Why I’ll Never Buy Another Lenovo Computer

I won’t bore you with all the details since they’re in another post, but despite my overhwelming preference for GNU/Linux for some very specific reasons I wound up needing to get a Windows laptop last month. I didn’t need anything terribly fancy and Costco had a good deal on a Lenovo G770 so I went for it.

Well, ever since I got the thing it’s been bluescreening and/or just shutting itself off periodically, consistently every single night and at other random times during the day.

I don’t think it’s ever crashed while I was actually in the middle of using it, and as I mentioned in my previous post it seemed to be related to power saving activities (e.g. screen dimming, etc.). Since this isn’t my primary machine it wasn’t enough of a nuisance that I dropped everything to figure it out.

I did some searching and troubleshooting as I had time, looked for updated drivers and BIOS, etc. and since all else failed, I figured what the heck, it’s under warranty, let’s call support and see if they have any bright ideas.

I started with the Costco Concierge support that came with the machine, and I was pleasantly surprised. They answered the phone right away, listened to all the troubleshooting I’d done thus far and based on that had a couple of suggestions I hadn’t tried, and overall were quite good.

That didn’t fix the issue however, so they connected me to Lenovo support. Lenovo asked me a bunch of questions to try and eliminate the hardware being the issue (I’m still not convinced it’s not, personally), and they said since it sounded like it was just a power saving driver issue they’d pass me on to software support to get it resolved. The software support queue was very backed up so they said they’d put me in for a callback within an hour.

Several days passed and I hadn’t heard anything (again, not a terribly pressing issue) so I finally called the phone number they gave me and gave them my case number. After 30 minutes of back and forth with the support person (and I gave them a case number, remember) I was told I had dialed hardware support and that I had to talk to software support. (I dialed the only number they gave me, but whatever.) They again told me I’d get a callback but this time in about 15 minutes, so I figured I’d give it an hour and just call back in if they didn’t call.

About an hour later I received a call from software support. This is where stuff gets really fun. I explained the issue again, and the short version of their response is that since this is a software related problem as opposed to a hardware related problem, the software is not covered by the warranty but they’d be happy to fix my problem if I either paid for a single incident support ticket, or upgraded to the premium warranty which does cover software.

The cost for either choice was $179.

So I said to the support tech, “Let me get this straight. I bought a Lenovo computer with your installation of Windows on it and your drivers, it’s never worked right, and you’re telling me that you don’t support your own Windows installation and your own drivers.”

His response was, “Sir, we find that 70% of software problems can be resolved by users themselves so it doesn’t make sense to make people pay more for the computer in order to have that covered since most people don’t need it.”

Trying not to be offended (I’m a 1337 g33k dammit!) I explained to the guy that I was a computer programmer by trade, and that I had spent quite a lot of time trying to solve the problem myself because I absoultely hate calling tech support since they aren’t ever terribly helpful.

I then said, “Look at this from my perspective. I bought this machine. It doesn’t work right. I don’t care if it’s the hardware or the software. I just expect a brand-new machine to work properly. I find it astonishing that you’d sell a computer that YOU configured and if there’s something wrong with the software that YOU pre-install on the computer, that it’s not supported without an additional charge of about 25% of the cost of the machine.”

He just parroted back the “most software problems can be solved by users” line.

I said that’s ridiculous, but fine, I’m wasting my time here so I’d like to return the machine since it’s still under warranty and I don’t like the way Lenovo does business.

He told me Lenovo’s return policy is 21 days, which I was just outside. So basically I got penalized for trying to troubleshoot it myself and not calling in sooner.

I was pretty pissed at this point but I figure ultimately I need the damn thing working if I can’t return it, so I said, “If I pay the $179 you guarantee this thing will work and you’ll keep on it until it does, including sending me a new machine if you can’t fix it?”

Short version of his response was that they guarantee they will do everything they can to fix it and if all else fails, they’ll send me a system restore disk.

Well that’s just dandy. Given that scenario they have no actual incentive to spend any time fixing the problem. Their time is money, but apparently my time is free, so here’s how me paying for a premium warranty would play out. I’d pay the $179, they’d probably spend 2 minutes saying stuff like “have you tried rebooting?”, and then they’d send me a very pricey restore disk and tell me to wipe the computer to put it back to its original state.

I explained to the guy that it didn’t work in its original state, so why on earth would they expect a system restore to fix the problem? Not to mention I already had spent quite a lot of time doing all the Windows updates and installing software.

Since that’s all he could do I told him I’d call Costco or my credit card company since I bet they both have better return policies than Lenovo directly. He said he’d call me back in an hour to see if I still wanted to pay them $179 to fix things.

