Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buying a Dell Hell

The time has come when the kids start fighting over the computer. Today's solution: J1 plays with Daddy's VooDoo in the office. Is 18 months too soon for a PC?

The American society of pediatrics have an idiotic comment on their Web site asserting that there is no proof that television or computers are educational for under aged children, therefore they should never use them. There is of course no evidence that they are harmful either, which is admitted but why let facts get in the way of a good prejudice?

Professional bodies should not be issuing warnings or advice without the facts to back them up.

J1 taught himself to read using the computer at age 3. The main challenge in learning at an early age is motivation. Reading to children (something earlier generations of pediatricians would also no doubt have advised against) is a good thing, but don't expect reading to a child to motivate the child to read themselves.

What worked for J1 was I-Spy Spooky Mansion on the PC. After playing the game with Daddy J1 eventually decided that he might like to play when Daddy was not around. Listening to Daddy read did not motivate him to learn, listening to the computer read did. Daddy read the clues himself: that was the proper way to play.

So off to the Dell site to find a machine for J2 only to find that the configuration choices on offer are bizare. The options on offer depend on the model of machine you choose (almost sensible) and whether you describe yourself as a Home user or a Small Business (less sensible). This might make some sense if it was a clever way of tailoring the machines on offer to specific markets but it isn't.

If you are a Home user you can choose a compact machine with an AMD processor but not an Intel. If you try to buy the Intel machine in the compact case you can buy the low rent Vista Basic version, or upgrade to Business or Premium, Vista Home Premium is not an option.

If you opt for the Dimension in the smallcase with an AMD processor you can get a monitor that has direct DVI input and a speaker bar. If you get the Dimension in a larger case you can buy the same monitor but the speaker bar is not offered so you have to buy it separately as an accessory.

You might imagine that this is clever marketing ploy to get people to buy bigger machines than they need. Only it isn't, its just the result of someone not updating the Web site properly.

Back in the 1980s Digital had an AI based configuration system for Vaxen called XCON. Looks to me like the Dell folk could really do themselves a favor by reading up on it and see what a rules based constraint system could do for them.

The whole Dell approach is obsolete. Instead of asking me which machine I want to buy and adding options it should let me specify the characteristics of the machine I want first. That does not mean telling Dell that I am a home user, it means stating the type of programs I want to run, the amount I want to spend, whether my priorities are size, speed or noise.

In other words the computer interface should work the way that a traditional salesperson would.

Applying this type of approach would also allow Dell to determine which features to target in future machines. If people are making noise a priority over performance then act accordingly. I am pretty sure that a huge number of personal buyers would pay for RAID-1 if they knew it would protect their files in the case of a disk crash.

The VooDoo site has an attempt at something like this approach but they only have three desktop models and not a large variety of options.

1 comment:

Sean McDonald said...

I work at Dell, in the Dell Online group.
In reading your blog, "Buying a Dell Hell", I am interested in learning more about your ideas and discussing some ideas we have for to get your opinion. Would you be willing to join me in a phone call next week? My email is