My 42 minutes with Michael Dell

My 42 minutes with Michael Dell

Summary: What do you do when you're the founder of the world's biggest computer company and bloggers keep telling you how much your company sucks? If you're Michael Dell, you invite a bunch of those bloggers to a private meeting room at the Las Vegas Hilton for a wide-ranging, unscripted conversation. Here's what the chairman had to say about "Dell Hell," home automation, Windows Vista, and crapware.


What do you do when you're the founder of the world's biggest computer company and bloggers keep telling you how much your company sucks? If you're Michael Dell, you invite a bunch of those bloggers to a private meeting room at the Las Vegas Hilton for a wide-ranging, unscripted conversation.

I got one of those invites, thanks no doubt to a series of posts I've authored over the past two years documenting my less-than-pleasant experiences with Dell's support network. A high-profile bashing by A-list blogger Jeff Jarvis was probably the beginning of what I call Cluefulness 2.0 at Dell. (Click the links in this post to follow my saga and the reports from Jarvis.)

The meeting was billed as a roundtable discussion with 17 participants, including customers and a handful of bloggers who have a history of caustic commentary about Dell. I recognized Engadget's Peter Rojas, Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle, and Enrique Dans, who writes in Spanish from Madrid. Notably, the invited guests included David Marshall, described by a Dell spokesman as an "XPS 700 customer who was upset with his experience - visited Dell in October," and Ryan Robbins, "who created a blog called DellLied and is one of the most frequent commenters on Direct2Dell."

With 17 participants, a handful of PR people, and the big man himself, a 45-minute meeting doesn't leave a lot of time for each individual to comment. (It doesn't help that I was caught in traffic and missed the first three minutes.) So it's surprising that the conversation was wide-ranging, spirited, and technically detailed.

The meeting wasn't long on answers. In fact, like any well-prepped CEO, Michael Dell knows how to give a good non-answer, as Dwight Silverman noted in his write-up of the event. My contribution to the Q&A was to ask why Dell still insists on preloading so much subsidized trialware (aka crapware) on consumer PCs. Dell's answer was a question: "Would you pay to not get bundled software?" One attendee said he'd pay $60 for a truly clean Dell PC; I said I'd be willing to pay $10.

A few other random notes from the conversation:

  • Asked about whether the company plans to sell home automation products, Dell said the technology is "pretty interesting," but it's "hard to do and expensive" and the lack of standards is a stumbling block.
  • The company is expecting a "massive uptake" of Windows Vista and has launched a "pretty massive training program for thousands upon thousands of people" to get them ready for the consumer launch.
  • "Unprecedented investments in change" for Dell's support system are finally paying off with a 10% increase in customer satisfaction over the past year.

The meeting was the latest in a series of efforts that suggest Dell (the company) really is getting serious about listening to customer complaints. Over the past year, Dell support reps have monitored the comments section of blog posts, looking for customers with new complaints and offering them individual help options. They've set up an e-mail alias ( to deal with unresolved support issues. And they've set up their own blog.

It takes a long time to undo the sort of damage that poor support did to Dell's corporate reputation in the past two years. Whether the company can turn "Dell Hell" into "Dell Help" as its chairman insists is still an open question. But so far, it's making all the right moves.

Topic: Dell

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  • Yes, Dell makes money on crapware.

    But when GeekSquad charges $229 to turn on a new computer, I'd say that the revenue source has turned into an imposition.

    Customer satisfaction sometimes conflicts with revenue maximization. Sometimes the buyer should win.
    Anton Philidor
    • Why would anyone call the geek squad?

      Their prices are obscene and I've had to follow up on numerous occasions and fix a pc that they "repaired". I charge a flat $35/hour for house calls and 90% of repairs can be done in less than 1 1/2 hours. It took me one hour to get a dell out of the box and completely set up with all trialware gone, new AV software, e-mail set up and data migrated from the old computer. Cost $35.00.
      skeptic tank
      • Why would Geek Squad charge $229?

        Companies rarely maintain prices too high for the market.

        So there's a market of new computer owners who are willing to pay a substantial percentage of the cost of the new computer in order to avoid being the first to turn it on.

        There's probably more than one reason that market exists, but one of those reasons must be the crapware that swarms over people when encountering a new computer.

        You're right about how long getting a new computer running takes, though getting Office and XP upgrades installed can add considerable time.
        I like to use Your Uninstaller to make certain all the crapware is caught. Uninstalling crapware programs can leave a great deal of debris.

