Archive for November 2008

Feedroller

Feedroller is a supplier of printer parts and manuals. The company stocks parts for HP, Lexmark and Brother inkjet, laser and multifunction printers as well as plotters and fax machines. One of their specialties is printer service manuals. Feedroller offers repair manuals for most major brands of printers. The company is based in Michigan.

Contact:

Feedroller
1990 W. Iliff Ave.
Englewood, CO. 80110

Phone: 303-934-9090 9 AM – 5 PM EST
Toll-Free: 1-866-360-0003
e-mail: tonerstore@earthlink.net
Web Site:  http://www.feedroller.com/Store/index.php  

The Force Field Investigates: LAN/WAN Professional.com

I received an invitation today to receive free training to be a LAN Administrator as part of a “LAN/WAN Internship and Placement Program”. “Woo hoo!”, I thought to myself. “free training. You can’t beat free.”

The invitation was sent under the guise of “newsletter@lanwannews.com”. Immediately the red flag went up.

Now, I subscribe to dozens of tech newsletters so that in itself wasn’t cause for alert, but I know what I subscribe to and I don’t recall subscribing to this one. On closer inspection, it wasn’t really a newsletter at all, it was an unsolicited e-mail offer. Spam.

The first line said it was an “official e-mail” and said that I was “authorized” to receive a $2,995 training program gratis. Well, I thought, I guess I had better read the entire e-mail and find out just how free this offer is.

As it turns out, it wasn’t as free as they claimed. In fact, it wasn’t free at all.

The word “free” means just that. FREE. No strings attached, nothing to buy, no conditions. It is something given without clauses, without any charge, without supplemental fees. It costs absolutely, positively nothing, zero, that is why It’s called “FREE”.

The training program is offered by a company called LAN/WAN Professional. Although the first paragraph of the e-mail stated that I would receive the “LAN Administrator Remote Training” free of charge, it later states that the offer is limited to “Stage 1” of the training only.  Further down it adds that this “free” training requires a $95 application fee, a $195 registration fee (aren’t “application” and “registration” generally the same thing?) and a $29 materials shipping and handling fee. Excuse me, but aren’t we are missing something here, the “r” in “free”?

So it isn’t free, it’s fee.

The e-mail went on to spew out starting salaries for IT professionals and statistics about how job growth in the industry is expected to be 53.4% over the next ten years. Considering that figure is spread out over ten years, which is a long time in the IT industry, that margin of growth isn’t too impressive, but it sounds great in a sales pitch to someone who isn’t already in it.

They even set a deadline for application of November 13. That is only five days away. “Well, I’d better get busy then”, I thought. There was a contact name, phone number, fax number, e-mail address and URL to a web site. I decided to give them a call.

The name of the contact was Patrick Pule, Director of Client Relations. It was a 949 area code, which was California. It was around 9:15 AM when I called and Mr. Pule wasn’t in, but he had voice mail, so I left him a message. Of course, I had no intention of signing up, but that wasn’t why I was calling. I wanted to check them out and find out if they were legit, or just how reputable they were. Since he wasn’t available, I decided to Google around. What I found out was very interesting. I feel it is important to post it on The Force Field, in case anyone else gets such an e-mail and is in the market for certifications.

First, the company now called LAN/WAN Professional was previously known by another name, Tech Pros Group. Apparently this company, also known as TPG in some forums and web sites, has quite a shady reputation. The company was allegedly founded by Eric Choi and operated by Choi and his brother, Ray. According to the company web site, their guaranteed success of the IT professional is somehow tied to or dependent on the “financial success of the company”, A strange statement for an organization that purports to train applicants for IT certifications. What does the financial success of the company have to do with how successful an IT professional becomes after he is trained and certified? Is this marketing double speak or an indication of the company’s real objectives? One has to wonder.

But that was only the beginning. As it turns out, a number of techs and techs in training signed up with the company for the alleged “free” training that was pitched to me. The results of this training, depending on who you talked to, were mixed.

Complaints were posted and logged on a number of web sites. TechRepublic had the longest and most controversial discussions on the company and I only had time and patience enough to wade through about half of the posts about LAN/WAN Professional.com . One notable and ardent supporter of Tech Pros Group/Lan/Wan Professionals was Steve Copeland, allegedly Vice President of Business Relations at Tech Pro Group, both defending his company and blasting dissenters for their posts.

Consumer complaint site complaintsboard.com seemed to corroborate at least one of the stories posted by members of TechRepublic.The Better Business Bureau also had something to say about Tech Pros Group, saying that the company “failed to respond to complaints”, “their advertising is grossly misleading”, “they are not in compliance with the law’s licensing or registration requirements” and gave the company an F rating.

