Why I No Longer Recommend Dell Computers revised 3/24/07

For a number of years, I recommended Dell to every client, family member, friend and acquaintance who was in the market for a desktop computer (laptops are a whole other story). Initially, my recommendations were enthusiastic, based as they were on the consistently high customer satisfaction ratings Dell received year after year. More recently, as fierce competition and falling prices cut into every manufacturer’s profits, and technical support became less available and more expensive, the entire industry suffered a drop in customer ratings. I continued to recommend Dell, though with less passion, as even with their lower ratings they remained at or near the top. During all those years, I practiced what I preached, and always chose Dell when I needed a new desktop machine.

I find I can no longer recommend Dell in good conscience. My dissatisfaction with them began when they turned their technical support operation (or at least a substantial part of it) over to India. Whether calling about a problem with my own machine or one I was solving for a client, I increasingly had to deal with men and women who, despite their eagerness to help, just couldn’t understand North American English. Simple questions to them had to be repeated two or three or four times, while they would often repeat a question I had already answered for them a minute or two before; the "help desk" was becoming the "hurt desk."

Surprisingly, this same devolution was also creeping into their sales operations. Normally, a company is most attentive to the customer before the buying decision has been made, but that was not the case when I was considering how to equip my last Dell. I asked the Indian sales representative to explain the relative advantages and disadvantages, other than the obvious functional differences stated in their descriptions, between the various optical drives I could order with the system I was considering. No matter how many times I repeated the question, in the clearest, simplest and most grammatically straightforward English, he just didn't get it. Instead, he let fly with answers to all sorts of questions I hadn't asked - the price of each drive, which sort of disks it could read and write, etc. - anything and everything except what I was asking. I finally asked to speak to a supervisor, and repeated my question to him, but he was no more helpful. I hung up in disgust, and ended up putting off the buying decision for several more months. After having spent a few hours going through the Dell web site, I felt like I knew their product line better than the Dell employees I had spoken to.

Dell used to provide lifetime technical support, even after the machine was out of warranty, but not anymore.

The last straw was a few weeks ago. I use Mozilla as my main web browser, and run IE (Internet Explorer) only for sites that require it or which have Flash content I actually want to see. (This allows me to minimize my exposure to IE's many security vulnerabilities, take advantage of Mozilla's superior ad-blocking features, and, since I've installed Flash only in IE, avoid the obnoxious Flash advertisements that so many web sites are littered with.) I launched IE to view a particular web site, and noticed that my home page had somehow been changed to http://www.dell4me.com/myway. That site re-directed me to http://dell.myway.com. I quickly changed my home page back to Google, and clicked the Home button to verify the change, but found that somehow my home page had been reset to the dell4me.com site. I spent hours trying all sorts of advanced troubleshooting techniques, including manually editing the Windows registry, but no matter what I did I could not change my IE home page.

I can't prove that Dell was responsible for this state of affairs (whether via the Dell update application I've since disabled or some other means), but who else would have any motivation to hijack my home page to a site clearly affiliated with Dell? It just doesn't bear the hallmarks of your typical spammer, or some hacker in Eastern Europe.

So, I called Dell, reported the problem, and asked them to help me resolve it. After making a few ineffectual attempts (which mostly duplicated things I'd already tried), the cheerful Indian woman announced that she could definitely solve the problem for me but, since my machine was out of warranty, Dell would charge me $40 or $50 for the service. I was dumbstruck at the sheer audacity of their racket - install scumware on the customer's machine, and then charge to remove it.

I demanded to speak to a supervisor but then, while I was waiting on hold for one to pick up the line, I realized I never wanted to deal with Dell again, even if that meant I'd have to reformat my hard drive and manually restore all my applications and data in order to regain control of my system. I hung up and got back to work.

I spent hours researching the problem on the web and learned the following. This home page hijacking is connected with something called the MyWay Search Assistant, an application that some people categorize as spyware but which is not identified as such by any of the usually excellent anti-spyware tools I use (AdAware, Spybot Search & Destroy, and Windows Defender). Many Dell users have had their systems compromised by MyWay. A number of fixes for the problem have been posted on web sites and news groups; each fix seems to work for some users and not for others.

Days later, after many hours of often frustrating work, I succeeded in removing all traces of MyWay from my computer, and was finally able to set my IE home page back to Google. But I still can change my IE home page only when I boot into Safe Mode. I will never buy from Dell again.