Small detour here–don’t get me wrong, I understand I bought a “value line” laptop. I’m not expecting a $3000 ThinkPad for 1/3 the price. What I do expect, however, is that the machine will work, and I also expect that a company will fix something they sell me if it’s broken when I buy it.

I then called Costco, and they have a 90 day return policy. So bite me Lenovo, your resellers back your stupid products better than you do yourself. Since Costco had done so right by me through this whole process and was going to take back this Lenogo (see what I did there?) I immediately ordered a new HP dv7t from costco.com. I figure for the $179 I would have paid Lenovo I might as well get a nicer computer instead of adding 25% to the cost of this piece of junk.

Also since I still have a nice window to return the Lenovo to Costco, this way I can get the new computer, transfer all my crap to it from the Lenovo, and then return the Lenovo with plenty of time to spare.

Bottom line here is I’m still quite flabbergasted that Lenovo would sell a computer with their pre-install of Windows, their drivers, etc. and not support a damn bit of it without making people pay extra. I guess they’re just playing the odds but here’s another thought Lenovo: if you seriously only have to help 30% of the people who buy your products with the software that you put on the computers when you ship them, is that really a big deal? You’d rather have people like myself stop buying your products altogether?

Here’s hoping the HP situation turns out much better.

The Firefox 5 Brouhaha: Why Version Numbers Don’t Matter, and Why People Who Think They Do Need to Get Over It

Mozilla caused quite a stir in the “enterprise” (whatever that means) crowd recently with their oh-so-bold move of releasing an update to the Firefox web browser and calling it … holy crap on a cracker … version 5. Firefox 5 was released only three months after Firefox 4, to the great consternation of people who–judging by the alarmist articles on this subject at any rate–have the uniquely bad combination of lack of IT knowledge, fear of change, and positions of power in IT.

To people who are freaked out about this move, I have three words for you:

Get over it.

Here’s the secret you fraidy-cat manager types need to know about version numbers: they’re totally arbitrary. They don’t imply the things you think they imply. Developers just make them up. No seriously, developers just make them up. Sure, certain loose rules apply that some people follow, but there’s no science to any of this. The number of a release is whatever the people involved with the project decide it should be.

First off, in this particular case it’s not as if Mozilla hasn’t been telling people they were going this route for several months. They even made the very clear statement that the security update to Firefox 4 is–wait for it–Firefox 5, which of course only led to cries from people who don’t know any better that Mozilla was “abandoning” Firefox 4.

Let’s all take a deep breath and think through this logically, shall we?

First of all, how much development do you think actually happened on Firefox in the last 90 days? A fair amount, to be sure. (1000+ bug fixes in 90 days is awesome. Free software FTW.) But it’s 90 days people. It’s not the typical two year (yes, two year–look it up) cycle of Internet Explorer releases. And from my perspective as a web developer, where do these lengthy release cycles for IE get you? NOWHERE SLOW, thank you very much, Microsoft.

Still with me? It’s OK if you continue to breathe into your paper bag to deal with the hyperventilation aftermath of the Firefox 5 release.

So, to those of you freaking out over all of this, forget about the actual version numbers for just a moment and ponder a more generic scenario. Regardless of what label gets arbitrarily slapped on a product, would you prefer …

  1. A predictable, frequent release cycle that provides bug fixes and a manageable number of new features and changes, or
  2. A long, big-bang release cycle that is a major upheaval, perhaps even meaning you have to upgrade your entire operating system to get the latest browser. (I’m looking at you, XP users. Do the rest of the world a favor and upgrade already!)

When you look at things that way, the people who are most unsettled by Mozilla having the audacity to call the latest Firefox “Version 5” are precisely the people who should be happy about more frequent releases. More frequent releases on a relatively predictable schedule means fewer changes at a time, which means a much, much smoother upgrade experience over time. Think of it as the thousands of minor course corrections you make as you drive down a highway versus waiting until you’re about to drive into a ditch and jerking your wheel hard right to correct your course.

To put it another way, would the people who are freaking out still be freaking out if they called Firefox 5 Firefox 4.1 instead? How about 4.0.00000001? A browser upgrade by any other name …

Which leads me to my next point. This situation isn’t unique to Firefox. Google Chrome has gone from version 6 to version 12 in about a year. That’s a major version release every two months. (Get yourself a fresh pair of shorts. I’ll wait.)

Heck some GNU/Linux distributions are even talking about moving to a rolling upgrade cycle, which would mean that everyone gets upgrades to everything as they happen, and maybe once every so often the developers bundle up whatever’s current and slap an arbitrary version number on it.

There was also a great to do over a comment made by Firefox evangelist Asa Dotzler on some whiner’s blog post, which I’ll quote here:

Mike, you do realize that we get about 2 million Firefox downloads per day from regular user types, right? Your “big numbers” here are really just a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base.

Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours. Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.

