I had a feeling of deja vu when I was talking to a friend about a new computer last week.

093002gatewayboxes3 In the late 1980s and early 90s, I set up dozens of Gateway computers. They were comparatively inexpensive, they were pioneers in the business of custom configurations for mail-order computers, and they shipped everything in way cool cow-spotted boxes.

But Gateway was also doing something right that outweighed everything else. Gateway was making smart choices about what to put on computers. Gateway installed CD drives and modems before it was obvious they would be necessary. They put in more memory and bigger hard drives and better video and sound cards than people realized they needed.

I could send people to shop at Gateway with confidence that they would get the right equipment even if I didn’t hold their hand through the entire order.

There’s only one computer company doing the same thing today.


I can get you a good PC from Dell or off the shelf at a local store – if I hold your hand through the entire process. For most people, it’s easier to put together the order myself. I ask everyone else to go through a list of detailed specs and keep an eye on hard drive rotation speeds and the amount of video card memory.

PC manufacturers will let you buy equipment that will not make you happy. The options are there for you to buy PCs that don’t have enough memory, that have crappy video systems, that have slow hard drives, that don’t have DVD drives, that have the wrong version of Vista to use in an office, or that are missing something else that will leave you gnashing your teeth later.

I cringe at the thought of anyone using a new computer until I’ve had a chance to remove the unnecessary crap installed by the manufacturer that will slow the computer down and give you a terrible experience.

I was explaining this to a friend who was also considering a Mac. She asked what kind of Mac she should get.

I told her, “I don’t know, but I don’t think it matters – all the choices are made for you. You’ll probably get something you’ll like regardless.”

When I realized what that meant, I had to lie down and put a wet cloth on my forehead. No wonder people are buying Macs! There’s no way for a non-technical person to have that feeling of confidence when we buy PCs. People sit down at their cheap new Vista computer and it’s slow and unexpected advertisements appear when they click on desktop icons and it crashes when two crappy programs collide. They blame Vista and call a friend who describes how lovable her Mac notebook is. Sound familiar?

Apple is making smart choices about what to put on computers and including things people don’t realize they need, which helps ensure the customer stays happy later.

PC manufacturers are making stupid choices. The availability of underpowered hardware is a big part of the perception that Vista is a “failed” operating system; people’s poor experiences with new computers are part of what’s driving people to Macs.

I miss the cow-spotted boxes. I miss the philosophy that drove Gateway to sell people the right stuff on their PCs.

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