Not to get on a rant against lawyers or anything (see previous post about Avvo being sued), but I couldn’t help mentioning the little brouhaha Dell got into recently with the Consumerist blog, after a lawyer for the company company wrote the website an email asking them to take down one of their posts — specifically, this post, which contained 22 suggestions from a former Dell employee about how to get good deals and/or good service. I encourage you to read the whole thing and email it to your friends.
In the letter, which is quoted verbatim on Consumerist, Tracy Holland of Dell says that the spot in question “contains information that is confidential and proprietary to Dell,” and that this is “in violation of his or her employment agreement and confidentiality obligations.” As I was reading, I imagined the editor of Consumerist reading the letter and wondering “and all this relates to me how exactly?” Which is pretty much what the lawyer for the blog said in her response: “We came by this material entirely legally: we were provided it by a third party voluntarily, we did not use any improper means to solicit any Dell employee to breach any agreement he may have had with you.”
One of the funny parts is when the Dell lawyer sends a second email at about 2 a.m., saying “Thank you. Note, though, it has been almost nine hours since we made the request, yet the posting is still up.” In her response, the Consumerist lawyer starts with:
“Despite some suggestions to the contrary among some of our fellow beings, most humans need to sleep. Some of us also receive hundreds of emails a day and have to deal with every one of them. I received this email at 12am last night. It is 7am now. That’s a pretty good turnaround.”
Hilarious. I have a feeling my friend Lionel Menchaca, the head blogger at Dell — who we had on a panel at mesh a couple of weeks ago and who is a wonderful guy, and the architect of Dell’s successful blogger outreach program — would cringe if he read any of that exchange. Update: In fact, Lionel has cringed (or at least it reads that way) and has responded with a mea culpa here. Much props to him for doing so.
So Dell has given some more details on its plan to fulfill one of the top 10 wishes of the people who submitted ideas to its Digg-style IdeaStorm site: It’s going to start shipping Dells that have the Ubuntu flavour of Linux preloaded on them. Regardless of what you think of the move, I think it’s pretty amazing that Dell has given its fans a forum like IdeaStorm, and — more importantly — has actually listened to them.
Naturally, the Ubuntu announcement has caused plenty of cheers in the Linux camp, since the release from Mark Shuttleworth’s Canonical is seen by many as the new standard-bearer for the Windows replacement vanguard (Michael Robertson’s Linspire, formerly known as Lindows, also had some early potential, as did Xandros and Novell’s Suse). And I have to say that having Ubuntu pre-loaded on a Dell machine would help with one thing: namely, finding drivers that work for all the various hardware inside a brand new machine, especially if it’s something fancy like a Media Center.
I don’t know if Michael Dell — who is a Ubuntu user, as Engadget notes — has had any of the same problems that I have, but I’ve been trying for days to get Ubuntu’s latest release running on an HP Media Center, and have had no luck. It installs fine, and loads and I get the nice Evolution desktop that comes with Feisty Fawn (as the new release is called, following the Linux “goofy name” rule). But the network card doesn’t work.
Let me note that I am not some Linux noob. I’ve installed and run Suse 8, 9 and 10 as well as Debian and Xandros and three or four other flavours of Linux. I have personally edited the x86config file and added mode lines by hand to get an LCD monitor working, and have SSH’ed into my Debian box remotely using putty and repaired my MySQL tables. So there.
Ubuntu can’t recognize the Intel network chip, no matter what I do. I’ve edited the modules file, installed various add-ons. Nothing. Intel has a Linux driver — but you have to compile it yourself and add it to the Linux kernel, and that’s a little too close to brain surgery for yours truly. Give me a box with it all pre-installed, and I would be a pretty happy camper. If there’s one thing Windows does pretty well, it’s the drivers.
Just for the record, I think it’s great when a company has some fun with things, shakes things up a bit, lets its hair down (fill in your favourite metaphor here). But at the same time, I think a company with some image problems — like say… oh, I don’t know, like Dell, for example — might want to make sure that if it spends a bunch of dough on an attempt to be funny, that it is a) actually funny and b) funny. The video clip that Michael Dell introduced at OracleWorld doesn’t qualify.
In fact, as almost everyone who has seen it seems to agree, it is mind-numbingly bad. Not just un-funny, but cringe-inducingly un-funny — like say, your grandmother dressing like 50 Cent and trying to do a rap about adult diapers. What was Dell trying to do with this video? It isn’t aimed at consumers, because it’s all about proprietary standards. It’s clearly aimed at suppliers — specifically, aging suppliers with no sense of humour, or taste for that matter.
Not only is it un-funny in the worst way, it’s also about five times too long for a self-deprecating joke video (Nick Douglas will pay you if you sit through the whole thing). If the guys behind JibJab.com — whose style this imitates — were involved in this clip in any way, they should do themselves and everyone else a favour and go directly to Hell (Note: one of the founders responded in my comments to say they weren’t involved). And Larry Ellison should sue.
My friend Stuart said that howlingly lame videos like this are made all the time for supplier-type conferences, and that it wasn’t really designed for regular people to see — to which I replied that the lesson here is, in the age of YouTube, everything will eventually be seen, whether you want it to or not.
I stayed out of the recent fuss over Dell’s entry into the blogosphere, partly because I was tied up with other things and partly because it turned into kind of a pile-on, as my friend Rob Hyndman pointed out. Jeff Jarvis did kind of jump all over the company when it first appeared, and Steve Rubel also chimed in with some free advice — some of it (in fact most of it) well-deserved — and lots of others did as well.
There was a good point there, that Dell should have maybe surveyed the blogosphere before launching one, but it was overdone. And as it turned out, Dell has done all that and more: it started with links to Jarvis and Rubel and a commitment to learn as much as possible, and it has continued. The latest, as Steve points out, is a lengthy post that is honest almost to a fault about the company’s problems with customer support, and how much work needs to be done still.
I hope some of those who were so quick to criticize will take note of how open Dell is being (Steve Rubel has and so has Jeff Jarvis). The company deserves to be applauded for it.
Kudos to Phil Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped – and a reader who emailed him – for pointing out that Dell is shipping PCs with a branded home page powered by Google’s customizable portal, an Ajax-driven feature not unlike Microsoft’s live.com or (my personal favourite) netvibes.com. The page has a toolbar at the top that features links to Dell services, as well as boxes of Dell content, but they can be moved around and other things can be added.
And the Dell page isn’t the only one out there: Someone commenting on the Blogoscoped post pointed out that Current Communications, which provides broadband over power lines, also has a custom page powered by Google, which owns a stake in Current. The next question, of course, is so what?
Paul Kedrosky might be right when he says that the home page venture could be as significant as the Google software pack, but as one poster on Paul’s blog noted, trying to take control of the home page is so 1990’s. Does it even matter any more? Perhaps. In any case, it’s an interesting move – and Steve Rubel is right, someone should be writing about this (other than me, that is).