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The Risks of Going It Alone

by Lloyd Borrett
Today's Computers, PC Australia, July 1985

  Lloyd Borrett

Lloyd Borrett

What happens after your computer is delivered? Do you have to spend the first days or weeks getting the thing working? Here I can speak from personal experience, having been both the receiver and the provider in recent times. The real answer is that it depends on the kind of supplier you have bought the machine from.

If you buy by mail order, or from a small computer shop, you will probably get a good price. You will also get a collection of cardboard boxes containing the various bits of the system, a few manuals, and any software packages you ordered at the same time. Then it is up to you to put the thing together, and to find out about the things you have overlooked.

On the other hand, the bigger and/ or more reputable dealers will deliver the boxes, set the system up for you, make sure it is working, and install the software you have bought. They will also be quite happy to get desperate phone calls when the thing doesn't work as you think it should, and send someone around if the solution can't be provided over the phone. In the trade, this is known as hand-holding.

Now I thought that with nine years in the computer industry and three years' experience with microcomputers, I could safely decide when to buy on price and when to make sure hand-holding is available. Well, I recently became involved with the type of supplier who thought hand-holding should be reserved for the back row of the local cinema. This experience made me stop and consider a new user's position a little more carefully.

Forget worrying about the reputable supplier, since if you buy from one of these you will immediately get a working system on your desk, complete with a helpful voice at the end of a phone line. Let's look at some of the difficulties you could face in the early days.

First off, some vital pieces might be missing when you unpack the boxes. Things like connecting cables, blank disks, the right software, and paper for the printer. Check everything against everything you ordered, and if anything is missing get on to the supplier without trying anything else.

I recently took delivery of a printer for evaluation without its unique ribbon. Although I could easily connect up the printer and set its switches, I couldn't actually do much with it without the vital ribbon.

Then start looking at the hardware manuals before plugging anything into anything else. If you can figure out how it's done, go ahead and connect the bits. This figuring-out process is not necessarily quick or easy, since most hardware manuals are almost impossible for normal human beings non-engineers, that is to follow.

Still, it is usually pretty obvious what plugs in where, and the system should be set up reasonably quickly. Then you can switch on the power to whichever bits of the system need it, and follow the instructions (if any are given) for loading in your program disks. With the aid of the software manual, you should then be able to start using your application package.

Then comes the time to print some information, and here your problems can really begin. Most programs need to be configured for the particular printer you are using. This configuration is stored on the program disks once you have entered it. Some programs come with a list of pre-set configurations for you to select from, but most don't. More often than not, both the printer and software manuals are of little or no use when it comes to working out the correct configuration.

A mismatch between hardware and software is the most common cause of major problems experienced by those who try to go it alone. You will find that most reputable dealers keep within strict limits when configuring systems. They have usually learnt the hard way what will and what won't work.

These limits tend to be rather conservative. Sure, they will sell you the WIDGET 55 super deluxe printer if you insist on it, but the warning bells will usually be sounded first. Of course, the better dealers will often exchange goods when things go wrong, even though you were warned.

I strongly recommend that you find out what the supplier does to help a first-time user get a system up and running in the early days. If it turns out that the answer is "nothing", find another supplier that does the job properly. If you are buying on price and are prepared to go it alone, make sure you understand the implications of combining various options, and select the tried and proved ones.

Lloyd Borrett is support co-ordinator for HiSoft Australia, president of the Australian PC User Association, founder of the Melbourne PC User Group, and system operator of the PC Connection bulletin board.

Last modified: Saturday, 15 October 2011


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