John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · 17 December 2003
Is Dell Losing Its Touch?
For Dell I was an early adopter. I bought a Dell computer in 1996, long before they became a dominant player. What I loved about Dell was that they would configure the box for you over the phone. All the other vendors only had unalterable standard packages. In my case I particularly wanted a network card to be installed (yes, in 1996 network cards were strictly optional equipment). With any other vendor I would have to buy it separately and install the card (and drivers) myself. Also, I did not want a lot of stuff like the stupid cheapo speakers other companies added. With Dell I could leave them out and save money. Dell was by far the best option for a power user like me. All that is changing however. The love affair is over.

The first thing to change was the switches. In 1998 I bought a third computer from Dell. Everything seemed great except for one thing: the switches; in particular the switch on the monitor. The low-end 15" monitor that came with the 1996 system had a nice typical push switch with a clean action. The 17" Dell-branded Trinitron that came with the system I bought two years later in 1998 had a sloppy spring-controlled switch (these kind of switches are much cheaper). A bad omen. Oh well, its just one little switch.

Since then, little by little Dell has been adding irrelevant products, making more proprietary equipment and generally becoming less friendly to the power users that made them great in the first place. They are making ridiculous forays into the printer business by rebranding (lower-quality) Lexmarks. Who would be dumb enough to buy a Dell printer? When a company starts pandering to the lowest element and basically insulting the intelligence of their customers it's a bad sign. Another bad sign is the way they have started to make more proprietary equipment (a la Compaq). They no longer ship standard ATX form factor boxes but instead use a (cheaper) proprietary power supply/motherboard combination. I hope they are making more pennies by doing that because they sure are alienating power users like me.

What really irks me is how a company will just forget about the tech-savvy customers that made them and suck up to home users who would just as soon buy loser branded boxes like Gateways or HPs. If they get into a cost-cutting death spiral with the branded boxes they deserve their fate.

White Boxes Are Back

What is going to kill Dell is the comeback of white boxes. Due to component standardardization anyone who can use a screw driver without cutting themself can easily assemble a white box for only marginally more money than buying a Dell special and end up with a substantially higher-quality system. More importantly their system will be easier to upgrade than the Dell. You can see the effects of this by noticing that Dell has been quietly and nervously getting into the white box market. Behind the scenes they have been ramping up a white box program to market to select retail chains. This is a losing effort. In the generics market they cannot compete with Taiwanese makers who will gladly ship you truckloads of power supplies below cost. The reality is that power users are going to abandon Dell for white boxes and Dell will have nobody to blame but themselves.

Developer Diary · · bio · Revised 17 December 2003 · Pure Content