On why this will be the last Dell I ever buy or have bought for me

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/05/02 16:02 +02:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/05/02/10159903.aspx

I have been buying and using Dell laptops since the mid 90's.

I wrote my first two (and last two!) device drivers, to force NT 3.51 on a Dell laptop. And that was when device drivers were easy (as opposed to today, when they are really really complicated!).

Sometimes (well, once) these laptops were Inspirons. Sometimes (well, once) they were Precision Mobile Workstations.

Most often though, they were Latitudes. Several in the C series, several in the D series, and the one I am typing on right now in the E series.

Right now I still own and use three of those machines, and use them regularly -- as self-hosting machines, as test machines, to run the home network. I have even written about then from time to time in relation to one issue or another.

Every time I ordered a new Latitude, I ordered next day onsite service. Because the one Inspiron I owned that I had to send in for service drove me nuts waiting for it.

And as I started to lose the manual dexterity in my hands, I came to rely on those experts who could field strip my Latitude to replace a motherboard so fast that I could get motion sickness if I watched too closely.

As I started to occasionally also need service for my iBot I delighted in the fact that it was often the same technicians that they would send as Dell would send!

I was hardly an enterprise customer who bought thousands of machines. But a good and loyal customer for over fifteen years.

Anyway, that all is going to have to end now.

With my Latitude E6500.

My very last Dell.

You see, at first they would dispatch technicians for pretty much anything you asked for that extra hand with.

That extra service was something I considered to be worth every penny I paid for it.

There was even the time that girl I was going out with accidentally threw up on my laptop (stomach flu or something). They came by the next day with the new keyboard and I was back up and running.

Then starting about five years ago they offered many parts, from hard drives to internal keyboards to other accessories, with a self-serve option. Of course, since this was about that time that the manual dexterity in my hands started to go to the crapper. So any time there were small screws or delicate parts involved, I would opt to get a tech to show up the next business day and pop into my office at MS and fix my laptop.

Then, late last week, the left CTRL key on my Latitude E6500's built-in keyboard came off.

I called Dell technical support and explained the situation.

Charles, the technician on the phone, told me he could send me the keyboard and he could point me to the online instructions to do the replacement, but he could not send a technician to do the replacement.

My usual "I'd really feel more comfortable with a qualified Dell technician doing the work" did not change his mind.

I explained my full situation, even explaining my multiple sclerosis and the very real risk that I could lose screws or snap off a vital part. That I could break things even worse than they are already, as I work to limp by without my left CTRL key.

Charles was unmoved, and would not escalate the issue. I felt a bit too intimidated to escalate it myself.

He sent out the keyboard. And that was that.

Dell could not accommodate me the way they had been doing for over a decade, even as they probably were unaware they were doing (the one time I tried to use the multiple sclerosis card, this time, he decided it was just a busted flush and  forced me to fold.

Once I got the keyboard, I looked at it, and at the directions.

Looking through it all, there were "only" four small screws that it seemed possible I could lose and likely I could have difficulty with even if I don't lose any. And just "a few" parts that seemed fragile enough that I could conceivably damage them in the process.

It sucks to lose that dexterity, but seldom does it truly block me since most of the time I can opt out of it. But not this time....

I was told quite directly that if I were to break something trying to do the replacement that the damage would not be covered. So rather than risk breaking anything, I had a friend help me do the work.

I can't help but remember the fun advertisements that used to have showing the service they gave people who ran over their laptops and such. Because such things happen. Remember the ads?

Though I never needed service for vehicular assault, they did once replace a broken screen on a Latitude of mine that had unintentionally fallen off a third story stoop (my old third story porch).

So the laptop that suicided out a window (an overt act Dell provided no instructions for) or the laptop Suz puked on (another overt act Dell also failed to provide instructions for)  a decade ago? All covered.

While a keyboard I could break trying to follow Dell's explicit instructions using small and delicate parts? It would not be....

Clearly, this wasn't the same company that it once was.

Now for the record, I sincerely doubt this was as a matter of official policy a matter of overt discrimination against the handicapped.

Let me make that clear -- because only one employee of Dell ever had the opportunity to assess the issue, and I have no insight into the rules and processes he was subject to, there is no way I can be sure that discrimination was intended.

Probably it was a bunch of bean counters being cheap bastards about policies that were changed years after the machines were paid for, while they were still under warranty coverage. Or maybe they just used to make exceptions every time and they officially had to step now.

Or maybe Charles was just being a *** because he had a bad day, or thought I was making it up.

I work for Microsoft, a Dell strategic partner, but apparently not strategic enough to grandfather in the coverage they used to provide to customers they claimed to value.

Now I do not buy hardware for Microsoft and thus this is extremely unlikely to have significant impact on the many machines Microsoft buys from Dell, or on that strategic partnership.

If I did have that kind of pull, I would have their official policy spelled out and delivered, with their apology for lack of sensitivity in the handling. And this would have been a very different blog you are reading right now.

For what it's worth, I sometimes do get to make smaller choices about hardware Microsoft gets for me -- a flatscreen here and there. And when I do have that choice, it will no longer be for the hardware vendor and OEM I used to be loyal to.

And I will never spend money of my own on another piece of Dell hardware.

Not for as long as their miserly policies [unintentionally] discriminate against my medical condition.

Goodbye Dell, thanks for the times you chose to show me dignity and respect. And I'm sorry you changed your mind about all of that.

You have me for 473 days of warranty service on this laptop, and I'll try not to have to use it.

Then we are through....

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