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TFF Episode 69 concludes interview with Computer Business book author

The latest episode of Force Field Podcast concludes a discussion with the author of a new book about starting a computer business that takes a different approach to the subject.

TFF Episode 69 features the second of a two pard discussion with Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy, Matthew Rodela. Mr. Rodela, who also hosts The Computer Business Podcast, recently released a new book called How To Quit your Job and Start a Computer Business. TFF Podcast host Rick Savoia interviewed Mr. Rodela to talk about how the book differs from other computer business “how to” manuals and to give listeners a preview of individual chapters and sections.

The book is available from YFNCG.com and can also be purchased through The Force Field. Listeners of The Force Field Podcast can save an additional 20% at checkout with a discount code mentioned during the show.

What is a white box?

I’ve used the term white box this week in other posts on the assumption that most readers of The Force Field and the Rick Rant blog would know what it meant. IT covers a lot of areas and not everyone in the industry builds or repairs computers. So allow me to explain what is.

A White Box is a device that is not branded by major or well-known company. The term generally refers to a generic desktop or tower computer system that is built or assembled by a relatively unknown company or brand, such as a local computer shop or a do-it-yourself hobbyist. In recent years it has come to mean any generically boxed or unbranded device, such as a laptop or a tablet.

Originally these generic or unbranded systems were assembled using white or beige cases, hence the name white box. However, over time the cases became available in other colors and even customized shapes, and today the boxes are typically white in name only.

Why I am building instead of buying a new PC

This month, I plan to build a new computer for my home office. This will be my first new build in seven years. I am doing so for two reasons. First, the computer I am currently working on is seven years old and it will not run the new software I recently purchased to edit my videos. The second reason is because Windows XP has reached its EOL and I need some measure of security.

I am not purchasing a computer from Dell, HP, Toshiba or some other PC manufacturer. I am building it myself, and I am doing so for two reasons. First, because I can.

Once upon a time, building computers was part of my business. The computers that I built were considerably better than those purchased from Dell, HP or another major OEM. They were carefully assembled, burned-in and tested by hand, they were tweaked and optimized for performance, and they were not pre-loaded with bloatware to slow them down on first boot. My computers had a very low rate of warranty repairs and a zero rate on returns. A few of them are still in operation today, although they are now eight to ten years old.

When I first got into building computers, it was rather profitable, but sometime between 2004 and 2006, everything changed. Dell had forced a lot of small system builders like myself out of the business by selling cheap computers at ridiculously low prices. Yes, they were junk, but a lot of our customers bought them because they were so cheap. Of course, after their first or second call to Dell’s horrible and frustrating overseas tech support line, many of those customers learned the hard way that you really do get what you pay for, but by then it was too late. Thanks to Dell and their over-aggressive pricing strategy, the margins on computers became razor-thin, and eventually hit rock bottom industry-wide.

For some of us, it was the last straw. It just wasn’t worth the cost of building a system that we would also have to warranty and support for a year just to keep a customer buying in-house. I had had enough of system building.

After I closed up shop in Florida and moved out of the business, I built one last computer. It wasn’t for a customer, it was for me. I told myself it would be the last PC I would build for anyone, simply because I felt they were no longer cost effective to build. If we needed a computer at home, I would simply go to the nearest Sam’s Club and purchase one. At least I would get a warranty that I wouldn’t have to support.

At first, it worked out rather well. When my wife’s old computer finally bit the dust, I went out and purchased one of the last netbooks with Windows XP. Vista was out on the market, but thanks to Microsoft and their prudent decision to keep XP around and offer a downgrade, we had options.

When my daughter needed a new PC for her school and graphic art projects, it was not a problem. I purchased a white box system (the case was black) from CompUSA during a trip to Florida and installed Windows XP, which was still available. No muss, no fuss, and she is still using it as I write.

Then, we had trouble. When my son’s computer became too old and slow to run programs he needed for school work, I searched around for a new laptop. It turned out to be more than I bargained for, because by this time Microsoft had rolled out the now infamous Windows 8.

