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Rant: How to make whitebox PCs be less horrible.

Posted by joshy on April 20, 2006 at 5:09 PM PDT

This is totally off topic for Java, but I need to rant about computers for a second.

Why does no one make a desktop computer that can compete with Apple in their price and target range? The thing that keeps people buying PCs isn't the incredible quality of PCs, it's the lock-in to Windows (well, Windows apps, anyway) and simple inertia. Most people don't know they have a choice. I buy Apple whenever I can but I still have to use one of these PCs and I think they could be much better.

If I was in the business of shipping rapidly-shrinking-margin boxes I would raise my prices and make a better computer. A race to the bottom doesn't raise profits in the long run and means you end up producing a bad product with dissatisfied customers. It's a suckers' game. Instead, why don't you make a computer with decent parts (not excellent, decent) and then start adding value. Here's my advice to the PC makers:

Make a better case:

Clean all of the stickers off of your computer and design a case that is slim, pretty but conservative, and puts all of the ports in an easily accesible place (like the front). You don't have to go all the way and build it into the screen like the iMac (which is a rather expensive retooling), but make it as clean and unobtrusive as you can. The extra 15 bucks on case materials is definitely worth it.

Clean up the interface:

Install an attractive, non-horrible visual style by default and remove or hide all non-essential software. Rename Outlook Express to "Mail" or pre-install Thunderbird (and rename it to Mail. Install Firefox and create a link called "Web Browser". Ignore the temptation to make an extra 50 cents by including pre-installed icons for every ISP under the Sun. You'll make that money back by selling the computer for at least 50 cents more.

Add some value:

Pre-install software for virus scanning, firewall protection, manipulating photos, building webpages, and please make it seamless. Don't plaster the logos for the software everywhere. Use open source apps wherever possible to customize the experience and keep the cost down. You could even contribute your improvements back to the community!

Listen to your customers:

Don't outsource your support to automated systems, self-help forums, or cheap foreign call centers. When a customer wants to talk to you: Listen!. Don't make support be an expense to be cut. Make it a way to learn what your customers want and improve your product! You will find that your support costs go down faster from making your stuff better than by trying to make the calls cheaper to handle.

Raise the price:

I'm serious. If you want to make more money then raise your price. People will pay more for quality. Not everyone, but you aren't selling a computer to everyone. You are selling a computer to people who will pay enough to make you profitable so that you can be around next year and sell more computers. Clearly there are at least a few million people who will pay more for a better computer (Apple's) so why don't you make a better computer for another few million who would pay more but don't want to switch operating systems.

Don't race to the bottom. Rise to the top.

Speaking of Apple, they have "instructed [their sales representitives] to not push PowerPC Macs [on] customers who want to wait for Intel Versions".

Given how well they are handling the Intel transition and the lack of much effect on their sales I've got to wonder. Was Apple really surprised that their new Intel Macs were ready six
months early or did they plan all along to release them in January? If they had announced last summer that
the new Macs would be there in January would it have had an adverse effect on sales as people
decided to wait? People who would wait for six months but not for a year?