Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights

Spring never arrived here in the Northeast in 2003, Summer is here, a vacation is on the near horizon, and I should be happy — no more getting stuck behind school buses. But I thought I’d start the summer off with a good rant.

Do we need a Bill of Rights for computer owners?

No this isn’t a rhetorical question. Senator Mark Dayton from Minnesota is inquiring into this idea. His official website is soliciting input from anyone on this topic. (Note: the link is now dead.)  Below is an excerpt from that website.

Have you ever had a problem with your computer, called for help, and thought you’d be on hold for the rest of your life? Or finally get connected to a tech rep who was uninterested, incomprehensible, and wrong?

Ever buy a new or upgraded computer, parts, or programs, which didn’t work, and find that no one else cared? That no one would take responsibility? And that there was nowhere to report rip-offs, fraudulent advertising, or failed assurances?

That is why I am putting together legislation to establish a “Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights.” But first, I would like to hear about your experiences with computer manufacturers and retailers, hardware or software companies; how they did right, or how they did wrong; and what you think should be done — and not be done — to bring better reliability and accountability to this always changing industry?

Now, do I believe that companies should provide good support? Of course I do. And as someone from the support industry nothing ticks me off more than lousy support (except the Yankees always winning). But do we want the government to muck around in the computer industry — and I think Senator Dayton means any IT products? Sure there have been bumps in the industry in the past few years, but has the IT industry been the engine of growth because of the government?

Governments have some legitimate roles in promoting commerce and the economy.  They should provide the infrastructure — legal, financial, and informational — but is there such a gross market failure in the computer industry that there is a compelling need for the government to intercede? There have been recent moves to amend the Uniform Commercial Code in regards to software, which would virtually absolve software publishers from any responsibility for the quality of their products. (For detailed information click here.) But the legislation that the senator appears to be contemplating would go toward regulating on a detailed, process level. Will it do more harm or good? The most troubled industries in our economy are typically the ones most regulated by the government. Is the government regulation an effect or the cause?

I’m not saying there aren’t flaws in the way we comport ourselves as an industry. In fact, this type of legislative solution to bad marketplace practice should be a wake up call for the industry. But what do we need? In my opinion we need education and more complete disclosure of information to aid rational decision-making. Most of you reading this are in the support industry. When you bought your last home electronics item, did you check out the support the company offered on the product? Did you even bother to find out what support they offered? I doubt it. If we in the support industry don’t do this, then who else would?

I’m “writing” this on a spanking new laptop, and I did check out the warranty that Fujitsu offers. (My business is on this PC, after all.) I even bought 2 extra years of warranty for $100. But did I check out the support offered by Eisenworld on its $70 Alohabob product that moves applications, settings, and data from one PC to another? No, I didn’t, and I wish I had — but that’s a topic for another good rant.

Perhaps the best indication of the general lack of knowledge about the importance of support lies in product marketing. How many companies market the support they provide on their products as a key feature consumers should consider? We constantly hear the statistics that acquisition costs represent a small portion of a product’s life time costs, so why isn’t this a compelling area for competitive advantage and effective marketing? Got me.

What are your thoughts? Don’t tell just me. Tell Senator Dayton. (Well, you can’t anymore…)