I chronicled this purchase in another rant, so I won’t recount the details of the experience here. However, after finally locating a laptop with Windows 7, I came to the disheartening realization that purchasing another PC in the near future without Windows 8 was going to be a problem, if not an impossibility.

Now I need a new desktop computer. This time I am going to build instead of buy one. As I stated earlier, I am doing it because I can, but it isn’t because I really want to. I am not going to buy it from a major OEM because I can’t. Microsoft made the selfishly stupid decision to push Windows 8 and not allow downgrades to Windows 7.

I do not want to be forced to purchase a PC with Windows 8. I want a choice, and if I can’t have the desktop I had before, I want something relatively close to it. I want to choose an operating system that belongs on a desktop, running personal and business programs, an OS that doesn’t make my PC look and feel like an oversized tablet or smartphone.
 
Why are PC sales falling? Because they come with Windows 8 installed, and people like me don’t want to purchase computers with Windows 8. If we can’t buy one from a major OEM like Dell, HP or Toshiba without Windows 8, then we’ll either find a local shop that will build a system with Windows 7 or, as I am doing, build our own.

Microsoft is chasing potential customers away from the major OEMs with Windows 8. I should know. I am testimonial proof.

Why are PC sales falling?

The eventual decline of the desktop PC market has been predicted for over a decade. Contributing factors included eventual natural market saturation, newer and emerging technologies, and an increase in performance and power on the desktop that could eventually outpace its standard three to five year life cycle, increasing the compatibility and longevity of older computers.

During the last five years, the approaching death knell for the desktop computer was blamed on the Mobility Factor, the expectation that an ever-increasing dependence on mobile devices and technologies would eventually draw nearly every user away from the PC to leave it collecting dust on the desk while they cavorted about wirelessly, conducting both personal and professional business while on the move.

First, it was predicted the netbook would take over. It never happened. Then, it was predicted the smartphone would do it all. Sure, it does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything, at least not as well as a desktop PC. For instance, it isn’t easy to write long blog posts or edit podcasts on a smartphone, at least not for me. Now, rumour has it that tablets will take over. Sure, they are popular. I do a lot of work on mine. But I still use my desktop. In fact, I’m using it right now to write this. Why? because when I write, I prefer to use a full keyboard. It’s faster and more efficient. It is also more comfortable. When it comes to writing on a smartphone or tablet, I’m all thumbs.

Apparently I am not alone. smartphones and tablets are great for some applications, but when it comes to heavy duty computing or serious multitasking, they can’t touch the desktop for performance. At least, not yet. Sure, a lot of folks don’t do all that much with their computer other than check e-mail, write an occasional letter, surf the net, watch YouTube videos, or play solitaire. Any smartphone or tablet can do that.

But when they need to do a little bit more, at the end of the day they still find themselves going back to the desktop computer.

PC sales may have declined during the past year or so, but they certainly aren’t dead. I don’t personally know of anyone who has actually ditched their home computer to do everything on a smartphone or tablet. At least, not yet.

We still use desktops, and we still like them, but we aren’t buying them. Why the decline? What is the real reason behind the lackluster sales of personal computers?

Could it be because of Windows 8?

I think so. That’s not an original thought. It has been widely speculated that Microsoft’s poorly received operating system may be one reason why PC sales are soft, although not the only reason. I disagree. It may not be the only reason, but I contend that it is the primary reason we aren’t buying desktops today.

Remember when Windows Vista debuted? Users rejected it. PC sales dropped. When Windows 7 launched, PC sales seemed to be somewhat stable. The dramatic drop in sales after the launch of Windows 8 was obvious. The public did not like the operating system at all. When Microsoft told OEMs it was Windows 8 all the way with no rollback option to Windows 7, the continued drop in sales was a shout out to Redmond that users did not like being force fed something they clearly did not want shoved down their throats.

