Whose Software Is It, Anyway?

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - When you buy a new PC, chances are it'll come with preinstalled software--typically, some flavor of Windows, a Web browser (guess which one), and a productivity suite such as Microsoft Works. Instead of providing backup discs for each application, though, many PC vendorsNow include the computer's operating system, drivers, and applications on only a single restore disc (which restores a system to its original, factory-installed configuration). Ready-to-run programs may be convenient, but if you encounter problems, you face the prospect of reinstalling every application--an arduous process.

Such was the case with Nicholas Giordano of Melrose, Massachusetts. He wanted to reinstall only Windows on his new Compaq Computer Corp. Presario to remedy printer problems. But the company advised him to run the restore CD and reinstall all the software he'd added to his system. "This is a lot of work, and if I had a separate CD copy of Windows 98, it wouldn't be necessary," he says. "Can Microsoft send me a copy of the software?"

Unfortunately, it won't. Microsoft Corp. sells Compaq the right only to install Windows on systems Compaq sells. This restriction is intended to prevent piracy, although both companies also cite it as a way for manufacturers to create a "self-healing" PC by providing a single restore disc.

Self-healing may sound good, but as Giordano discovered, it might not be the best solution if you've added more than a few applications to your PC. Ask your vendor if separate copies of Windows and any bundled applications--not just a restore disc--are included in the purchase.

Heads Up...

Losing Access to Axis: On Your Side has received several complaints about Axis Systems Inc. from customers unable to contact the company's tech support. Axis spokesperson Willy Hsu acknowledges the problems, citing an unusually high number of support calls in recent weeks. "We are adding support staff as quickly as we can to try to catch up," Hsu says... Smart and Friendly Goes Down and Out: Optical storage vendor Smart and Friendly has shut its doors. It filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its assets in May. At press time, the company's Web site was still taking orders through its online store, but phone lines had been disconnected. For fee-based support, call 800/592-9448...

CyberMax Cuts Back Phone Support:

At press time, PC vendor CyberMax Inc. (whose systems have frequently appeared in our Top 10s), had scaled back its toll-free, around-the-clock tech support to about 8.5 hours on weekdays only. CyberMax attributes this change to a recent restructuring.

Letter Of The Month

In December 1999, I bought 3Com Corp.'s U.S. Robotics 56K Voice Faxmodem Pro with serial and USB ports. When I couldn't get the USB connection to work, I called 3Com and was told there was a problem between its USB driver and Windows 98 SE. I was also told a fix was upcoming. But as of early July, there's still no fix, and I need my serial port for another device. When I asked for a refund or an exchange for a comparable internal modem, 3Com told me its policy is no exchanges or refunds.

Joe McCraw, Bradenton, Florida

On Your Side responds: We contacted 3Com on McCraw's behalf, and company representative Connie Nguyen confirmed that the firm's USB drivers did not previously support the 56K Voice Faxmodem Pro under Windows 98 SE. 3Com now provides USB drivers that support Windows 98 and 98 SE; those drivers are available at consumer.3com.com. Nguyen also clarified that the company honors exchanges for dissatisfied customers. Since 3Com did not have a comparable internal modem for McCraw, the company gave him a refund instead.

Gotten A Raw Deal?

Or a great one? E-mail the details to onyourside@pcworld.com. We'll investigate complaints and publish items of the broadest interest. Anne Kandra is a contributing editor for PC World.

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