The company marketed itself heavily on CareerBuilder.com until complaints and bad publicity prompted CareerBuilder to suspend their accounts in August. This may have been, at least to some degree, due to a series of postings in a blog by Brad Reese on NetworkWorld called Brad Reese on Cisco , in which Reese investigated complaints against TPG/LAN/WAN Professional and its questionable tactics in July 2008.

Among the controversies circulated in several of these venues was a concept that brought into question the validity of the training program itself. Despite the claims by TPG that their internship and placement training program was “proven to fast track you to a professional level position as a LAN/WAN administrator, engineer, analyst or project manager”, the company  was not actually an accredited school or training center for IT certification. For instance, TPG had advertised Microsoft\Cisco paid internships on CareerBuilder that were actually marketing pitches to recruit applicants for their training programs. Reese posted an official statement on his blog August 1 from Fred Weiller, Director of Marketing for Learning@Cisco, in which Weiller said emphatically that TPG/LAN/WAN Professional.com had no affiliation with Cisco.

“Cisco has no relationship with them, and Cisco does not endorse their programs in any way”, Weiller was quoted as saying. “Eric Choi is not registered as a Certified Cisco Systems Instructor CCSI.”

As for the actual certification, CertGuard, a company that validates IT certification testing sites and certification integrity, advised users in its forums to check out the company thoroughly before giving them any money for training programs.

While it is possible you may not receive an e-mail from TPG, LANWAN Professional.com or LANWANProfessional.net (there were links to both a .com and .net domain, so beware), It is likely you will receive similar solicitations for other IT training and certification programs from time to time. There are many of them out there and this industry is just as prone and vulnerable to solicitation from companies, individuals and organizations with questionable intent as any other.

Just because we are in a field which requires us to be aware of all manner of schemes, scams and fraud against our customers doesn’t mean we are always on guard against such things ourselves, as evidenced by complaints and lawsuits lodged against companies like TPG. As such, I will include such companies and organizations in the IT Business Resource Directory from time to time in the future, not as an endorsement, but as a red flag to those who are solicited by these companies and want to know more about them before they get involved.

FireBoard – an open source project not so open

If you have participated in the FF forums you probably are aware of the current bugs and performance issues. If you are new to the site, this is the primary reason the forums are not as active as they were in the beginning and the top complaint among users who stick it out and still post in the threads. They are terribly cumbersome and slow.

 There are good days and bad days, but overall, the current forum software we are using, FireBoard, just isn’t cutting it. To add to the problem, the developers of the FireBoard forum software are not very communicative and seem to get on the defensive even when approached about the communication issue, which doesn’t help.

I have looked at migrating to other forums but doing so would either risk losing some features, require a bridge to the site that would necessitate separate forum memberships, possible loss of existing topics and posts, or all of the above. I really don’t have the time or resources to deal with it, either.

The developers of Fireboard promised a new, improved, completely rewritten, compatible and faster version of this forum component. The downside to all this is that they won’t tell us when. All we know is it is “90% complete” and that it will be released “soon”. Apart from that there is no updated roadmap, at least not one that is publicly available to view.

So, that left us with a very difficult decision. Do we go ahead and migrate to something else that will require a separate database, membership, with no guarantee that we will be able to keep our posts or do we just sit and continue to wait indefinitely for a better version of the current component that may or may not arrive this year?

At first I decided to wait it out, however doing so has definitely affected participation in the forums due to current issues with slow performance. However, during the past few months I decided to stick with my decision on the promise that Fireboard 2.0 would be released “soon”.

Recent events have caused me to reconsider.

While some may think we as users can’t complain about the development and shortcomings of an Open Source component (unless we contribute code or $$ to it ourselves) we still invest a lot of our own time and effort learning it, working with it and supporting it ourselves. It is easy to say the users have no cause to complain but I think some forget that without users there is no one to fully test the component in a real world environment and without users there is no point to development in the first place.

Awhile back I wrote a long diatribe in one of the FireBoard community forum threads about support and community. I was frustrated with the lack of response to queries by the developers of FireBoard and attempted offer some insight as to how communication with the users and keeping them informed would help get the community more involved. I returned to find that there was less communication than before.

It seems like there is a we/them attitude between the developers and the members of the FireBoard community. That is exactly what hurts any Open Source community. I kept up with a lot of the FireBoard forum discussions and I found that many members of the FireBoard forums support each other and the product as best they can. They help each other find fixes, patches and work arounds to code they didn’t write and are struggling to understand themselves. That takes real dedication and loyalty. It also takes work. Collectively, the community is the support arm of the project. For this reason they are as much a part of the development of the FireBoard forum software as the developers are.