        I don't charge my friends, except that I expect food and drink afterwards, but $35 per hour seems inexpensive these days. Given the through-the-door charge of most appliance repairmen.
        Anton Philidor
        • Go look at the price list

          That price includes purchase and installation of antivirus and antispyware software plus some optimizations. So it's kind of unfair to characterize it as the OP did.
          Ed Bott
          • Greed Squad

            Yeah, $249 to install the operating system and all updates. Software (OS) not included.

            Such a deal!
            M.R. Kennedy
          • So what's a fair price?

            The $249 you quote is the in-home price. The price is $129 if you bring the computer in to a store. Presumably the extra $120 is compensation for travel time and for the technician having to work in an unpredictable space. This sounds analogous to what many auto repair shops do, which is to charge a flat rate for a specific type of job rather than billing on a straight time and materials basis where they could be accused of working slow and racking up extra charges.

            So how much is a fair price for an activity that typically takes about two hours? Most techs I know charge $50-70 an hour.
            Ed Bott
          • Auto repair shops make repairs.

            If this were about fixing the computer or improving performance, your argument is reasonable. But this charge is for turning the computer on for the first time. A process which Dell and Microsoft have realized must be kept reasonably easy and straightforward for marketing reasons.

            Installing AV and doing a few optimizations don't seem compelling reasons to buy the service, more like advantages to encourage purchase of the service.

            Would you or anyone pay a mechanic to turn the key in the ignition of your new car for the first time?

            No, there's something about a new computer which makes a number of people willing to pay a substantial percentage of the computer's cost to avoid problems.

            And fighting crapware is probably somewhere near the top of those reasons.
            Anton Philidor
    • Geeksquad... GEESH!

      I have an online friend who makes her living working on computers every day for the U.S. government, yet when she recently upgraded and got a couple of Gateway WiFi laptops (YUCK!)and a cable modem and Wifi router for her home, she paid Geeksquad to come out and set everything up because, from what I can gather, she's just too mentally lazy (she's definitely not stupid) to learn and figure all this stuff out for herself.

      If chafes the hell out of me. Were I not 500 miles away, I'd have done it all for her for free (or she could have bought me an accessory, or something)... Of course now when she has the least little problem, she has NO IDEA what to do and has to call and ask them (or email me), or ask another local friend who knows computers...

      She doesn't even understand how her network between her two laptops and printer can, or will, work if the cable modem is down (and I haven't bothered to explain it to her yet, as I'm a bit exasperated about it).

      To me, this is like learning to drive a car, but not knowing how to check the oil or how much air pressure you should have in the tires... There's a certain BASIC LEVEL of knowledge you should have to be self-sufficient... don'tcha think?
      Jeff Hayes
      • Yeah, so what?

        So she paid the Geeksquad? No, to you and I it is not worth the added expense but I will gladly call a plumber even though I am smart enough to figure out how to fix my plumbing.

        Oh, and I don't check my own oil on my car either. Instead, I pay $30 every three months to make sure that, as well as there being oil int he car, everything else gets a 'once over' too. Don't be too hard on your friend.
        M Wagner
    • The margins are so small theses days ...

      ... on typical $500 to $800 PCs sold by anybody that everyboddy is looking for profit from "value-added" stuff. If the customer won't pay it (since they can download most of it themselves for free), the ISVs who write it WILL pay Dell to 'give it away'. Michael Dell's not stupid. For every customer that complains about this 'crapware' there are ten customers that actually use some of it, 100 customers who ignore it and 1000 customers who actually delete it.

      Do I want a free trial subscription to AOL? No. Am I going to bitch and moan because AOL pays Michael to give it to me? No, it's not worth the trouble -- and maybe it saves me $10 to have it pre-loaded. More likely than not, I am going to blow away the system and re-build it from scratch anyway.
      M Wagner
  • Not just the crapware...

    But also the unavoidable logo all over the place. I hate that. And this one is not just a Dell issue. I don't want to buy a PC, and get stuck with a company logo that adds another 3 seconds to boot time. There's usually a default desktop that has the company logo too. That at least can be removed by changing backgrounds. The boot-time logo though...has got to go. And the crapware with it. Just give us a clean machine.
    • Not for nothing

      ... do we have a group of people who maintain our corporate image on a ghost server.

      Unpack Dell, boot to CD, next box.
      Too Old For IT
  • I don't mind the logo

    but the crapware has to stop, it's ridiculous
    • The crapware is OPTIONAL...

      I just got a new XPS 410 just before Thanksgiving and when placing the order was given the option of having it shipped WITH all the "free trial" software or without (for the same price). Initially, I checked WITHOUT (since I usually don't use most of that crap, anyway), but then, since this was my first Dell and it came with "crapware" I wasn't compltely familiar with, I decided "what the heck, I can always uninistall it," so I let it come pre-installed.

