System Alert!

If you are using DOS-based management software, your computer may be several years old and nearing the end of its life cycle. When your computer dies, your business productivity will instantly suffer. You can dramatically reduce this risk by switching your files over to a new PC.

You might decide, like many people these days, to shop for a new computer over the Internet, which can be quick and easy. Computer producers advertise that a brief visit to their websites is all you need to do to acquire the perfect custom-configured system. Or you might choose to patronize your local reseller and look for its monthly special. A knowledgeable salesperson and the promise of on-site support will ensure your business computer will operate reliably for years to come.

The reality is neither online shopping nor a store purchase will guarantee a pleasant purchasing experience. I conducted an informal survey of dozens of customers who bought new management computers during 2001. I found some vendors had made the buying process very difficult or misleading.

Online Shopping

The Gateway (, Dell ( and Compaq ( customers I surveyed were quite pleased with the ease and speed of their online purchases. The web pages were designed simply and logically with convenient links to related items.

On the other hand, those who shopped with Hewlett Packard ( had a confusing experience. The HP site included a select mode that looked similar to its purchase mode. Shopping on the site required twice as much time since the selection of features during the configuring process had to be repeated in order to purchase the PC. This should be corrected soon now that Compaq and HP have merged.

IBM's website ( was the most frustrating. It contained so many buttons and so much content the customers had a very difficult time purchasing the system they wanted.

Store Purchase

All of the online purchases of the surveyed group were pre-planned upgrades. The self-storage clients evaluated their upgrade needs and choices well in advance of the actual purchases. By contrast, those who purchased through local stores tended to shop from urgency or impulse. For example, their site computer may have suddenly failed and there wasn't time to shop for a bargain.

The store-bought computers had been on the shelves for several months. For this reason, they were slightly less powerful than their Internet counterparts. Most store customers also bought the optional extended warranty and/or on-site service. It is too soon to know if those services were wise investments.

What to Expect

All of the new PCs were easy to set up and, so far, have performed as expected. On average, the new computers were 10 times faster than the systems they were replacing. Each PC included Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows XPTM, which provides file encryption and strong security settings that prevent unauthorized system use. However, XP is not designed to support older DOS software, and this forced some customers to simultaneously upgrade their management software.

The costs and options to upgrade your software will vary widely between vendors. Some suppliers offer a 100 percent trade-in credit and free data conversion, while others will charge a fee. It is critical you use management and security software compatible with your system. For example, Windows 95/98 software is not guaranteed to operate reliably in the XP environment.

Data Protection

Even if you quickly repair or replace a failing computer, you may have already lost valuable business files. This loss could cost weeks of productivity, and irreplaceable data may be lost forever. A recent and complete backup of your business data is critical to ensure a computer failure remains just an inconvenience.

For years, computer suppliers have offered an optional tape-backup system that can store your files on a removable medium. You simple identify which folders hold your important work, choose a backup schedule and the backup software does the rest. By storing the most recent backups off-site, you will have excellent protection against computer theft, vandalism or office fire.

Some self-storage management programs can automatically gather your tenant and keypad-access files, compress them into a secure format, and automatically e-mail the data off-site. This is a great feature that removes the risk of someone forgetting to take a tape backup home each night.

The Future

Soon computers will be made of carbon nanotubes in what is being called the postsilicon circuit. This unprecedented technology may replace everything we know about computers today. IBM has already made a sample circuit using carbon nanotubes, the technology of which will shrink modern electronics by a factor of 50 to 100. This will mean computers that use far less power while operating more than 1,000 times faster.

Don't wait for technology to cease advancing before making your purchase. By the time nanotube computers become available, the next wave of technology will be emerging. Buying a new computer today is cheap insurance that allows your business to focus on customer service rather than computer repair.

If you operate software compatible with your computer and maintain data backups, your business files will be there every time you need them. Then you can spend your time thinking about your business instead of your business software.

Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company specializing in security, software and management for the self- storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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