For this reason, in a sense, they do have a right to complain. At the very least, they certainly have a right to be kept in the loop, and not in the dark.

I went  there in search of answers. Instead I found a site with more ads than answers and other users of FireBoard just as frustrated as me. If there was more communication between the developers and the users there would be a lot less frustration. Why? Because a strong bond of communication bonds the community. Users would feel like they were a real part of the project and would become more involved themselves, they would understand what the developers go through better and would be more patient with the development process (especially when there are delays) and they would be less prone to complaining because they would have a greater sense of what is happening and why. They would give the developers and FireBoard more loyalty, support and sympathy. There would likely be more donations. This should be a symbiotic relationship, not a we/they conflict.

Okay, it’s an Open Source site, but can you blame some of us for our frustrations?

Yesterday I visited the FireBoard forums again in search of an update on its progress. Instead, I found a thread started by someone else in search of the same. Unfortunately, he was “silently” told to take a hike.

So I posted. Again I explained the importance of keeping the users in the loop and again I explained the importance of community to the health and survival of an open source project.

Today, I finally received an answer.  The entire thread was removed.

At first it appeared we were censored. Several members who had posted and monitored the thread started another one to inquire about the missing posts. By the afternoon the missing thread was restored, with an apology from one of the mods and an explanation that it was removed accidentally while moving around the forum categories.

I wonder if it was done as a reaction to the new thread. (Supplemental Note: I published this blog post and linked to it in the new thread an hour or so before the missing posts were restored; whether this post had anything to do with it or not is debatable, but the timing was interesting). I will add that the entire thread was restored, but locked to prevent further posts. The act of locking the thread says volumes.

This is very disappointing. Instead of acknowledging the problem and rallying developers and the forum community together, they didn’t like what they heard and chose to “silence” us. I suppose if they could have they would have simply shot us in the middle of the square instead?

This does not build community. It only serves to alienate members more.

Well, I guess this was their answer. So much for community. I guess it really is “we” and “they” and they want it to stay that way. I guess they really don’t want us to meddle in their project.

I was planning to just try and stick it out until the release of FireBoard 2.0 and I was defending this decision in discussions with the members of The Force Field because I believed in the FireBoard project. It is now clear I made a very poor choice installing and supporting FireBoard on our site and I should have just listened to our members. I apologize to each and every one of you.

I spent a lot of time and effort writing numerous posts in the FireBoard forums during the last year on this one topic of communication and getting the community “involved” by keeping it in the loop. Removing or deleting the thread was a slap in the face and very disrespectful to the very users who could help propel FireBoard to the top of the heap of Joomla! components – the FireBoard fan base.

Well, I’m done. It is clear there is no real community there or the developers of the FireBoard project have no interest in building one. If there really is a FireBoard 2.0, they can have it. Until the attitude from the FireBoard team changes, FireBoard will receive no more consideration from me and no further endorsement.

All right, I’m ticked. I trusted the FF forums to an open source project and got burned. It’s my fault, really. I trusted the site with a project that showed promise but really wasn’t ready to fulfill it.

Then again, it does go against the mantra that Open Source is supposed to espouse, that of building free and open software by building a community.

You don’t have to be a cynic to run an IT business, but it helps

I was involved in a discussion this morning in one of the tech news groups about a particular ‘national’ contractor and the question of its legitimacy as a trusted partner. It prompted me to think about these companies in general and how many IT service providers have been burned or ripped off doing contract work with a few of them.

For the most part, well established nationals, to a great degree, can be trusted. Yes, there are exceptions (I can hear you yelling names like Barristers already) and even then it is sometimes a matter of unfortunate circumstances that cause a national company’s demise rather than intentional misconduct.

However, this industry is also has more than its share of less than reputable companies and scams simply because there is really no requirement to meet in order to set yourself up for business other than getting a license to operate as one. There is no certification, no regulation, no quantification of any sort that filters out the unqualified and undesirable. The field is wide open to anyone who wants to try it. It is a freedom to operate in such an open marketplace that is at once both wonderful for opportunity and frighteningly dangerous.

This was why I felt it was important to compile the Directory of National Contractors in the IT Business Resource Directory on the site.  I originally compiled the directory in response to constant discussions and queries about nationals both in the Yahoo computerbusiness group and the OnForce forums. I would often read the same questions over and over “anyone know anything about (insert national name here)? Are they any good?” and I realized it would be a lot easier to have a list of them all posted online which we could all rate and comment on, eliminating the hassle of responding to the same questions constantly and make it more efficient to get a general, collective assertation of each company.

I was not the first to do this. There was another list of national IT contractors on the Internet that was popular several years ago, but it wasn’t kept up and I don’t think it is active, if it is even
still around. However, as I recall there was no rating system except a recommendation from the web site owner and since individual experiences will vary with many nationals I felt it best to rate them based on a consensus rather than my own opinion.

