Dell? : LUSENET : Joel on Software : One Thread

Why would anyone buy a computer from Dell? We bought two from Dell years ago, only to find that they were completely overpriced and their customer service was awful. Not to mention their completely bizare approch to sorting customers (home, business, corporate).

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000


We have purchased almost all of our machines from Dell and never had any real problems. The only fault we had was when a hard drive on our server died, it took a week to get a replacement simply because they could not find an exact hard drive match. They ended up sending us a much larger hard drive later. Other than that though, all of our problems were very quickly handled and professionally as well. Their categorizing of customers is a little archaic and really shouldn't be there at all. Users should be able to completely design their computer from the bottom to the top without customer type monickers. It will keep prices fair, and let the user decide what is best or not for personal or business use

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000

Joel's article is right-on. It took me a LONG time to try to find an option for a Win98 or Win2000 machine *without* having the bundled Office 2000 or Works suite. (Hint: Large business, but only on "managed PCs"). And what is up with categorizing machines as "performance", "expandability", and "value"? I want *all* of those.

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000

Not me! I don't want a PC that has any value! ;)

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000

Gateway's site is exactly the same way. Must be a PC retailer thing that they have to put all their customers into meaningless categories.

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000

Joel's artcile is idiotic at best. He whines that it leads him to something about the Air Force, which the first search link does. He negelcts to mention that the second link actually takes him to the exact thing he wants; Hardware solutions that Dell supports with Linux. Look for yourself. The categories are broken down that way because they are geared towards what most consumers in those segments want. Usually the difference in the Small Business machines versus the Home machines, is that the SB systems usually come standard with a NIC, and have less high end graphics and sound cards.

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000


It's interesting that Joel has usability problems with the Dell site. While I don't agree with everything he says, I'm sure that he's both intelligent and web-literate. What his little article on Dell suggests is that just because users can't figure out how to use your site doesn't necessarily mean they're idiots, they were just expecting it to work differently. Joel obviously got frustrated when he felt out of control of something that he thought would have been really simple.

You explanation of categories is probably correct, but it's in the wrong place. Besides, Dell are asking the wrong qustion in the first place. Instead of (inderectly) asking who you are, they should ask what you need.

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000

I can fully sympathise with Joel's feelings on this matter. The other day I went to Dell's web site to get an NT video driver for an older OptiPlex GXMT 5150 machine. No matter which links I followed, sooner or later the site wanted to categorize me into some consumer class before I could do anything useful. Clicking, a logical choice to me, presented me with a categorization page, invariably followed by a login page. Now, unless I'm trying to buy something or enter some other kind of critical transaction, I run screaming for the hills (of which we have plenty in Chattanooga) whenver I see a login page. Eventually I ended up downloading a driver from S3's dying web site, Dell completely failing me in this respect.

While I'm no great fan of HP's overly artistic website (which they've revamped recently), they make it pretty painless to locate the Place Where You Get Drivers. Maybe Dell should take a couple of pointers there.

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000

The problem is that the Dell people read Joel's UI book! :) A bit of not-too-implausible search-and-replace turns the middle of Chapter 9 into the reasoning at Dell's web development team:

"You've decided to make a web site that lets people buy computers. Using a somewhat na´ve approach, you might come up with a list of features like this:

1. Add memory to computer 2. Add operating system to computer 3. Buy prebuilt desktop/server configuration 4. Send computer: a. Using USPS b. Via courier service

For lack of any better way of thinking about the problem, this might lead itself to a typical Macintosh user interface, circa-1984: a web site that starts out with a blank computer, with menu items for adding RAM, a monitor, Ethernet, and Linux. And then what the user is going to have to do is sit down and browse through the menus, and figure out whether they need "Windows 2000 Professional" or "Windows ME" or "Red Hat Linux 7", and then do their own synthesis of how to put these atomic commands together to build a computer.

Now, activity based planning says that you need to come up with a list of reasons people might buy a computer. So, you talk to your potential users, and you come up with this "top three" list:

1.Home 2.Small Business 3.Large Business...."

Conclusion: Even the power of Joel can be used for good as well as evil!

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000

All details and subtleties of UI principles and application aside, I too have had the experience of having to work far too hard at the Dell site to figure out what I could get matching my requirements. That combined with the fact that I don't generally need some of the added features they include (and can thus shoot for a lower price somewhere else), means I don't tend to go there much at all.