They aren’t buying desktops because they don’t like what is on them, and unless they purchase an overly expensive Mac or unfamiliar Linux based machine, they don’t seem to have any other options.

Yet there is something missing from all the sales data. Everyone seems to be reporting on sales of desktops from major, name brand OEMs. What about white box systems? Small system builders still exist, and there are plenty of local computer shops that build their own PCs. In addition, a growing segment of the population is building their own. No one seems to have the numbers on the sales of new computer parts.

Microsoft requires the major OEMs to install Windows 8 on new PCs, but Windows 7 product is still available, and smaller white box builders can and do build boxes with Windows 7. So can just about anyone else.

Is it possible that the desktop isn’t dead at all? Is it possible that there is another market for new PCs that is undocumented or under-reported, but may be currently experiencing a resurgence in growth? We don’t have the hard numbers, but casual discussions with other techs in the business indicate to me that their system builds are actually up, largely because their customers specifically want custom builds with Windows 7. 

In other words, the desktop market may actually still be alive and well. It may just be thriving in a different market place.

Perhaps I’m wrong about tablets and smartphones, and they will eventually relegate PCs to the attic under a cache of cobwebs and an inch of dust. But not in my house. Not yet.

If and when it does happen, it will likely be because we can no longer use a PC like a desktop, because it will no longer have an operating system that lets it work like one.

If and when the desktop is discarded, it won’t be due to netbooks, smartphones or tablets. It will be Microsoft that does it in. Whether it’s intentional through forced migration or a botched redesign due to corporate incompetence, the end of the desktop will be Microsoft’s fault.

I predict the PC will not die of from obsolescence. Microsoft will probably kill it.

Dell to close support center

Dell is closing a call center.

Last week, Dell said that it would be closing its PC phone support center in Mohali, India. According to the Hindu Business Line the closure was due to “falling employee productivity”. Translation- the number of incoming support calls are down, apparently so much that it is no longer cost effective to have one of their call centers.

This is no huge revelation. PC sales were down more than 10% industry wide in 2013, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tracker. So far, 2014 isn’t looking too good, either.

Dell is feeling the pinch, but so are HP, Acer, ASUS and other PC manufacturers. Apparently the only PC maker to come out significantly ahead of the game was Lenovo, thanks in part to Chromebooks and sales in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The death of the desktop has been predicted for over a decade. Is this the beginning of the end of the Personal Computer?

Why do techs complain about IT service platforms?

In Episode 67 of The Force Field Podcast I asked techs who work for web-based service platforms if they consider themselves contractors, vendors, commodities or customers. I brought this question up years ago in the now defunct OnForce forums and it was quite an interesting debate.

The platforms have become more established since then and after ten years of web-based entities like OnForce, there is almost a whole new generation of techs using them, so I thought it was a good time to bring up the topic again. I created polls and discussion topics in several social media venues, including one in the Force Field Forums. Once again, the results were, uh, interesting.

I was somewhat frustrated with the responses the first go-around on the old OnForce forums, simply because I was so sure of my convictions that it was almost inconceivable to me that anyone except some less informed employees of the platforms would disagree. I was wrong.

This time would be different, I told myself, based on years of complaints from some current and former platform techs who often found themselves on the short end of the stick when attempting to deal with these companies. These techs were frustrated with the perceived discriminatory policies and practices of the platforms, who seemed to clearly favor the “Buyers” or clients over the techs, particularly in regards to disputes between the two parties. So, I took up the topic again, this time on The Force Field.

I polled the techs and asked the following question: Are you a contractor, a vendor, a commodity or customer? I clearly defined each term, discussed each in detail and drew the seemingly obvious conclusion that techs who worked on service platforms were, indeed, all of the above. After all the complaining from techs about the issue and what I thought was an open-and-shut case, I expected almost unanimous agreement from the platform techs. I was wrong again. According to the polls and responses, a majority of techs only consider themselves contractors. Almost none of them also consider themselves customers!