      What I WAS VERY PLEASANTLY SURPRISED BY was the fact that ALL the software that came on the comptuer -- WINDOZE, all paid software, plus the "free crapware" also came on CD-ROMs so I could re-install it manually, one piece at a time, if the need ever arose. My PRIOR experience with my past SEVERAL computers -- both Mac and Windoze -- was that all that stuff was ONLY on the hard drive and you either had to take a disk image and burn a CD (in the case of the Mac), or, worse yet, with my HP, create a "Restore DVD" which gave me NO OPTION when I used it but to restore EVERYTHING that was on there, including all the crap I'd taken off (I had to use that several months ago on my 2.5-year-old HP Media Center PC, so I know first-hand).

      I give Dell MAJOR Kudos for doing things this way!

      As for customer service, let's just say I ALREADY had enough bad CS PRIOR to getting my system that I wrote an angry email with a "CC" to Michael Dell that ended up getting the Logitech Bluetooth keyboard/mouse I'd ordered for $133 extra credited off my Dell account as an apology from someone working in Michael Dell's office, so there again, they ARE paying attention to irate customers if they yell loudly enough.

      That DID salve my wounds, and at this point, I'm pretty pleased.
      Jeff Hayes
  • Scheduled Whining

    Dell is trying to consolodate whining and discontent into "whinepaks" carefully
    managed groups of whiners. Whinepaks will deal with a subset of problems
    stemming from a larger endemic issue that will go unnamed.

    Whinepak subscribers will be given assurances of gentle stroking and platitudes.
    This nominally priced service will activate whenever Vista visits grief upon fans of
    the Dell wordmark and the shape and colour of the plastic in which they enclose
    their standard issue parts.

    Why don't you folks let me know, when you've pulled your collective thumbs out
    and understand that Michael Dell, who would give his left testicle for an OSX
    license, can't do anything but pat your heads and speak soothing words.

    If you want power, ditch Dell and ditch his platform. If for no other reason than to
    make clear your discontent. Until you do, save the righteous indignation and be
    happy with the lullaby. Your anger embarrasses us.
    Harry Bardal
    • Projection is a fascinating thing

      Who said anything about anger, Harry? Sounds like you have some issues you need to work out.
      Ed Bott
      • Apathy is a sad thing

        Ed, Sounds like you have some issues with complacency.

        Harry is right. If you are truly fed up with poor service and crapware, you can either
        give Michael Dell a lap dance (and then pay him your $10 for the pleasure), or you
        can rightfully get angry and publicly ditch his products.
        Len Rooney
    • Why would Michael Dell give anything ...

      ... for an OSX license, when he can download the Linux Desktop flavor of the week, customize and load?

      Because Linux distro maintainers do not put money in his back pocket, that's why.
      Too Old For IT
    • Your post is hilarious

      because you show [b]exactly[/b] why switching to OSX is a [b]huge[/b] mistake. If you land on Windows or Linux as a platform and Dell pisses you off, you buy an HP or a Toshiba or build your own. If you land on OSX as a platform and Apple pisses you off, you [b]could[/b] switch hardware manufacturers but that comes at an extra cost that is unique to Apple: you must also ditch all of your software and start again. OUCH!!

      Use an OS that doesn't tie you in to a single hardware manufacturer. Your wallet will thank you.
  • Positive Dell experiences

    A year ago we bought some new desktop computers from Dell for the faculty at our K-8 private school. I watched the online sales and coupons and found what I thought to be a pretty good deal at the time. It was a 2.8ghz P4 system with 512megs ram, 17inch LCD monitor, and cd burner for around $520 if I remember correctly. We ordered 12 of them if I remember correctly.
    A day after they shipped, our principal found an ad from the NY Times for the same computer except with 1gig ram and 19inch LCDs for $450. We called Dell and without any prodding or begging the salesperson gave us 2 options: refuse shipment and reorder new machines (free shipping for us was included in both deals) or keep the computers we were getting and he'd send enough 512meg sticks of ram to bring the ram up to 1 gig plus he'd give us the discount of $70 per machine plus $10 for the difference in monitors. We elected to keep the computers, take the memory and the credit and applied it to a couple more desktops (which we intended to get anyway). The memory came 2 days later and I easily installed it in the new machines.
    We were told to keep the 28 sticks of 256meg that I took out of the computers. I easily ebayed that ram.

    As far as I'm concerned, the Dell sales department was more than generous.

    As far as all the crapware installed on their systems - it's of no consequence to me because I wipe the drive and install winXP from scratch anyway. I do understand though that this isn't feasible for the majority of home users.