Pc Hell, Part Ii: I've Got Company

Evidently, I struck a nerve. When I wrote "My trip through PC hell" (BW-Apr. 20) about my troubles after adding a second hard drive to my Gateway 2000 Pentium, I had no idea the tale would generate such an outpouring of E-mail. Many readers were sympathetic to my plight, having suffered their own PC nightmares. A few thought I was off base. And a flock of Apple Macintosh loyalists couldn't help but say "I told you so."

To recap: After a pal helped me install a Western Digital hard drive, my Zoom Telephonics modem went on the fritz. I called the SOS teams at Zoom and Microsoft. Unable to help, they sent me to Gateway, which promises technical support for as long as you own your machine. But my system crashed after I downloaded a new BIOS, (basic input-output system, which eases the transfer of data between a PC and peripherals), and other software. That was partly because several Gateway reps dispensed wrong or conflicting instructions.

"I, too, own a Gateway and had a recurring problem with my CD-ROM drive," noted one reader. "Every time I called, I got different advice." And, "not being able to leave a message and getting disconnected because all lines are busy is unacceptable customer service." Added another: "I have had two similar experiences. Hope you got Gateway's attention." I sure did. "We could have performed better, which is our goal for each and every customer who calls our tech support lines," admitted Gateway President Jeff Weitzen.

Weitzen added that in my case, Gateway's diagnosis "was made even more complex because of the improper installation of a third-party hard drive by one of [Baig's] friends." Fair point. But that didn't account for Gateway's reps not calling me back as promised, or my difficulty getting through to them. Weitzen added that Gateway didn't abandon me and that the company had won five major tech-support awards last year. Wrote Weitzen: "One service goal for 1998 is faster resolution of customer problems, and in pursuit of this, we will be relentless."

My tech-support woes struck a nerve with owners of Packard Bell and Dell PCs, too. But some readers thought the fault lay with me and not the hardware makers. I should have paid a pro to install my new drive, they suggested. "I became angry while reading your column," noted Glenn Kafka of Warren, N.J. "Not knowing anything about the internals of the computer, cheapskate Ed decided to do it himself. He then gets in trouble and blames everyone else."

MAC PRAISES. Mac fans who wrote in, not surprisingly, placed the blame for my foulup on the complexities of Windows computing. They claim it's no sweat to add components to a Mac. "I installed the second hard drive on my Mac in about 15 minutes, easily, without any technical assistance," insisted reader Jay Gaskins. Stephen F. Brophy of Greenwich, Conn., said the story "tickled me no end. I got up and calmly walked down the stairs to my office and kissed my Mac full on the CPU." By day, Jeff Battersby of Beacon, N.Y., fixes Windows machines. He goes home to a Mac. "What continues to amaze me is that so many businesses and individuals willingly subject themselves to the pain and expense of maintaining Microsoft-based systems. I shouldn't complain. As long as they manufacture operating systems, Microsoft will put bread on my table." As for me, I'm happy to report my Windows machine works fine again--or at least it will until I try to add something else.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.