I presented above to the computerbusiness group in response to a query about a specific national. Someone did his own research on the company in question and walked away with the conclusion that although it sounded good, the company’s business model just didn’t add up.

This what I told him: I think you are wise to ask those questions and really check them out first before dealing with them. There are a lot of these companies out there and while there are some with good intentions not all of them can be trusted.

Although I intend to maintain neutrality on this, I am compelled to say, for the sake of those new to the computer business, that just because a company says it has secured funding for this or that or just closed a huge contract doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I have spoken with owners of such businesses before that boast acquisition of such funding or contracts that sound impressive but isn’t entirely accurate or even true. Companies typically flaunt such things to legitimize themselves and bolster confidence in their companies; the psychology is that if someone is willing to invest millions in their operation it surely means the company is worth investing in and they now have the money to spread around.

A lot of us have been burned enough to be wary of any company that shows up and claims to be the new ‘industry leader’, but there are many techs just starting their own businesses who are not aware of this and are ‘ripe for the picking’, so to speak. Those are the ones I am most concerned about, because I started out as one myself many years ago and I can say first hand that unless you go into this business with a lot of preparation, a little caution and just a bit cynicism, your business can get eaten alive.

Yes, I do sound somewhat cynical, but I’m just telling it like it is.

OnForce Bolsters Executive Team

OnForce announces addition of former Monster, EMC and PC Connection executives to its leadership team

Boston, October 27, 2008 – OnForce , the largest marketplace for information technology
(IT) and consumer electronics (CE) professionals, announced the recent addition of three
senior executives to its leadership team to support the company’s continued growth. Maria
Battaglia was named senior vice president of marketing; Edward McGovern was named
senior vice president of sales & business development; and George D’Errico was named
vice president of marketplace operations. Battaglia and McGovern will report directly to
Peter Cannone, CEO, and D’Errico will report to Paul Nadjarian, SVP of Product.

“We‘re thrilled to bring these three outstanding leaders to the OnForce team,” said CEO
Peter Cannone. “OnForce has experienced enormous gains in the past year, despite
these economic times. We now have nearly 14,000 professional service technicians
across the US and Canada who have completed nearly 800,000 work orders on behalf of
major VARs, staffing firms and solutions providers that use OnForce as their marketplace.
By adding these three leaders, we are going to bring the OnForce message to even larger
audiences and establish the infrastructure for further growth acceleration.”

Cannone added, “We set out to broaden and deepen our leadership team in order to
support our growth, and Maria, Ed and George each have the expertise to help lead
OnForce as we help more buyers and providers of on-site services recognize and
leverage the power of OnForce’s marketplace.”

Battaglia brings more than 15 years of experience in strategic branding, marketing and
corporate communications for global technology and consumer brands. Battaglia joins
OnForce from Weplay.com, where she headed marketing for the youth sports social
networking company. She previously served as vice president of brand integration and
partnerships at Monster.com and worked at NBC as a corporate vice president of
communications and public affairs. Previously, Battaglia was in IBM ’s Internet Division and
ran strategic communications for IBM’s 1996 Atlanta Olympics Global Sponsorship.

McGovern has more than 20 years of sales experience. McGovern will lead OnForce’s
sales and business development and have overall responsibility for the company’s
revenue goals. He was most recently at EMC in their enterprise division, where he was
responsible for sales groups delivering storage, software and professional services
solutions. McGovern has also led sales organizations for Danka Office Imaging, Advent
Software
, Micro Warehouse and Xerox Corporation .

D’Errico has more than 15 years of alliance management, marketing and operations
experience. He will oversee OnForce’s training, community management and market
support efforts. He served most recently as senior director of product management,
purchasing & supply chain operations for PC Connection . D’Errico has also served as
national sales manager of AirTouch Wireless.

About OnForce
OnForce is the leading marketplace for contract information technology (IT) and
consumer electronics (CE) service professionals. The company enables VARs, service
organizations and staffing companies to find skilled professionals in virtually every zip
code in the US and Canada. These IT service firms turn to OnForce to expand their
geographic and skill set coverage without adding overhead or upfront expenses.
OnForce enables increased buyer control and reduced management costs, while
improving service levels and offering faster response times than traditional methods of
finding contract technicians.

Since its inception, the OnForce marketplace has been used to successfully complete
more than 800,000 work orders. The OnForce community is made up of 5,000+ IT
service buyers and nearly 14,000 IT service technicians who work in a number of
technology categories, including computers, printers, networking, VoIP, point of sale and
consumer electronics. For more information, visit www.onforce.com .

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