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$279 Fully Configured Acer Aspire One Notebook – Real or Scam?

I know netbook prices are dropping, but not this fast!  Just a day after hearing about a $309 deal here’s an ad for a higher-end Acer Aspire One, for $279, shipping included!

The lowest price for this configuration so far has been on Amazon, @ $399.

I am speechless… this looks too good to be true.  I can’t find any info on the vendor (BeneficialTech.info), there is a contact email but no phone number – – but they have Google Checkout.

So I leave it to my dear readers to decide: do you think this is real or a scam? smile_eyeroll

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Everything on this Vista PC is an Afterthought

OK, so I bit the bullet: after being so critical of Vista, I ended up buying a PC blessed cursed with this Operating System. Not that I changed my mind: I simply wanted an ergonomic desktop, for the times I’m stuck at the desk anyway. Costco had a fairly good promotional offer on a loaded super-duper-multimedia HP with this beauty of a display.

Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but this 22″ baby has beautiful colors, is fast and the most versatile I’ve seen – it can even pivot to portrait position – except I don’t know why I would want to do that, considering the software does not work, not even after the update.

But first things first: unpacking. This thing has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which is nice – but why on earth do I need to plug in a USB transmitter for them to work? This isn’t an after-market add-on, this configuration only comes with wireless. Talk about wireless, this being a desktop, my primary desktop connection will be via the LAN cable, but why does HP bundle another plug-in, a wireless antenna with this unit? (which, incidentally was missing from my package). Why not just build it in. OK, let’s move on: this whole multimedia center thingie (TV, DVR, remote) does not excite me a lot, but since it there, I will eventually figure out how to work it. But wait: for the remote to work, I have to … yes, you guessed it right, I have to plug-in yet another component, a wireless receiver.

I am not trying to expand the system: out-of-the-box, just to use the basic capabilities I have to plug-in three “extensions” that could very well have been built in. Are these features all afterthoughts? (And I haven’t even mentioned the jungle of cables into the monitor, including a USB connector to enable the two other USB ports on the side of the display).

The next two days were spent with installation, which primarily consisted of removing some of the junk software loaded by HP (I still could not get rid of the Yahoo Search-bar at the bottom!) and setting up my own stuff. I killed the 60-day Norton trial, not that McAfee is better, but it’s free with my Comcast subscription. Too bad it wouldn’t install. This turned out to be a case study on the worth of Customer Support:

  • Costco Concierge on the phone: after 4-5 minutes she is still stuck trying to spell my name – who has time for this? No way she can help me.
  • HP Online Support: quickly says the disclaimer that it’s not a HP product, so I should really go to the other vendor, but he will try to help anyway. Well, 8-10 minutes later he concludes I should go to Windows Safe mode for this install. Oh, boy. If I have to start safe-moding on a vanilla, out-of-the box machine, what else am I in for during the lifetime of this thing? I tell him I won’t do this exercise, will likely return the machine next day
  • McAfee Online Support: he is quite clueless, too, but has an interesting prospective: perhaps, despite the aborted installation (which I repeated 4 times, Control Panel-uninstall-reboot-install included) McAfee might actually be working properly on my machine. Although he didn’t seem to get the concept of corrupted (or missing files) and had no way to verify his idea, he still planted the bug in me, so later, on my own I found a McAfee diagnostic tool that verified that I have the correct setup on my system. So, perhaps I am protected. I guess that’s the definition of hopeware.

I will spare you the details of my two-day struggle with Vista, the fight with the idiotic permission-scheme, (can’t delete my own stuff), the incompatibilities, the fact that there’s less and less information to be found, other than from users – hey, even the User Manuals link points to nowhere… enough said already. After two days, I can use the system (the screen is beautiful) but I’m far from done.

I’m starting to see how this supposedly good deal will turn out to be more expensive then a matching Mac. The funny sad thing is, I myself talked about this, describing the $1,500 iPhone: it’s the cost of my own time.smile_sad . This whole Vista-Microsoft-HP-Dell-you-name-it enchilada is anything but user friendly, a pain to work with. In fact, “work” is the operational word here: I don’t want to work setting up this thing, I just want to use it. Perhaps Steve Jobs and co. are turning a disadvantage into an advantage: they are not the darlings of the corporate market.. so they have to focus on individual users, who don’t have an IT department to support them. That means they are just turning out usable, friendly boxes.

Oh, talk about boxes, Joel Spolsky has a hilarious post today: Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve, discussing Office 2007’s fancy box (which is the same design Vista comes in):

…I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.
…It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.
…It seems like even rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box that many people can’t figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design.

Chris Pirillo responds: Windows Vista Isn’t for Developers?

Hm, now I really don’t know what to think. All this while I’ve been making the point that Vista is not for earthly users; now Chris makes the point it’s not for developers, either. So, who exactly is Vista meant to be for?

Update: How timely… read Raju, a Mac Convert’s testimony: Windows (Dell) to Mac: Thats a smooth ride. Damn. I have 90 days (Costco’s return policy) to make up my mind. But even if I take the smooth ride, no-one is paying for my wasted time….

Update #2: I’m speechless… but Vista has just given me another proof that’s it’s not meant for *users*. Here’s am error window:

Windows decided to mess with Firefox, without telling me, the owner of the computer what it did. OK, let’s click on the link, perhaps it tells us what happened:

What changes does it make?

