The Risks of Going It Alone
by Lloyd Borrett
Today's Computers, PC Australia, July 1985
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Saturday, 15 October 2011