What tech vendors really think: The customer is a cow

Windows 7 incompatibilities drive up the cost of an upgrade, but don't point the finger at Microsoft alone. Vendors up and down the food chain routinely milk their customers

Are you a person or a cow? I know that's a weird question, but if someone asked it to me, I'd cop to being a cow -- a cash cow that is, milked over and over again by technology providers of every stripe.

What brings this inelegant metaphor to mind is the launch of Windows 7 and the so-called $119 upgrade. In my case, the real cost of the upgrade for my home office system from Vista is at least $350 and counting, because of incompatibilities with existing application software and peripherals.

[ Pound for pound, which is the better desktop OS, Snow Leopard or Windows 7? Find InfoWorld's answer to that question in our PC vs. Mac deathmatch. | InfoWorld's Eric Knorr shows why Windows 7's upgrade costs for business surpass $1,000 per user. ]

Sure, it could be worse. If I were working in an enterprise, it would cost my company more than $1,900 per XP user to install a glorified bug fix, according to Gartner research. But for a one-man shop like myself, 350 bucks is more than enough pain.

Microsoft has lots of chutzpah charging so much for so little, but the Redmonders have plenty of company. Beta versions of Windows 7 have been available to software vendors and PC makers for some time now, and given the significant similarities of Vista and its successor, I strongly suspect that fixing incompatibilities would not have been all that difficult. But why bother when buyers are willing to be milked for even more money? Mooooo!

And when you think about it, milking consumers has become the dominant business model for much of the technology industry, from cell phones to PCs, cable television to digital cameras. It's no wonder software vendors cried like babies when the American Law Institute suggested that customers who buy buggy software should have (gasp!) the right to sue. Indeed, any enterprise software customer that has struggled with Oracle or SAP and found out just how expensive and difficult it can be to dump a major vendor knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Do your part in the herd: Just upgrade
Microsoft's handy "upgrade advisor" went through my system and found a number of incompatibilities with Windows 7, but (and here's a shock) it missed most of the problem spots, which include Adobe's Photoshop Elements 6 and even my expensive wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse from Logitech.

I thought it was interesting that the one significant software applications the advisor did identify correctly as incompatible was OpenOffice, the free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Draw your own conclusion.

[ Get InfoWorld's 21-page hands-on look at the new version of Windows. | Follow all the key developments and tetsing of Windows 7 in InfoWorld's "Windows 7: The essential guide." ]

At least Logitech customer service had the good grace to say flat out that my stuff won't work on Windows 7. Adobe sent me a weasely little note saying Photoshop Elements 6 hadn't been tested with Windows 7, so why I don't just upgrade to version 8? After all, it only costs $100 (there's a limited-time $20 rebate). But I spent $100 or so for Elements just a couple of years ago and it works just fine, thank you. Like many users, I never access many of the program's advanced features, so spending money to have even more features I don't use is, well, stupid.

Actually, the word "upgrade" is a misnomer. The $100 price for Photoshop Elements 8 is the same for everybody, existing customer or not; in other words, there is no upgrade. Talk about contempt for the customer. Moooo!

Then there's the Logitech issue. Suppose I had gone ahead and performed an in-place upgrade, not knowing that my keyboard and mouse wouldn't work at the end of the process -- great. Then I couldn't have used my PC. Luckily, since I'm a geek, I have a number of spares in the closet, but most people don't and they would really be stuck.

Now that I know about the problem, I could spend another $100 to replace the hardware, but that would cost me almost as much as Vista. What's more, the only issue that could possibly cause an incompatibility would be the drivers. That would be an easy fix, but once again, Logitech wants to milk me. Moooo!

OK, now that I'm thinking peripherals, what about my hub, my router, my external hard drive, my printer, my old iPod, my new iPhone ... yikes!

And for those of you who bought Vista-based PCs with the promise of a free upgrade to Win 7, you'll be happy to know that vendors are tacking as much as $17 to cover shipping and handling.

Here's a tip: Staples and maybe some other retailers are selling Win 7 upgrades for about $70 less than Microsoft. Of course, you only get the money back if you remember to send in the rebate. On the other hand, there's lot of evidence showing that a huge percentage of consumers never send in their rebate forms, thus adding to the vendor's profit margin. Moooo!

Stop being a cow: Just say no
Quick -- how much do you really spend every month on your cell phone, and how much of that is for data access, directory assistance, taxes, fees, and other so-called extras? I bet you don't know. That's because no one can read a cell phone contract and really understand it, much less figure out a typical bill or track down billing errors. That's not an accident, of course. By making billing impenetrable, carriers milk even more money from their herds of customers.

Cell phone insurance? Seems like a good idea, doesn't it? But try to use it. I know someone whose Metro PCS phone was stolen along with her purse. She spent about a week trying to get the carrier to honor the policy. First, she had to get a police report, then she had to file a notarized (!) claim, and then she was told that actually PCS Metro doesn't handle the claim -- the insurance carrier does. She gave up. But that was the last of her dealings with that crummy carrier. She switched.

[ Fight back! Send your vendor complaints to InfoWorld's Gripe Line, so that our user advocate Christina Tynan-Wood can put pressure on the bad vendors. ]

My friend hit back. And I'm not about to upgrade to Windows 7 -- but we can't all do that. Often we're locked into our technology purchases by necessity. Yes, I think technology consumers should be informed and act responsibly to look out for their own interests. But shame on technology vendors who take every opportunity to milk the very people who have made them rich. Moooo!

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

This story, "What tech vendors really think: The customer is a cow," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows 7 and fighting bad vendor behavior at InfoWorld.com.

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