Repeat business guaranteed

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How would you like to declare all your customers’ equipment redundant at frequent intervals and give them no choice but to replace it? To sell them a complete new set of home electrical gear when they move from an old house to a new one, never mind that it was all working OK? Nice work if you can get it. How would you like to be a housebuilder or estate agent in a world where a new house is required every few years or when new appliances or cars are bought, and then the old house is demolished? We’re really talking computers here.
While my PC outfit at work has to be regularly updated to keep up with the IT demands of the setmakers’ service divisions (including now distance-learning in technicians’ instructional courses) it’s mildly irritating at home to have to replace much of the software when updating from an older PC to a new one. Operating systems generally come bundled with new computers, and later ones are welcome, with their simpler, smarter and more intuitive working and their greater immunity to crashes and glitches. But why must I also replace – at a three-figure cost – perfectly good, if old, picture and word processing applications merely because they are not amenable to working with the new operating system? They did all I required of them, indeed I had hardly scratched the surface of what they could do. I cannot believe that new systems could not have been made compatible with them – if the producers wanted to. I think there’s a lot of mutually beneficial collusion between companies across the board in the computer industry.
I’m obliged to buy new applications software, only to find that it has not necessarily better than what it’s replaced. Sometimes it seems (as with TV sets) that superfluous ‘features’ are added just for the sake of presenting a new version.
Even with this short updating cycle, PC hardware dealers have been suffering from the same sort of price erosion which has driven us into dire straits. A few years ago a desktop computer cost about a thousand pounds give or take the VAT. Now an excellent replacement, faster, smarter and with masses more memory, can be had for less than £350 retail.
Really the big money, in both the PC and entertainment fields, is not in hardware at all: it’s in software, content and consumables. That’s why Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, why Sony went into the music business and why so many service-provider companies see the hardware as just a means to an end. Sky designs, makes, sells and subsidises receivers, routers etc. in order to maximise subscriptions, while PC-peripheral manufacturers will sell you a printer dirt cheap, leaving you to discover that replacement ink cartridges, required at frequent intervals, can cost over a third of what you paid for the machine itself.
I guess the built-in obsolescence in the computer sphere does have the advantages of ensuring that everything stays up to date. Maybe it’s right that we should in effect ‘rent’ our software and refresh it at regular intervals? Plainly it depends where you stand in the industry, whether software-writer or punter, Chinese motherboard manufacturer or software distributor. What’s for sure is that when real problems arise, in the PC or home-entertainment fields, the human skills required to solve them do not come cheap. Good diagnosticians are increasingly rare, and their services are valuable indeed.
What do readers think? Please write or email your opinion to the address on page 3. We promise to publish anything interesting.

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