As I said in the podcast, when you pay a fee on the platform, you are buying something from the platform. The techs pay to play on the platforms. This makes the techs customers of the platforms. As a customer, the tech has a right to be upset and complain when the platform they pay to play on does not treat them the same as they would a client on the other side of the platform. That is perfectly understandable. However, according to the comments and polls, the majority of platform techs don’t consider themselves customers. If so, why are they complaining as if they are? That is what floored me.

Either you are a customer or you are not. If you don’t think you are customer on the platform, you have no reason to complain about it when you aren’t treated like one. It’s that simple.

According to the feedback, these platform techs who complain that the IT service platforms don’t treat them as well as they do the clients don’t consider themselves worthy of such status. So, why do these techs complain at all?

It was all very puzzling. Then something occurred to me. I missed one very important concept and one very important term.

A good business should favor the customer. I stated this in the show. It’s just good business. However, there is an important caveat to consider. The type of business we are discussing calls itself a platform.

A platform is defined as a raised, level surface on which someone or something can stand or perform. There are many different types of platforms, but they all do essentially the same thing. They provide a flat, level base or environment from which anyone or anything, or a combination thereof, can operate.

The key word here is level. Platforms are supposed to be level, with equal opportunity and access for everyone and everything that uses them. They aren’t supposed to be tilted or skewed in one way or another in order to give everyone equal footing and an equal position on the platform. In business, that means everyone on the platform should be treated the same. However, that’s not how the typical IT service platform operates.

It is no secret that many of the online IT service platforms and so-called “marketplaces” treat their clients or “Buyers” very differently than they do their techs. The clients are coddled and given every consideration of courtesy while the techs are generally treated as expendable extras. There is no conjecture on this one; it’s a well documented fact. The buyers are well cared for, and the techs, well, except for a few favored fellows (or ladies), not so much. This has been a point of contention since the days of ComputerRepair.com over ten years ago, and one that is often discussed in various platform centric newsgroups and forums across the web, including The Force Field Forums.

When a company calls itself a platform, it sets the expectation that it will be a level playing field with no preference to any party in a transaction, and will have little, if anything to do with the transaction at all. They call themselves platforms, but are they? That is the real argument, and there are many technicians who work them who contend that these platforms are not level at all.

A platform that isn’t level isn’t really a platform by definition. This is why platform techs do not consider themselves customers, but some techs complain that the platforms treat them differently from the customers who are the clients. Their point? It’s not about being treated like a customer, it’s about paying to play on a level platform.

We’ll discuss this further in a future episode of The Force Field.

The Force Field to carry LIVE coverage of CES 2014

Each year since 2008, The Force Field has carried video coverage of The Consumer Electronics Show. Last year we went all out. This year we will do the same. The front page of The Force Field web portal will feature 24/7 video coverage of CES 2014, including a LIVE stream during the event. As in years past we will stream both recorded features and a live stream courtesy of The Tech Podcast Network (TPN). The Force Field Podcast is a proud member of TPN.

In addition to the live video stream, the front page of TheForceField.Net will also feature a 24/7 live social media stream and a live chat, where viewers around the world can discuss CES 2014 in real time.

To complete the coverage, The Force Field Forums will also have the CES 2014 Forums open and available to the public, for the latest comments, debates and discussions during CES 2014.

Pre-show coverage begins 2 PM EST (11 PM PST) Monday, January 6, 2014.

Syntechs tries to recruit me nine years later – why?

 A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a national called Syntechs. Synergy Technical Solutions Corporation, also known as Syntechs, was established in 1994 and is based in Boca Raton, Florida. The company offers contract work to techs in the area of onsite flat panel TV repair and some point-of-sale devices.

 Dear Rick Savoia,

Thank you for visiting www.Syntechs.com and submitting your resume. I am the recruiter responsible for your region. I have reviewed your resume and would like to discuss with you the field engineer position available in your area.

