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Comentary for: 3 November 1997

More on the Acer saga
Regular readers will remember that last week I had a bitch about the decidedly Windows NT incompatible Acer Pentium Pro 180 PC that caused grief here last weekend.

Well... some extra news!

After I wrote that column I thought "maybe I was a bit harsh, perhaps I should contact Acer and give them a[nother] chance to fix this thing." Who knows, maybe this column could have been titled "Acer, all is forgiven".

So, I contacted Acer NZ to see if they could help. The support guy I spoke with was a nice enough fellow and seemed genuinely keen to help. Indeed - he recognised the machine from "previous encounters" when it had been returned before.

I asked if he could organise to have it repaired or replaced and he said he'd check and call back.

True to his word he did call back but I was told that a replacement machine couldn't be organised and that there'd be no chance of any repairs being done until the following week - that would have meant another 5 days down-time.

Feeling that this can't be right I emailed Acer International's head office to try and get some comment out of them. You guessed it - nothing.

I can only assume that Acer, both locally and at a head-office level have no interest in reasonably resolving problems with their hardware.

Although they are a clone, Acer seem to be pitching their products and service at the upper end of the clone market and justifying their high prices by claiming superior quality and support - but based on my own experiences I'd have to say this is just "smoke and mirrors".

The local distributor's attitude sucks (although their support staff are nice enough). The fact that the international headquarters didn't even bother to acknowledge my email is further evidence that there are much better places to spend your PC budget.

It also looks as if I'm not alone with my experiences, a number of Aardvark readers have emailed me recounting their own tales of woe with Acer gear.

A quick scan of Deja News also indicates that a significant number of people have had equally unsatisfactory experiences with Acer gear and support.

My Conclusion: Defective hardware is bad enough but when the supplier has this kind of attitude to support then I'd advise you to simply AVOID, AVOID, AVOID! You can get better products and better support for the same money. In fact I'd wager that you can get better products and better support for a lot less money than you'd be wasting if you bought an Acer!

Lesson Learnt: The Net has a wealth of resources available to allow you to check the validity of a manufacturer's or vendor's claims before you buy. Most of the search engines now offer the ability to search usenet postings and DejaNews is another excellent engine for scanning newsgroups. These newsgroups are often an excellent source of third-party experiences and opinions. It only takes a few minutes to find out whether that XYZ gizmo you're about to buy has a good reputation with end-users - so don't take the risk, check out public opinion first!

Even in the local arena, keeping an eye on the nz.comp newsgroup may have saved a few people losing their money when PC General went belly-up last week. There had been a number of postings of late pointing out that their products and service were decidedly sub-standard. Dawinism sees to it that poor products and service eventually drive a company into bankruptcy.

It's a shame that Acer have such a stupid attitude towards keeping their customers happy. For instance, I see Digital getting a lot of mileage out of their association with NBR. They're claiming to be the engine behind "New Zealand's Busiest Website".

"NZ's Busiest Web Site"?? - that's debatable. Although much of the 7am News traffic is now served from its US-based server, the site is still 100% NZ owned and operated. With the daily count of user-sessions now approaching 300,000 I'd wager that 7am News is busier than NBR by an order of magnitude or more.

Anyway... Digital are obviously getting a lot of mileage out of their association with what (regardless of their true ranking) is undoubtedly a very popular Web site. The NBR site carries the Digital Logo and I'm sure the exposure and PR value of the arrangement is of significant value to them in the local marketplace.

Now, if Acer had got their act together maybe they could have had a genuine claim to being "the computer behind the busiest NZ-operated Web site in the world".

Hey, if there's any vendor out there who thinks their products and support are up to the task of back-ending 7am News and who might like to lay claim to being "the hardware behind the busiest NZ-operated Web site in the world" then email me and I think we might be able to come up with a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Is the Net reliable enough?
Who remembers why the Net was built?

You... yes, you down the back with your hand up... what's the answer?

That's right.. it was designed to be a highly fault-tollerant network of computers that would be immune to a single, or even multiple outages. The idea was that if one computer or communications link failed, the traffic could be routed around that gap in the Net.

Great idea isn't it?

But what's happened? From my own experiences it seems that almost daily the number of temporary gaps in the Net seems to be growing.

One minute CNN's out of reach - a traceroute showing that there's a problem somewhere near Atlanta. Next thing you know HotWired is off the air and the problem appears to be in California.

Perhaps my awareness has been more heightened recently because the activities of the 7am News robot are more far-reaching. I get several alarms every day, telling me that a site has been unreachable for more than 15 minutes. A traceroute indicates that more often than not the problem is at some random location in the USA.

Okay, so it's no big deal if you can't bring up the CNN Web page for 20 minutes or so, I agree. But what happens when we start layering more important services over the Net - as we seem to be doing.

We've got ExtraNets, IP telephony, online share trading and a raft of other business-related services now reliant on the Internet. While a 30 minute outage may not be a big deal to the average Net-surfer, what happens if (as happened last week), the market starts to tumble and you want to get online and sell your shares before the prices get too low - only to find that your Net-brokerage site is "temporarily unavailable"?. What happens when head office in New York is trying to send you an urgent encrypted email but a router in california has had a hissy-fit and thinks that the .nz domain refers to the Pathfinder computer on Mars?

Maybe it's about time we remembered that the Net isn't the mission-critical communications medium that some people think it is. Either that or we need to re-think how network failures can be handled in real-time.


Free calls to the USA!
And speaking of IP Telephony
Hey, this stuff is great! I've been fortunate enough to have had trial access to two IP telephony systems recently. Both the system offered by Voyager/OzEmail and that offered by GXC are brilliant and, I suspect, may well have some effect on the further lowering of international toll traffic from the Telcos.

AND... have you ever wanted to dial a US 1-800 or 1-888 toll-free number but found they don't work from NZ? Well you have two options, you can either use the Telecom Access 0168 option which will connect you but will also charge you normal international toll rates, or now you can use an excellent free service offered by GXC.

If your PC has a sound-card and microphone, you can download some free software and call any 1-800 or 1-888 number in the USA absolutely free! Your call will be limited to a maximum of 5 minutes - but what the heck, it's free so who's complaining!

Are you Ardvark-Enabled?
Okay, time for some blatant self-promotion. How many of you regular Aardvark readers have never told anyone about this site?

Well how about telling some of your associates, colleagues or friends (okay, I'll forgive you for not telling your competition).

The more readers I get for this weekly column, the more time I can afford to dedicate to its production.

So... set yourself a goal of recommending the site to at least two other Net users this week. And, to make it easier, I've set up a new page at www.aardvark.co.nz/weekly that will direct users to the latest issue.

If you've got a Web page, why not add the "Aardvark Icon", linked back to this site and in return I'll feature your site on the new "Aardvark-enabled Sites" page which I'll be promoting over the next few months. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours!

Spread the word!

TV Chat
I Can't Believe It's True!

It's generally accepted that use of the <BLINK> tag to make text on a Web page blink off and on is a big No-No. Actually I think it's okay if only a very small amount of text is highlighted and there's absolutely no other way to attract the reader's attention - but those cases are generally very few and far between. But hey - why not make the whole menu flash?

Pretty flash eh?

Another golden rule broken - the site's a P.I.T.A. to use at 640x480.

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