at Dell probably had a good reason to do what they did but the spin they put on it sounds hollow. I owned a total of four laptops: 3 of them Dells and the last one a Sager NP2090. I’m not seeing anything substantial in the Da Vinci deal that would lead me to think that Dell is going to win me back as a customer. Quite the contrary, the hollowness of their announcement reminds me of how another company, Palm, has gradually devolved into a company emphasizing hype over substance. Is Dell following in Palm’s steps?

Another proof that Palm is obsolete

The title of the Palm Infocenter post says it all: Google Maps My Location Not Coming To Palm OS. Why not? Because despite the fact that all Palm-based cell phones have all the information needed for Google Maps to triangulate our position, the Palm OS (Garnet) does not allow applications to access that information.

Hurray, hurray! Palm has made damn sure I’m not buying another Palm device.

Typical Mac nonsense

A Mac fanboy writes:

A Mac user since 2000, upgrading to each new version of Mac OS X:

1. $300 in operating system updates, or nearly $400 if purchased at full retail.

2. Three major new releases that significantly improved performance of the same hardware and introduced new apps.

3. Thirty one regular minor updates with bug fixes and new features, in addition to many security updates.

4. No antivirus needed

5. No spyware cleaning needed

6. Total cost of maintaining Mac OS X software: about $50 a year, or around $350 since 2000. (Reports of “$750” were a mix of Truthiness and bad math.)

A Professional Windows user since 2000, upgrading at the one opportunity available:

1. $200 upgrade to XP Professional, or $300 for a new retail version.

2. One major new release that improved reliability but not the performance of old hardware.

3. Two minor service pack updates focused on bugs and security features, and around fifty security patches since SP2.

4. Seven years of AntiVirus 2000 $50, plus $30 for six annual updates = $230

5. Spyware and security cleaning by Geek Squad: a $200 annual servicing over seven years = $1400

6. Total cost of maintaining Windows software: over $250 a year, or more than $1800 since 2000.

Can you spot the mistake? There are two of them: the notion that an antivirus software is needed for Windows and that there need to be some sort of annual Geek Squad maintenance. The notion that an annual cleanup is required is misleading to the point of utter dishonesty. For most people, I would in fact suggest an antivirus but not Geek Squad servicing. However, even an antivirus is not necessary. I’ve used Windows for ages without it. I got virii twice and both times the threat was quickly and easily contained by using free tools provided by Microsoft. If Mac users need to distort reality to this point to justify their choice what does it say about the soundness of their choice?

Oh, and 10 years of Linux: $0.

More support for ebooks on the horizon?

A recent NY Times article titled “Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books” notes the imminent arrival of two new services for people who want to use ebooks. Read the article for the full scoop. I found two parts interesting. First,

“Digital readers are not a replacement for a print book; they are a replacement for a stack of print books,” said Ron Hawkins, vice president for portable reader systems at Sony. “That is where we see people, on the go, in the subway and in airports, with our device.”

Hawkins expresses exactly why I prefer to use ebooks rather than paper books: it allows me to carry a small bookcase in my laptop. I say a small bookcase because right now support for ebooks is pretty anemic. Searchability and the possibility for electronic annotations are also advantages but they are more theoretical than real right now, again because the support for ebooks is deficient. My dream would be to have my entire book collection at my fingertips, ready for searching and ready for being annotated at will.

But the same article shows why I’m so reluctant to use any of the “solutions” currently proposed:

Some also complain about the fact that Amazon is using a proprietary e-book format from Mobipocket, a French company that Amazon bought in 2005, instead of supporting the open e-book standard backed by most major publishers and high-tech companies like Adobe. That means owners of other digital book devices, like the Sony Reader, will not be able to use books purchased on Amazon.com.

Vendor lock-in again?! I’m sorry but I’m not interested in buying an ebook that will work only on one device. If I buy “War and Peace” I want it to be readable on as many electronic devices as possible. Give me a searchable and annotatable PDF or nothing.

No faith in Palm anymore…

Engaget posted an editorial about what is wrong with Palm and what they need to do to fix the situation: Dear Palm: It’s time for an intervention. It is very revealing that a lot of the comments on that editorial are from Palm users who have lost faith in Palm. I have not sent a comment there but you can count me among the group of those who have lost faith. I’ve owned two Palm devices, only one of which was a cell phone. The way things are going, it is likely that for my next smart phone, I’ll be looking at another platform than Palm.

Using Firefox profiles for security

We all know that if we want to use our browsers securely, we should turn of java, javascript, extensions, and all the rest. Sounds good in theory but in practice turning all that off means turning off some of the really useful tools available on the internet. For instance, if you don’t have javascript turned on, you can forget about using Google Maps. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to give that up. So my attitude so far has been to think keep all those features on despite the risks entailed. But there is a functional solution to that problem.

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Dell doing good things

I’ve criticized Dell a lot lately. It appears however that they are moving in the right direction regarding Linux support. Two stories at Slashdot: Dell to Offer More Linux PCs,
Dell Asking ATI For Better Linux Drivers.

Thanks Dell, for continuing to improve Linux support. Now if only Dell could pressure other hardware manufacturers with providing good Linux drivers. If only they would sell a Linux laptop that has all the features I want, then I’d be a happy camper.

Broken dreams

3 workers have been killed and 3 have been injured in an explosion at Scaled Composites.

From an earliest age I’ve been a fan of the US space program. I’ve been and still am a huge admirer of the guts and engineering prowess that were required to initiate the conquest of space. Initially, the burden of space exploration was the sole province of governments but in recent years Scaled Composites has been at the forefront of the development of reusable solutions that could one day make spaceflight a reality for the masses. Scaled Composite’s hard work paid off when they won the X Prize.

That success was just the beginning. The people at Scaled Composites have been steadfastly working on their next generation of spaceship. Today, however, tragedy struck: a potent reminder of the risks entailed by pushing the technological envelope ever further.

Indeed Dell is wasting time in Second Life

I’ve noted recently how Dell is wasting time promoting its wares in Second Life. Well, today I’ve caught sight of an article on Slashdot titled “Are Marketers Abandoning Second Life?“. The article notes that indeed marketers are abandoning Second Life. Why? Because the number of Second Life users put forth by Linden Labs is quite inflated. Maybe Dell should pay attention to what the marketers have found out.