Which high-tech products give you the most grief? Surprisingly,
more people singled out TiVo and Replay digital recording
systems than personal computers, according to a recent
survey by Best Buy (http://www.bestbuy.com).
doesn’t bode well, unless you’re a Geek
Fully 9 percent of people said they found these TV devices
difficult to use. The same percentage found PDAs (personal
digital assistants) difficult. Only 2 percent said desktop
and laptop PCs were tricky.
The PC has come a long way, baby. The days of DOS and
the c: prompt, for most of us, are long gone. Yet when
things go wrong with a PC, it can be maddeningly frustrating
trying to fix them yourself. The same survey indicated
that PCs were the product that more people need help with
than with any other product, followed distantly by digital
cameras and stereo equipment.
I’ve been using PCs since near their inception,
and they still drive me bonkers. Recently upgrading to
Symantec’s Norton Internet Security 2004 was a nightmare,
as others have reported as well.
Despite spending more than a hour on the phone with an
earnest Symantec support technician and trying to troubleshoot
on my own for hours afterward, I still can’t use
a new reader without disabling Norton’s firewall
component (which defeats the purpose), and my e-mail program
now shouts error messages at me every time I start it.
“The complexity of computers causes these kinds
of problems, which is part of the price we pay for the
rapid innovation we get from the multiplicity of manufacturers
involved in making products for a typical computer system,”
says Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad (http://www.geeksquad.com).
The Geek Squad, appropriately named, is a tech-support
organization that’s been around for 10 years and
since 2002 has been a part of Best Buy. It currently operates
in eight cities, though it’s expanding and plans
to have a presence in most major markets by the end of
“We stay home Saturday nights
reading manuals for you,” says Stephens. “But
don’t feel bad for us. We enjoy it. Everybody has
It’s no fun, though, having to call in tech support,
now that you can no longer get free support for many products
even when they misbehave. And then there’s navigating
the phone maze and waiting on hold when you finally reach
Geek Squad geeks, who work with both PCs and Macs, spend
most of their time helping hapless computer users do the
following, according to Stephens, which sheds light on
some of the thorniest problems affecting PCs today:
- Ridding a computer system of viruses that can destroy
their data and spywear that tracks where you surf
on the Net and barrages you with pop-up ads
- Retrieving data you’ve lost through a hard
disk crash or by deleting a file accidentally
- Setting up wireless networks
- Getting music to sync from a mobile audio player
to your computer
- Transferring programs and data when upgrading from
one computer to another
- Backing up to PC data stored in advanced cell phones
and TV remote controls
Multiplicity also is a factor. The more programs and
peripherals you use, and the more people who use any
given computer, the more likely it is that you’ll
experience problems, says Stephens.
The Geek Squad charges per problem, not by hour, which
averages $150 a pop for on-site support and starts at
$30 for phone support.
Naturally, you want to avoid paying anything, if you
can, and Stephens has a useful suggestion: the “5-minute
miracle.” Before calling tech support, completely
power off your system and all peripherals connected
to it, get a cup of coffee, and turn everything back
on. Often this is all that’s needed to solve a
transient software conflict. “Sometimes this just
clears your own head,” says Stephens.
He also recommends that you store all program CDs and
manuals in one place near your computer and keep notes
of what you’re doing and any error messages you
receive when you run into glitches. This can help a
support technician solve a problem if you have to call
Other common ways to solve computer problems are keeping
up with the latest patches and bug fixes by visiting
the Web sites of the manufacturers of the software and
hardware you use or having programs such as Microsoft
Windows and Symantec’s various offerings automatically
do this for you.
The future doesn’t bode well, unless you’re
a Geek Squad geek. The need for tech support will only
increase as the world of PCs and home theater collide.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated
columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About
the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at