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  • See, Other Computers Have Defects Too!

    July 14th, 2006

    In recent weeks, I’ve read articles that the shine might be fading from Apple’s hardware, simply because some of the new Intel-based models have growing pains. It’s all consistent with my recent rants about rush releases, where Apple is pushing too hard to get products on the shelves as fast as possible, and maybe not paying as much attention to proper Q&A as they should.

    Now I don’t have to spend much time on the teething issues. We have MacBook Pro batteries that swell and stop accepting full charges, unusual whining noise, and heat, heat and more heat. The MacBook’s plastics are too porous and become stained. You’ve heard about it, and you also know that Apple is doing things to address at least some of the problems, so don’t feel abandoned by Steve Jobs and company.

    While I suppose you could also worry about new Apple customers who, bitten by these hardware defects, might decide that things weren’t really so bad on their side of the tracks after all. That is until you read the news about some of the pain at Dell.

    Now nobody in his or her right mind will predict Dell’s early demise. The company remains hugely successful, even though sales are flattening. Dell is also promising to spend $100 million to fix its broken customer service facilities, no doubt realizing that the people who own Dell gear want to speak with support people who understand their native language and the fundamentals of their problems.

    Then there is the report that Dell experienced what is known in corporate-speak as a “thermal incident,” where one of its note-books burst into flames in Osaka, Japan back in June. It happened during a corporate meeting, and the photograph, as published by a site known as The Inquirer, has apparently taken on a life of its own.

    Now before Apple went to Intel for its processors, you might have joked about the thermal deficiencies of WinTel products, but now that Macs use the same chips, what is there to say? Well, perhaps Dell, jealous of Apple’s reputation for hot gear (as in excitement, not operating temperature), wanted to product a smokin’ note-book, and took the task too literally.

    In this notorious incident, the cause of the fire was apparently traced to a faulty cell in the note-book’s lithium ion battery. Dell’s corporate spin experts no doubt wanted to make everyone believe the incident was just those one of those things, which happens on a rare occasion, and you shouldn’t fear that your Inspiron might be the next candidate for a conflagration.

    At the same time, you wonder what Dell might have done had the incident not occurred at a public meeting, where the whole affair could be photographed.

    Of course, Dell’s current posture is to just change the subject, as someone whose hands are caught in the cookie jar might do. Their latest maneuver to boost public confidence is to reduce the number of confusing rebates at their site. So instead of giving them a short-term loan whenever you buy one of their products, you can just pay the actual transaction price for a change up front. Now that would be a healthy change, right? Makes you feel warm and fuzzy about the whole thing.

    But I really want to be fair to Dell. Like other PC makers, including, dare I say it, Apple, they use industry standard parts for their products. A small number of Asian plants build all these computers, and sometimes things go wrong.

    At the same time, a note-book computer that bursts into flames is something rather more serious than one that runs a little too hot. That is a serious safety defect, and I hope for everyone’s sake that it was only a one-of-a-kind incident. In the meantime, I trust those of you who own a Dell portable might consider keeping a fire extinguisher handy, and I’m at least half-serious about that.

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