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

I bought a notebook from Dell a couple of months ago. It has been working nicely. The screen is huge and beautiful. That's the reason I bought it. The price is reasonable, lower end compared to IBM, HP and SONY.

The customer service could be better.

I have the same complaints about the grouping into home/office, etc. I wanted Windows 2000, but it's only available for small business. But I don't have a small business. I had to call their phone rep to buy it which added to hassle.

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

The real issue with the search is that Joel is *technically literate*. And he expects to be able to use his technical expertise to help navigate the site. But Dell have designed for non-techies with a classification based on what kind of naive user you are.

What this goes to show (again) is that there is no one right way to do things. What a good site should do is provide different navigational structures that reflect different expertises. At the very least an online computer retailer should provide a "technical fast track" view so that those who are literate can navigate by component; and an "ordinary person" view who's navigation is guided by your ultimate goal.

Operating systems ought to work the same way. Instead of bogging OSs down with yet another layer of helpful (to idiots) sludge, MS et al should make pluggable help systems and interfaces (with help files authored and (human) indexed, specifically for a particular audience)

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

I wrote a similar gripe about Dell's website a while back:$12

Somebody else pointed out that normal people might actually like Dell's user interface, whereas technical people want their special skills to be applicable in the computer buying process.

The best compromise I've heard would be to simply add another label which can be self applied. The choices would then look more like this:

-- Home User -- Business User -- User who already knows what s/he wants

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

I've bought hundreds of Dells in many different configurations. They're good, reliable boxes that offer decent performance for the money. I use one at home (a Precision 620), and I'm very picky when spending my own money. (Previously, I built myself several white boxes because I thought no one could do it better.)

I agree that the Dell Store needs work. Usability stinks if you're an IT professional accustomed to making your own decisions. You *can* build your own Dell, but it takes some work and ingenuity and a willingness to be pigeon-holed. After I bought my 620, Dell called me to ask if I wanted to set up a corporate account -- and how many more Dells would I be buying?

-- Anonymous, November 21, 2000

It is amazing to me that Dell breaks all the rules by asking customers to "self-classify" themselves (some act of genius?, has the most useless search routines and yet still sells lots of computers over the internet.

After dealing with Dell as an individual and as a corporate customer, I suspect that they would be quickly bankrupt without the benefit of Great, Big Margins.

-- Anonymous, November 21, 2000

I guess joel must've sent a clear message to dell, there's linux options all over the place now.

-- Anonymous, November 28, 2000

Although Dell's web site isn't great -- I had to pretend to be a small business to get the PC I'm typing this message from, which had Windows 2000 preinstalled -- it's much better than most other major PC makers. And when the product is good and the price isn't bad -- well, I just bought a new Dell PC a few months ago and it's all good so far.

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2000

Dell announced on 5/8/2001 that another 4000 people (mostly in the Austin area) will be laid off in the next few months. This after they had laid off 1700 a couple of months ago, and then saying that no further reductions would be required.

The conventional wisdom here is that Dell intends to take advantage of the current downturn by cutting prices to the bone, thereby bleeding Compac and Gateway dry.

That's got to be great for morale!

But I have to say I own several Dells and one Compac, and they work well for me. I prefer them to Compac because they seem to be more standard than my Compac.


-- Anonymous, May 08, 2001

***** additional info *****

After speaking on the telephone with a Dell sales representative, I found out that the reason Dell set up rigid customer "categories" is taxation. Dell must collect state sales taxes for each small business/large business purchase. Dell does not have an obligation, as a "de facto mail order" vendor, to collect state sales taxes for each home purchase (b/c in some states, including NJ, state residents are "supposed to pay" sales tax for such mail order purchases alongside other taxes on the annual tax return). However, Dell is obligated to collect state sales tax on small business/large business purchases. The categorization we see on the Dell website is driven by business law compliance (and the convenience for the staff in Dell's Finance and Accounting Departments).

Although I agree with the other respondents that Dell maintains limited options for Operating Systems (i.e., Win2K vs. WinME vs. Win98, etc.) and MSFT Office applications (i.e., Small Business Edition vs. Premium Edition vs. bare-bones MSFT Works, etc.), we must realize that MSFT maintains a tight control over Dell's offerings. I'm sure that the marketing staff at MSFT and DELL worked "very hard" to find the "optimum" product "feature set-to-price" ratio -- so that more people will, after much contemplation, end up buying a "more expensive" box with a "more expensive" OS and a "feature-rich" MSFT Office package.

-- Anonymous, June 01, 2001

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