PC Migration Tools: A Bad Idea

In chapter 4 of my book, PC Fear Factor, I provide a step-by-step process for transitioning from your old computer to a new computer. The process includes all of the steps required to migrate your data from your old machine to your new, and how to install all of your applications on your new machine. It also goes into a number of very important facets of the transition process, including preparing your old computer for disposal.

Because users have more data on their computers and more applications installed than ever before, a new class of applications called PC migration tools is making its way into the marketplace. One of these applications, Eisenworld’s PC Relocator Ultra, received a very favorable review on December 19 in the Wall Street Journal.

I am not going to review the product here – the WSJ does a good job and I’ll take it on face value that PC Relocator Ultra is well deserving of the positive review.

Rather, I want to discuss why I think PC migration tools, as a class of applications, are not a good idea.

First of all, there is the cost. PC Relocator Ultra costs $70. Does it really make sense to spend $70 for an application you will only use one time? And you can’t use it more than once – the license agreement restricts you to one target computer.

Then, there’s the practicality. I think most people are like me – they go several years between computers. This means that your new computer is likely to have a different version of Windows than your old computer, which in turn means that many of the applications on your old computer cannot be migrated because they are not compatible with the new version of Windows. For example, I have Roxio’s Easy CD Creator 4.0 on my Windows 98 machine. This version of Easy CD Creator is not compatible with Windows XP, so I will have to purchase and install the latest version of the product when I buy a new PC.

Additionally, many of the applications I use come preinstalled on my new PC – the latest version of Microsoft Office, for example. So again, I would not want to migrate my old applications to my new machine.

There are a handful of applications I do want to migrate – things like Norton Ghost, Panavue Image Assembler, SnagIt, and some utilities, but I find it just as easy to reinstall the programs on my new computer. Many were programs I downloaded from the web, and I need only run the install program (which I always save along with any registration keys) again. Furthermore, installing these programs one at a time gives me the opportunity to test each program to see if it is compatible with my new computing environment, whereas if you migrate a dozen programs over to your new computer and you have a problem, you will have no idea which program caused the problem!

Now let’s talk about data migration. If you are a responsible computer user, you are already backing up all of your data frequently, most likely to CD’s. Migrating the data is as simple as taking a fresh backup from your old computer and restoring it to your new computer. There is no need for a special PC migration tool to facilitate this task. In fact, I find it disturbing that anyone would use a PC migration tool to migrate their data, because the inference I draw from this is that they don’t backup their data!

No, I just don’t see the value of a PC migration tool. At the same time, I’ve no doubt that these tools will sell well because the concept sounds good. But so does a solar powered flashlight, until you think about it.

Post Script: If you are interested in learning more about PC Relocator Ultra, I suggest you check out actual opinions from real users, rather than rely on the WSJ review. You can find 17 such reviews here. Note that 60% of the review are negative, and some of the negative reviews point out the same issues I mentioned above.

Business Model Bloopers and Blunders

You can talk about all of the things impacting our economy – government regulation, terrorism, the Fed’s determination in 2000 to convert a virtuous cycle into a vicious cycle – but I think that there is another problem facing our economy: flawed business models. There are so many fundamentally flawed business models out there that I couldn’t possibly cover them all in one column, so I will choose a few of my “favorites” for purposes of discussion.

The “No Time Left for You” or Customer No-Service Business Model

I’ve written in detail about this business model many times over the past two years, including one of my most widely read and syndicated columns, Customer Care: Opportunity or Oxymoron. This business model goes something like the old mushroom management model, modified thusly: “Keep your customer’s at arm’s length, feed them a line of crap, and expect your customer base to grow.”

Entire industries have been built on this model, the most famous being the cellular telephone industry. There’s a scene in the movie Notting Hill where they all sit around the dinner table, vying for the last chocolate brownie. The winner is the person who can tell the saddest story about their pathetic life. In my house, the winner of the last piece of dessert is the person who can tell the saddest story about their cellular service provider.

Or as a reader, William Meyer, of Ben Lomond, California, eloquently writes:

It’s a cruel irony that in what has for years been characterized as a “service economy”, service is the one commodity most difficult to obtain. The disconnect between companies and their customers is almost total. How many years has it been since companies stopped publishing address and phone number in ads and on web sites? Today, we find mainly anonymous companies, and are supposed to be grateful that they deign to allow us the privilege of giving them our money.