Syntechs is an onsite national solutions provider that has relationships with various manufacturer’s and warranty companies.

Please respond via email at VendorRelations@Syntechs.com, or contact me at [phone number] so that we may discuss with you in more detail what the position entails.

You may also update your profile by visiting [link to secure login page]. Your Resume ID is [id number] and the zip code on file is 32701.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Michael Credidio
Vendor Recruiting

If you’re a tech who has been in business for awhile and has worked for a few nationals and service platforms, you probably receive recruitment e-mails and solicitations for work from such companies from time to time. I’ve received many solicitations for contract work from nationals in my day, so I wasn’t particularly surprised to find this sitting in my inbox. What I did find interesting, though, was the seemingly disingenuous and spammy nature of this one, particularly because it was allegedly sent from a company that is fairly well known by technicians in the industry. Their reputation precedes them, and it is a questionable one at that.

In the e-mail, Michael Credidio claims that I visited Syntechs.com and submitted a resume, which supposedly they have on file. I took issue with it for a several of reasons. For starters, I don’t usually send my professional resume to national contractors. The zip code they had on file was another clue, as it would not be used as contact information on a current resume. It was the zip code of my computer store, which at the time was a retail location in Altamonte Springs, Florida. I moved my business out of that area nearly nine years ago, so if I ever did contact them or send them a resume, which I doubt, they sure took a long time to get back to me.

The third reason was because I couldn’t log into their site to verify any of this.

If they had my resume for nine years and were just now contacting me “for an interview”, I wanted to investigate and find out why. I followed the link, which went to a recruitment form page. I had to click another link on that page to access the ‘Resume Login” page. The ID and zip code they provided in the e-mail were invalid.

So, now comes the big question. If the ID and zip code were not valid login credentials as advertised, what was the point of the e-mail?

To find out, I called Syntechs and spoke directly to Mr. Credidio. As it turns out, he really didn’t have my resume. Apparently I filled out an online application to join Syntechs and he was working off the information I provided in the online form. Ironically, the date of submission was the same day I joined Onforce in May 2004.

So, why was he contacting me just now, nearly nine years after I submitted it? According to Mr. Credidio, Syntechs already had a “field engineer” assigned to that area at the time, which is why they never even responded to the application when it was first submitted (how cordial of them). Apparently they recently parted ways with this individual and were now seeking a replacement. They attempted to contact me using the phone number on file but the number was no longer working, so they sent me an e-mail instead.

I told him that when I attempted to access the web site to view my “profile”, the ID and zip code came back as invalid. He explained that after two to three weeks of the e-mail solicitation my profile was placed on “inactive” status. When I told him that I attempted to log in several times within 48 hours after receiving the e-mail, he dodged the question entirely.

After speaking with Mr. Credidio, the e-mail didn’t seem quite so spammy, but it still didn’t sound like such a great opportunity. If they were searching for a replacement for my area, why go all the way back for leads using information that was nearly a decade old? Why not start fresh from the top of the stack? After all, an old phone number that was no longer working with no forwarding number is a fairly reliable indicator that the business may no longer be around, at least not in the area they allegedly needed to cover.

The only reason it would make any sense to go that far back in time to find a new tech is if they had no other current leads and exhausted all possible options to find one. In other words, perhaps no one within reasonable driving distance to Altamonte Springs is willingly signing up to join Syntechs anymore.

This scenario actually makes sense, given the current reputation of this company within the field tech community. Syntechs is fairly well known among service technicians for their restrictive non-disclosure agreements, unreasonably low rates and a notorious propensity for not paying for the job after work is completed. Numerous discussions on tech discussion boards, forums including The Force Field Forums and consumer complaint sites have well documented their antics. The company has a very low rating in the National Contractor Directory and the comments from techs are overwhelmingly negative.

Would I work for this company? No, but I’ve retired from IT field service since my initial application and no longer perform contract work for any of these nationals, so the question is no longer at issue.