It depends on the problem, but any changes made are related to how Windows runs the program.

blahblahblah … but it gets better:

How do I turn it off or turn it back on?

Adjustments to the Program Compatibility Wizard can be made by using Group Policy. For more information on how to use Group Policy, go to the Microsoft website for IT professionals.

So let’s get this straight: Vista makes changes to my system, to the most important program I use, Firefox, without asking me, without telling me what those changes were, how to undo them. And if I want to prevent such aggression in the future, I should go to the “IT Professionals” site.

Well, I won’t. A computer sold at Costco, BestBuy, Fry’s ..etc is a Consumer Device. I am a Consumer. This Operating System is NOT for consumers. Microsoft (via HP) sold me garbage.

I can’t wait for the Vista related Class Action cases.

Update: I think I’ll try this tweaky-thingy recommended at WebWorkerDaily.

Update (8/23): Dell must share my views of Vista, or in fact Windows in general, having shipped this laptop without any OS at all ;-)

Update (8/23): Even a 6-year-old knows better… he is right, my next PC will be an Apple. And since I’m already doing most of my work on the Web, the transition won’t be a big deal.

OK, this is too much of a coincidence (or not?): when I described Microsoft Money as a showcase for what’s wrong with Microsoft’s Software + Service concept, Omar Shahine, a Microsoft employee responded – he experienced very similar problems. And what am I reading today on Omar’s blog? It’s been a bad month for Vista.

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Laptops Are Crippling Us

Who buys a desktop anymore? Laptops outsell desktops, they are almost as powerful, more flexible, are with us at home, at work, on the road, in the air, in bed, in the hot tub ( see update at the bottom), and finally they don’t look ugly at home. I haven’t had a desktop for 8 years now.

And now I am about to take a huge step back… going against a trend. Why? It’s simple: laptops are unhealthy. Well, that’s an understatement. They are crippling us. It’s really simple, says the Harvard Medical School:

“When the keyboard is in the proper position for the wrist, the screen is not in an adequate position for the neck and vice versa. Using a laptop is a trade off between poor neck/head posture and poor hand/wrist posture.”

“In “A”, the laptop is too high and distant, with the user’s arms raised and outstretched, resulting in unnecessary fatigue in the shoulders, neck, back, forearms and hands. In “B”, the user has the laptop in the lap, which facilitates good arm position, but the user’s head is dropped, causing muscle tension in the back, neck, shoulders and chest. In “C”, the laptop is on a “standard” surface that is too low and close for comfortable viewing, and too high for upper body comfort. Notice that the hands are higher than the elbows, the wrists are resting on the edge of the worksurface, and the low back is not supported. This position increases risk for injury to the neck, back, elbows, and wrists.” - explains Working Well Ergonomics

There’s only one way a laptop can be ergonomically correct: by raising the screen (i.e. the entire laptop) on a stand / docking station and using an external keyboard at a proper position. I’ve seriously considered doing just that.

But all that gadgetry is quite expensive and I’d still be limited to a 15.4″screen (anything bigger is a brick to carry), while standalone wide-screen LCD’s are much larger, crisper, and really inexpensive today… so I am about to buy a desktop system basically for the screen.

Have you tried buying a flat screen recently? Not all models are ergonomic (in fact most aren’t) and it’s close to impossible to find out online – you have to touch it live. You get data like analog / digital, all the inputs, aspect ratio, brightness, contrast ratio, response time, and the like, but hardly any site selling LCD monitors tells you if they are vertically adjustable. That should be priority #1. As LCD screens become fashion objects, they are getting lower and lower – many stand so low, that they are hardly any higher than a laptop screen. That’s ridiculous. Look at the chart above – clearly, the only ergonomic screens are those with variable height (unless you want to put your old Encyclopedia Britannica to good use as a screen stand).

Of course I won’t be glued to my desk all the time, so I will still have to fall back to the laptop. This is where the Web comes to help. In the past, switching from my default computer required a bit of preparation: moving my Outlook.pst files and several other essentials, updating settings, old programs ..etc. Since I ditched most of my desktop applications and am using a combination of Gmail and Zoho apps, this is no longer an issue – I’m no longer tied to any physical computer, both my data and applications are identical, no matter where I access them. So, in a somewhat roundabout way, Office 2.0 improves my healthsmile_wink

Ergonomic desktops, here I come!

P.S. I was contemplating all this when I found BL Ochmans post. Thanks for collecting all the information!

HolidayUpdate: OK, that hot-tub usage above isn’t that rare after all. I barely posted this and now I am reading Robert Scoble typing away from the beach at Cabo while his wife is at the spa! Robert, get off your computer! There are things like .. the sun, the ocean, the hot tub, the pool to enjoy (hm should I mention the poolside bar?)

Update (7/23):  What you put your computer on also matters. See desk buying advice at Web Worker Daily.

Update (8/6/08): Gotta love this by Assaf:

You see, the most expensive piece of hardware to maintain is the one I run: eyes, back, fingers. It’s very, very, expensive to repair, and it requires a lot of downtime. So that’s the first TCO on my mind when purchasing a new computer.

Update (810/08): Opinion: Why laptops will kick desktop PCs to the curb