Amen!

The customer no-service business model works until one company breaks ranks and actually remembers that they are in the customer service business, which is why Dell has beaten the living daylights out of their competitors in the PC industry. But in most industries, customer service remains an untapped opportunity.

The “Let’s Pretend” Business Model

This is one of several flawed business models that was embraced by the now defunct (big surprise) Digital Equipment Corporation. It goes something like this: “Let’s pretend we’re in a business, and if somebody actually buys something, we’ll invest money in the business.”

When I worked for Digital, a senior VP decided that Digital would become the exclusive U.S. distributor of a process industry Enterprise Resource Planning software package called TROPOS. They then tried to compete with the ERP giants in America, including SAP, with a team of six people. Not surprisingly, they never sold a single license. Prospects actually liked the product, but they could see that there was no infrastructure behind it, and ERP implementations require a tremendous support infrastructure.

The “It’s a Miracle” or “Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Thinkin’ and Prayin” Business Model

This is the de facto model of the publishing industry, as exemplified by my new book, PC Fear Factor: The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention Guide. The publisher is printing just enough copies to ensure that you will probably never find it in any book store, and is doing nothing to promote the book. But they are hoping it will succeed (they really are!), and if by some one in a million miracle it does, then they will print more copies and promote it!

The publishing industry operates on the principle that they will promote a book if it catches fire, completely forgetting the fact that a book can’t catch fire if book buyers can’t get close enough to light a match!

In the publishing industry, there are two kinds of authors: those like Stephen King who don’t need promoting, and the rest of us, who need promoting but don’t get it because we are “unproven authors.” It hearkens me back to when nobody would give me my first management job because I was an unproven manager.

I’m not trying to single out my publisher or my book here. As I said, this is common practice throughout the industry, which is why a writer should always assume that his cash advance will be the only money he or she ever sees from a book.

The “Bigger, Stronger” Business Model

This is a favorite business model of many industries. Also known as the, “size at any cost business model”, it is based on the premise that companies should get bigger by acquiring other companies, without any regard to whether the acquisition makes the company better. Several examples come to mind: Digital Equipment acquired Tandem Computers, and when that didn’t work out, Compaq acquired Digital. When that didn’t work out, Hewlett Packard acquired Compaq. Does anyone else see a trend here?

It is also worth noting that another reason for Dell Computer’s success is that they have eschewed this business model, choosing to partner with companies where it makes sense, rather than acquire them. This way, you get a slice of the profits without any of the overhead or integration costs. Dell’s latest such move is to private label printers manufactured by Lexmark. They probably could have purchased the company, but to what end? What value would they add? The risk just wouldn’t be worth the reward.

The “Cutting Crew” Business Model

This was another favorite of Digital Equipment Corporation, as well as thousands of other companies. It goes something like this. “Our market is shrinking. Instead of finding ways to develop new markets and new revenue streams, let’s cut costs!” All of these companies eventually find out (usually on their way to court to file for chapter 11 or when they end up on the wrong end of an ill advised acquisition) that you can’t cut your way to prosperity. But that doesn’t stop thousands of companies from trying it every year!

Note: The cutting crew business model is often preceded by the “see no evil” business model, in which companies stubbornly refuse to believe that their market is shrinking. Had Digital embraced the PC business years earlier, instead of clinging to VAX VMS, the company might have become, well, Dell!

The Field of Dreams Business Model

This is the current favorite of the telecommunications industry. Build a broadband infrastructure, and the customers will come. Actually, this might have worked, except for one small problem called the last mile. Telecommunications companies blithely ignored the fact that you have to build the whole thing. Customers can’t get to the information superhighway if there are no roads to the highway from their houses!

The “Tell Me Lies” Business Model

Long before this year’s accounting scandals broke, I wrote a popular three part series on The Perils of Proforma Accounting. For years, good economic times obscured these problems, the way that deep water hides the rocks beneath. But this year the “let’s sell something to ourselves and claim a huge profit” or “let’s start a separate company to move debt off the books” accounting practices finally came to light, and corporate giants have disappeared faster than the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs.

