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Dear Dell, Please Stop Telling My Customers to Wipe Out Their Hard Drives

This started as a letter to the editor of a computer magazine before taking a wicked turn and becoming an (as yet) unpublished article.

Lately I've been getting lots of calls from Dell users. This isn't surprising since Dell, like Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, has taken a seemingly insurmountable lead over other computer manufacturers. So the fact that most of my customers own Dells isn't surprising. What's surprising is what Dell has told these people. Dell technical support told them to wipe out their hard drives.

Maybe the user called in because he or she couldn't get on the Internet. So after being put on hold for half an hour and two hours of futile diagnostics, the Dell support representative says that they will have to wipe their hard drives. Some actually do.

Now if you users will please avert your eyes for a few moments, I have a message just for Dell Support. Here, come closer, I'll whisper it so that no one else can hear:


Is that clear? Because that hard drive is the only thing really worth anything in that computer - not the hard drive itself, but the information on it. That is why the computer exists in the first place. You are telling people to destroy their precious data in order to save a piece of hardware that's basically worth nothing.

Now I understand why you're telling people this. I've worked with both hardware and software for two decades now. I know what hardware used to cost. And since you're hardware people, like the people who ran IBM when I was there, all you can think of is hardware. You think that's where the value is. THAT IS NOT WHERE THE VALUE IS!

I may be more sensitive about this than your ordinary garden-variety geek. I'm a geek all right. I have a degree in computer science. I've written and debugged programs in several computer languages and I'm constantly buying strange objects from obscure places over the Internet. But I also write. Not just technical articles mind you, but a novel, short stories, two screenplays, and more than a few poems.

It pains me when I lose even one line of my writing. and you are telling people to destroy whole hard drives worth of creativity and other information, most of which unfortunately is not backed up - so that what is gone is gone forever - photographs, music, financial records... You're telling people to destroy this to save a used hard drive.

Let's do the math. At this very moment I can buy a new 160GB hard drive on the Internet for under $50, after rebates. This means that the 40GB hard drive you told someone to destroy is worth $10 new, maybe. It's really worth nothing. The only thing in that whole computer truly worth anything is the information on that hard drive - and that information, that data, those words and pictures could be priceless to its owner.

I also understand that you are reading from a script. We didn't have those scripts when I was in customer support, but I understand about them. You tell the worried, the nervous, the exhausted and frustrated individual on the phone to do this, then this, then that and that and that and that. Finally the very last thing you tell the person to do is to wipe out their hard drive - start all over again. Your manager probably gave you the script to read to these poor human beings whose lives now edge toward total collapse.

Change that script. Change it NOW! You do not tell people to wipe out their hard drives unless they know precisely what this means and what their options are. If you really want to make them happier send them a refurbished 40 or 30 or even 20GB hard with a copy of Windows XP on it. Let them plug it in as the primary drive and access their data as a secondary. As hardware goes this is probably worth a few pennies to Dell. That would make your customers happier. Not exactly happy but at least they won't be suicidal when they get off the phone with you. Remember, dead customers don't buy Dells.

Or give them my number and have them call me. That's what the smart ones do after you've told them to destroy their lives to save a few pennies worth of computer hardware. I will tell them that they have many options short of wiping out all the data on their hard drives.

Used hard drives have no value when whole new systems can be bought for under five hundred dollars. In a few years they will be giving away laptops as prizes in Cracker Jack boxes. The real value is in the data. When Dell Support tells customers to destroy the only thing of real value in their computers they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, for me as well as for you.


Alan Silverman retired from IBM support in 1999 to start his own consulting firm, Computing Solutions, in Stone Ridge, NY.

Alan L. Silverman
Computing Solutions
Stone Ridge, NY 12484
Email: alan.silverman.computers@gmail.com
Copyright 2005
May be distributed for non-commercial purposes with attribution to author.

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