Allow me to translate that since I think most people who are up in arms about that comment completely miss the point.

Think about things from Mozilla’s perspective. They release a general purpose browser. For free. Anyone in the world who wants to use it, can.

Now let’s think about who’d be whining about a simple version number. I’ll tell you who: companies where environments are so incredibly fragile that something as tiny as a major version number change versus a minor one, even though it’s nothing more than a label, causes mass panic.

This would be an absolute nightmare to deal with, particularly when you’re releasing a free product designed for all-purpose use. You’d have company A wanting some specific tweak made to fix application A, and that would conflict with company B who needs exactly the opposite for application B, and then there’s company C who simply can’t upgrade until after this quarter’s big sales push but needs the security fixes in Firefox 5 rolled back into Firefox 3.6 right away …

How could Mozilla possibly manage that? Who’d pay for it? And don’t overlook the comment about enterprise deployment teams and sysadmins. This isn’t Mozilla’s job. Their job is to make the best browser they can and do what they think is best for the product for all their users. They can’t get sucked into the enterprise black hole and continue to innovate and please the vast majority of their other users, including all the ones who work places (“enterprises” if you will) where people don’t lose their lunch over a label.

So while the whiners may see it as insensitive for Mozilla to be truthful and say, in the vastly oversimplified, un-nuanced summary version, that they don’t care about “the enterprise,” and while Microsoft, since they’re on the ropes, will choose to capitalize on that statement (“Go with Microsoft! We give you stuff more slowly and make you pay for it!”), when you strip away all the rhetoric we’re talking about a single number, arbitrarily applied, that’s at the root of all this nonsense.

But let’s get back to my main point here. Which release model should the risk averse suits prefer? Why, smaller changes more frequently of course. But to which release model do they tend to gravitate? It makes no logical sense. None.

Finally, if your business has a death grip on a particular version of a particular browser, you’re doing it wrong.

When it comes to web development, and this includes whatever crap your vendors throw at you that you mindlessly pay for, you’re doing it wrong if …

  1. You panic when a new browser release is announced, and double panic when it’s a (ZOMG) major version change
  2. You can’t push a button to run a suite of tests to verify functionality in your mission-critical web applications in new versions of browsers
  3. You still have applications that require Internet Explorer (extra points if you have apps that require IE 6)
  4. You think thoroughly testing every version of every browser for weeks or months on end before releasing it to your users or allowing them to install it themselves is a reasonable way to do business

I could go on, but you get the picture.

This is the Internets, people. Stuff moves fast. Figure out how to deal and how to roll with it, “enterprise” or no, or go do something slower. Just don’t expect the rest of us to put on the brakes because of your hangups.

The Latest Reason I Hate SQL Server

When is a copy of a database not a copy of a database? When it was made using SQL Server's "copy database" feature, that's when.

Having run into this before I should have known better, but I needed to make a copy of a production database for testing purposes. Normally I'd take a backup and restore it to a different database, but I noticed SQL 2005 has a "copy database" function I hadn't seen before. So I figured I'd give it a try.

Totally and utterly pointless. It looks like it copies the database until you start looking at all the fields using auto-increment IDs in your old database that magically aren't still auto-increment IDs in the "copy" of the database.

Thanks for another worthless feature Microsoft. I only use SQL Server under duress anyway, but why can't they get even such basic things like "copy database" right? Inexcusable.

Empathy IM Client for Ubuntu Sucks

Much as I’m loving Ubuntu 9.10 and greatly, greatly appreciate all the hard work the Ubuntu team puts into building what I consider to be the finest desktop OS in the world (I’m seriously in awe when I think of the work involved and the fantastic end result), I have to point out one major mistake that was made with this release: the decision to replace Pidgin with Empathy as the default IM client. There’s a discussion about they whys behind the decision here, but it seems in this case abstract technical decisions won out of usability decisions, which in the end isn’t good for anyone.

My major annoyance with Empathy is as follows. If someone IMs me, I receive a popup notification in the top right-hand corner of my screen. Great. If, however, I’m not looking at my screen when the notice pops up, the only way to know someone IMd me is to look at my contacts list for a blinking icon. Completely, utterly terrible usability. Pidgin pops up a new tab in my chat window when someone IMs me. That’s as it should be. That’s how IM works, folks. Do your homework and don’t change paradigms that don’t need changing. I shouldn’t have to worry about scanning my contact list every time I step away from my computer to see if someone IMd me when I wasn’t looking.

Yes, I know, I can change applications; I’ve already re-installed Pidgin, and my apologies to anyone whose IMs I didn’t respond to for hours this week. But with such a major usability annoyance I can’t fathom why the “better integration with the desktop environment” rationale would make Empathy the default IM client in Ubuntu.