The “Pump Up the Volume” Business Model

This business model is the favorite of the dot.com industry because dot.coms can compete on only one thing: price. For example, buy.com is currently selling my book at $15.74 and including free shipping. Their cost for the book is $14.00 ($12.00 plus $2.00 shipping from the distributor). Does anybody really think they can process and ship the order and still make a profit when they only have $1.74 to work with? Media mail alone costs about $2.00. Viewed from another perspective, buy.com beats Amazon in price hands down, and Amazon has never made a profit. So buy.com’s business model is hopelessly flawed, and I think it is just a matter of time before they go under. In the meantime, take advantage of the going out of business sale. (Prior to buy.com, my favorite e-tailer was onvia.com, another company that offered unbelievably low prices – until they went out of business.)

Amazingly, as soon as one of these companies disappear, another always springs up to take its place.

The Stupid Metrics Business Model (not to be confused with Stupid Pet Tricks).

Stupid metrics can drive a company out of business faster than any other stupid business model.

For example, it’s not unusual for companies to measure their sales people based on revenue. The problem with this is that it ignores the profitability of such revenue. Sales people are thus incented to make their numbers by selling deals below cost. The buyer gets a great deal, the sales person gets a nice bonus and company-paid vacation, and the company goes out of business.

I used to work for a consulting organization that wasn’t doing very well. To solve the problem, management introduced a new business model that required consultants to be 100% billable. “Is there any other metric?” I asked. “No,” came the response. I proceeded to bill myself out at ridiculously low hourly rates. I was 100% billable, and management was happy. There was just one small problem. I generated about one tenth the revenue I had been generating when I was 40% billable at $200 an hour.

I’ve just scratched the surface here, and perhaps I will write a follow up column. To paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein, “Silver white winters that melt into springs, these are a few of the stupidest things.” Now write and tell me about your “favorite” stupid business models.

Marketing 101 for Broadband Service Providers

Every day I’m bombarded with television commercials from broadband service providers in my area. Companies like BellSouth, Charter, AT & T, and Earthlink are competing relentlessly for my broadband dollars. And there isn’t a single thing in any of their television commercials that would cause me to pick one company over another.

The fact is, none of these companies have a clue about how to market broadband. Let’s pick on BellSouth for a minute. Based on their television commercials, the primary reason for going with BellSouth is that you will have teenagers dancing all over the house and jumping on the bed. Now there’s a great reason to go with BellSouth – NOT!

The problem is that all of these commercials focus primarily on two things: speed and price.

Speed is a given, so they are wasting their breath unless they are trying to educate buyers on the difference between a 56K modem and broadband. And if that’s the case, they’re wasting their money – everybody already knows the difference.

And by focusing on price, these service providers are nailing their own coffins shut. Instead of focusing on price, they should be providing and marketing value added features and services that provide the opportunity for value pricing.

Amazingly, some broadband service providers already provide some value added services – they just do a lousy job of marketing them. BellSouth was recently rated best in reliability by J.D. Powers, yet this little tidbit gets all too brief a mention in BellSouth’s commercials, when it should be the primary focus. BellSouth provides a number of other value added services, including MailGuard, a very effective spam filter that has eliminated 98% of the spam from ever getting to my inbox, and web mail, which allows customers with Internet access to check their BellSouth email account from anywhere in the world. And BellSouth’s technical support through an on-line DSL forum is second to none (although their help desk is still spotty at best.)

Earthlink recently announced that they will provide their broadband customers with a browser plugin to stop those annoying popup ads.

There are dozens of other features and services broadband service providers should bundle with their broadband connection. Broadband service providers need to wake up to the fact that it’s not just about speed and price. It’s all about differentiation. The broadband service provider that delights their customers with value added features and services can command a premium price, yet the marketing dunderheads in these companies seem to think its all about dancing teenagers. Now if BellSouth or Earthlink could only come up with a way to make teenagers clean their rooms, then we’d have something worth talking about!

A New “Standard” For Customer “No-Service”

From time to time, I like to write a column about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: customer service. Sometimes I use these columns as a forum to recognize companies who do an outstanding job of providing customer service. Sadly, I so rarely have positive customer service experiences that I feel the need to shout it from the mountain tops when I do. I cling to the hope that by doing so I will inspire other companies to improve in this area.