The question is, would you? Given the ratings and reviews of this company and the recent attempt to recruit someone based on an application submitted nearly a decade ago, would you work for Syntechs? Why or why not?

The Force Field Podcast Reboot 2013 Promo


Today, June 26, 2013, is the seven year anniversary of The Force Field Podcast. In honor of this occasion, the show was completely retooled and will re-launch tonight at 10 PM EDT. TFF-65 – Should You Start a Computer Business will also be commercial free.

Office Max partners with GoDaddy

Office Max and GoDaddy have teamed up to offer web site bundles to small and medium-size businesses in the retail marketplace.

What??

Yes, you read that correctly. In one of the wackiest partnerships ever, Office Max is going to be a GoDaddy reseller, offering domain name purchases and hosting solutions in retail stores across the country.

In a press release January 17, the office supply chain said this deal makes them “the exclusive nationwide retailer for Go Daddy websites and domain names”. Interestingly, this arrangement allows Office Max to offer GoDaddy’s domains and services in-store only; they will not offer them online (presumably to prevent direct competition with GoDaddy itself).

On the surface, it sounds like a match made in Wonderland. However, according to GoDaddy, 70% of their customers are small to medium-size businesses, which is also the market Office Max targets. Given that, such a partnership seems to make more sense. There’s just one little thing to consider. How does the market feel about this?

To the general public, this new arrangement probably means essentially nothing, except that they can now walk into an Office Max and buy a domain name build a web site instead of ordering it online. But would they do it? When you get the urge to check for an available domain name or build a web site, does it make sense to jump in your car and drive to the nearest Office Max, or just search around the Internet? Isn’t it more natural and a whole lot faster to shop for domain names and purchase hosting solutions directly online rather than walk into a brick-and-morter big box store across town?

Those are all interesting things to consider, but for those in the business of offering the same services and are part of the GoDaddy Reseller program, there is a much bigger question to ask. How does this new partnership affect existing GoDaddy Resellers?

Well, to put it simply, you may now have some serious competition from a bigger brand with a lot more marketing clout. A lot of IT service providers also offer web hosting and design to their local customers in the same SMB marketplace serviced by office supply companies such as Office Max, and some of them are GoDaddy resellers. if you are one of them, this Office Max and GoDaddy partnership is something to consider as a potential threat to your local business. if you are a GoDaddy reseller and offer domain names, hosting and web site design services to customers in your local service area, get ready. You’re now going to have a big box competitor in town, courtesy of your reseller partner.

However, there are a couple of questions about this big box partnership that can actually give you a competitive edge, if you can provide the right answers. The first was already asked. Does a walk-in purchase of a cloud-based product or service make sense? Since the GoDaddy Reseller program is Internet based, most of the resellers offer their re-branded domain and hosting solutions almost exclusively over the web, something that Office Max will allegedly not do. This may level the playing field somewhat and give the resellers who provide web site design and consulting services to their customers face-to-face a slight advantage. The success of this depends somewhat on the next item: the question of pre-sales support.

Historically, big box retailers are not known for their knowledge and experience with the products and services they sell. This isn’t merely conjecture, it’s a documented fact. Large retails sell tens of thousands of different products, items that they don’t design and manufacture themselves, and while some employees can be trained to learn the basic attributes of a few specific lines or items, it isn’t cost-effective or even feasible to learn them all. When it comes to tech-related items, most rank-and-file employees do not have training or experience in IT, which means they really aren’t qualified to provide the guidance and consultation to meet the individual requirements and needs of most customers who are shopping for tech. For this reason, big box retail chains are best suited to selling general consumables to the masses; they cannot deliver specialized IT related products and services to small businesses effectively. This is where a qualified IT consultant shines.

But it won’t stop Office Max from trying. According to their press release, “Trained OfficeMax store associates are available on-site to help each business select the Go Daddy website bundle that best meets their needs.” Sort of like their PC repair service, CTRLCenter®?

Uh huh. Well, We’ll see how that works out.

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