So more than anything this is to ask “WHY?” and to beg the Ubuntu team to actually USE the programs they supply as defaults instead of making decisions solely for under the hood technical reasons. Users don’t care about the integration blah blah, they care about knowing when someone IMs them.

Kill the Fax Machine Already

Hopefully now that Bruce Schneier is making a stink about it people will listen. I have no idea why the fax machine still exists in the age of email, but I still get people telling me that I can’t scan in a signed document and email it to them, I have to fax it. Makes less than zero sense.

Let’s look at the myriad ways in which fax machines suck:

  • Totally and completely insecure, particularly if it’s a real fax machine on the receiving end as opposed to an electronic fax queue (and if it’s an electronic fax queue why the hell use the fax machine?). If it’s a real fax machine anyone with physical access to the machine–which are usually placed in unsecured common areas–can grab anything they want off the fax machine. And on the sending side, if you go to a UPS Store or something along those lines to fax something, whatever you faxed is most likely in that fax machine’s memory for any employee to re-print.
  • Slow and annoying. I won’t bore you with the details, but in dealing with my 2006 taxes I had to fax the IRS a 30-page document THREE TIMES before they got it successfully. I first tried a real fax at the UPS Store, then scanned it in and did it electronically using eFax, which goes back to my earlier point. If I’m scanning it in and electronically faxing it, WHY CAN’T I JUST EMAIL IT TO YOU?
  • Antiquated and unnecessary. Fax machines should have died a miserable death 10 years ago, but for some completely nonsensical reason, people still see a fax as “more official” than email. Stop it. Seriously, stop it. There’s no logical justification for that position.

I wish I could start a petition or something to kill the fax machine, but from this day forth, don’t expect me to fax anyone anything ever again. The fax will likely only die if we all refuse to keep using it. And a loud “good riddance” from me once it does.



I simply refuse to fax documents to people and make them give me an email address to which I can send documents.

I tell them to email scanned docs to me too.

Frankly, I wish everyone would use Adobe PDF Forms with digital signatures. So much more convenient and so easy to read.

Posted by Sean Corfield @ 6/3/08 7:37 AM

It’s so funny that you should mention this. I was at Chipotle (http://www.chipotle.com) yesterday and noticed you can fax your order in. I thought to myself, what common person would have a fax machine to fax their order these days. If anything, I would think I would be able to email it like some of the restaurants are doing like Pick-Up-Stix and Dominos etc.

Posted by Kyle Hayes @ 6/3/08 7:44 AM

Sean – even with scanning you still have to print and then scan. I’ll be happy when both the fax, and physical paper, is out.

Posted by Raymond Camden @ 6/3/08 9:32 AM


Why would anyone ever wish to fax something? Also who has a landline? I have one connection in my rig, Cable internet. I couldn’t use a fax if I wanted to. Why would you want to anyway?

Posted by Luke Kilpatrick @ 6/3/08 9:33 AM

To play devil’s advocate.

I rather enjoy the tangibility of pens, paper and books. I see your point that its an inconvenience but since when did life have to be conveniently laid out for you? Is it so bad to have to get up off your butt and walk over to a fax machine? No wonder IT people are such fat asses, me included. We detest any physically inconvenient challenge.

I miss the days of satchel sized car phones, $0.25 pay phones and kids playing in their front yards, not xbox.

The point is its a trade off. You sacrifice reward for convenience. Yes yes its just a fax, but where does this end?

Posted by j @ 6/3/08 11:06 AM

Faxes were the bane of my existence at least until my company got an e-fax server, now they’re only slightly annoying.

But oh how I wish people would adopt digital signatures. I got tired of waiting, started using them at my company, got some other people asking about it, and next week we’re rolling out our CA. Finally!

Posted by Rachel Lehman @ 6/5/08 6:35 AM

I Can’t Stand Technology Journalists Who Don’t Know What They’re Talking About

Calling Adobe’s recently announced move to open source Flexa sign of desperation from Adobe,” Dana Blankenhorn’s blog post not only shows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but the post quickly disintegrates into random, non-sensical paraphrased Reagan quotes addressed at the recording industry. He clearly doesn’t “get” open source, and he certainly doesn’t know what Flex is when he calls it Adobe’s “tool for building Flash animations.”

You’re a technology blogger (ostensibly at any rate), Mr. Blankenhorn. Do some research, know what you’re talking about at least at a high level, and maybe take a course or two to learn how to stay on topic and write coherently.

No, this has nothing to do with his attempt to make open source sound like a bad business decision, and I personally am not deep enough in the Flex ecosystem that I really care one way or another. It has to do with caring enough about one’s job to do it well, which clearly Dana Blankenhorn doesn’t. A brief glimpse at a whitepaper would have eliminated the confusion over what Flex is.

End of rant. 🙂