We have taken a giant step backwards with regard to the use of the telephone based customer service. More and more companies are making it absolutely impossible for customers to reach them by telephone. I run across e-commerce web sites every day that provide absolutely no means of contacting the company by phone. These companies don’t want to talk to their customers. If you have a question, you have to submit it by email and wait — sometimes for several days — to receive a reply. To make matters worse, some of these companies try using technology to construct a reply to your e-mail. I believe that these companies use software that scans your message for key words and then chooses a response from a list of pre-formulated responses. In no case have such automated responses ever come close to answering my question.

Even the companies that do allow you to call them hide their phone numbers so well on their web site that finding a customer service or technical support phone number is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo? A primary example of this is Symantec. If you have a problem with one of their products, you need to wind your way through their knowledge data base before you can come out the other end and get to see a phone number you can call — a process that wastes a good five minutes of your time. In other words, the last thing Symantec wants to do is talk to you. They would rather have their customers root around for hours in their so-called knowledge base than actually talk to a customer.

It would be bad enough if companies just wanted to avoid talking to customers. They also want to avoid talking to their affiliates — business partners who drive business their way.

Recently, I signed up with a number of affiliate programs (please see the letter at the top of my home page). One of the companies I decided to partner with is Buy.com. I chose to partner with Buy.com because I often order from them myself, and I have found that they consistently have the lowest prices on some of the printer supplies I purchase.

Well, I immediately ran into a problem with Buy.com. One of the links they allow affiliates to create on their web sites promises free shipping on orders over $99. I copied this link to my web site, only to find out through personal experience that Buy.com is not honoring this offer.

And for the past four days, I have been arguing with them — by e-mail, since there is no way to call them. Each e-mail exchange takes about 12 hours, so I am able to communicate with them about once a day.

(For you information, they are claiming that the offer is no longer valid, even though they still make the offer on their web site.)

The point is, as a business partner, I am unable to work with them to resolve the issue, because I can’t talk to them. We can exchange e-mails until hell freezes over, but the problem is clearly not going to be solved. So I have replaced the Buy.com icon I had on my web site with a different icon — one that makes no reference to free shipping — because I don’t want to have my readers complaining to me if they place an order for more than $100 and get charged for shipping.

The Logical Progression of Customer No-Service

This whole notion that technology should eliminate the need for verbal communications absolutely astounds me. I can only imagine what goes on in the board room of some of these companies. Here is how I see customer service progressing over the next few years.

CEO: Bob, eliminating the phone number on our web site didn’t solve the customer service problem. We’re now getting inundated with e-mails from customers. It’s costing us too much to reply. What can we do?

Chief Technology Officer: I have an idea. Let’s remove the e-mail link from our web site and provide a street address instead. That way, only the customers that really need help will bother to contact us.

CEO: Great idea Bob! I knew I made the right decision when I hired you. Let’s do it!

Three months later

CEO: Bob, our mailroom is swamped. It’s costing us too much to answer these letters, and customers are writing a second and third time to tell us that we did not understand their problem. What can we do?

Chief Technology Officer: I was afraid this might happen, Jack, and I have a plan. From now on, we require customers to send us $10 with each customer service request. That way, only the customers that really, really have problems will contact us.

CEO: Great idea Bob! Where the hell would I be without you?

Three months later

CEO: Great job, Bob! We haven’t had as single complaint or inquiry from a customer in two months! Our customer support costs are way down. We’ve laid off both of our highly trained customer service specialists and are saving $10,000 a year!

CFO: If I may interject, Jack, I have even better news for you. We can lay off all of our order entry people also, because we haven’t had an order in two months. And we can let all of the people in shipping go too.

Far fetched? Perhaps. I mean, the idea of a company going out of business for providing lousy customer service is a ridiculous and far fetched as a major corporation going out of business due to an accounting scandal. And we all know that will never happen.

Back Up Blues Revisited

I can’t seem to get away from this subject. And it’s so darn important, I’m not sure I want to.

My earlier column, Back Up Blues, triggered some interesting responses. One reader inquired as to whether I had considered or tried another drive imaging product, PowerQuest’s Drive Image. The answer is, “Yes”, I did consider it, and “No” I didn’t try it. PowerQuest’s product was not compatible with as many makes and models as CD RW’s as Norton Ghost, and more to the point, it was not compatible with my CD RW. So while it may be a good product, I have no way of testing it.

Another comment I received was directed at whether or not it is important to keep your hard disk back up off site. The writer reasoned that if somebody steals your computer, your hard disk back up isn’t going to do you much good anyway because the drivers on the back up will probably not be compatible with your new computer. Its kind of like buying a spare remote control for your television, only to have your television crap out. Your spare remote is perfectly good, but it won’t work with your new television.

(By the way, this is another good reason to take separate data back ups — you can easily restore your data to any computer.)

Well, I accept the validity of that statement, up to a point. But what happens if somebody steals your back up, not your computer? Or what happens if your back up accidentally gets lost or damaged? I know it won’t get lost in my safe deposit box. It just makes sense to keep it there.

The other day, I was chatting with my neighbor about the importance of taking back ups. Now you have to understand that my neighbor is basically a computer genius. He proudly told me that he didn’t have to worry about backing up his data because he had a RAID configuration. For those of you who are not familiar with RAID. the acronym stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. RAID configurations build in redundancy to a network to prevent loss of data in the event of a disc failure.

I allowed my neighbor to regale me with the details of his home network configuration, and then smiled and said, “You don’t have a back up.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

You don’t have a back up unless you store it offsite.” I said.No RAID configuration will protect your data against fire or theft.”

He immediately agreed with my observation. See? I told you he was brilliant.

It occurred to me recently that with each passing day, we become more dependent on the data stored on our computers.

Think about it. Only a few years ago, our computers were mainly repositories for MS Word documents and e-mail. Today, with the advent of broadband connections, we use our computers to download and store MP3’s and Videos. We also store everything from digital photographs to tax returns and other financial data on our computers. Some people even scan their important paper documents and throw the paper away.

It is not much of an exaggeration to state that with each passing day, more of our lives are encoded in a bunch of zeroes and ones on a hard drive.

And it freaks me out that most people don’t back up their data, let alone their entire hard disc. Let’s think about it. A hard drive spins at anywhere from 5400 to 7200 rpm, and an electromagnetic head sits millionths of an inch above this spinning platter, writing a bunch of zeroes and ones to it. We leave our computers on for 10, 12, hours a day. Some of us leave them on 7 by 24.

How can one possibly expect that this electromechanical device, spinning at 7200 rpm for 12 hours a day, is never going to fail?

It is going to fail. I absolutely guarantee it. In fact, your hard disc is the single most likely component of your computer to fail. And when it does fail, you will lose years worth of data if you haven’t been taking back ups.

And getting back to the original theme of this series, a hard disc failure is not the only way you can lose your data. A terrorist attack on your computer, the theft of your computer, or some ill behaved application can result in the loss of data, not to mention the possibility that you might accidentally delete some valuable data. (Heck, I admit that I did this myself the other day. Fortunately, in addition to backing up my data on CD RW’s, I copy my data over my home network to another computer. So I was easily and instantly able to retrieve the file I had accidentally deleted.)

Recently, a well known writer for Fortune magazine wrote a column blaming the world for his troubles. His personal computer had caught a virus, and it had destroyed all of the data on his hard disc. All of his precious MP3’s were gone. He was irate as hell that somebody would do this to him. The nerve of somebody writing a virus and infecting his computer.

I wrote him a letter, imploring him gently to grow up and live in the real world. I suggested that he might be the type of person who leaves the doors and windows to his house unlocked when he goes to work, and then blames the world when his house gets robbed. I also suggested that he read my series for some useful advice on how to avoid this problem in the future. Instead of taking my advice, I received a reply from him calling me unsympathetic and basically telling me that I will never make if as a writer because I don’t have empathy.

Well, he’s correct about one thing. I have no tolerance for idiots who don’t back up their data and then blame somebody else for the inevitable disaster.

So back it up. Back it up now, and back it up often. I promise there will come a day you will say, “I’m sure glad I followed Alan’s advice.”

Well, gotta go. Gotta back up my web site to my local drive. That’s right — I don’t assume that my web hosting service is backing up my web site. I back it up to my hard disc, and from there, to a CD RW.

Copyright 2002 e-Broadband News. All rights reserved. E-Broadband News provides readers with news, commentary, and analysis pertaining to companies whose products and services increase bandwidth and storewidth for faster internet access.