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The # 1 Question This Holiday Season


January 7, 2009 7:23 am





The Question

I’ll bet you can identify with this, you’re at the post office or a coffee shop and you can see the intent in someone’s eyes, they’re going to ask you “that question”, ie:

“I need a new computer, what kind should I get?”

I used to have very long conversations with people, spend lots of time discussing the merits and demerits of the various operating system choices, application alternatives and in general giving away a lot of free consulting.

Note: If they preface the question with the statement “Hey, You’re a Computer Guy” it’s going to be a rough one, guaranteed.

No more.

Like the guy on Youtube who condenses the entire Evolution of Dance into a few minutes, I have it down to a science now. In about 3-5m, with a series of questions, I can tell them exactly what to get, and where to get it. Well, I try to keep it down to 3-5m, (I often wear a BT headset, fake-answering a call is our generation’s version of Fred Sanford acting like he’s having a heart attack) but it doesn’t always work.

My First Question

If we’re both really lucky, I can take them out with the first question:

What do you want to use it for? Do you just do email, browse the web and use online apps like gmail?

If they answer yes, (and I’ll chat a bit more to make sure they don’t have 3rd party app needs) they are getting one of the raft of Linux-based NetBooks, I’ll write the top 3 on the back of a card and send them off to ( or

But some people answer no.

My Second Question

Ok, so this isn’t going to be one-shot, one-kill, so I ask them the second and more important question:

What specific apps do you have to use? Are there Mac versions of those?

They’ll typically tell me they have to have MS Office, or QuickBooks, or maybe an Adobe product, none of which are a problem, we just have to know. IF they have 3rd party app needs but all of them have Cross-Platform versions, they’re getting a Mac. There are a lot of places to get a big discount on used/refurb Macs and you can catch deals on Apple’s refurb site fairly often.

If they are of sufficient age, and they have a child in college, I tell them to go shopping with Sonny-boy or the Princess at the University Bookstore for Mac deals, the savings can be pretty good, and they’ll typically get one for each, so they can do mutual tech support.

Note: Sometimes, I am talking to someone who is somewhat technical, or has a profession that I know uses particular 3rd party apps that are tied to Windows, then we’re probably going to get some coffee and chat about this later, they’re not so easy, but that’s another type of conversation.

My Third Question

Actually, the only real choices this category of person has are about the type and form factor of Window machine they’ll be getting, and that’s sort of a sad situation. It’s like I’m condemning them to a life of virus-checking, software-update nightmares, DLL problems, mis-typed activation codes, and Vista locking them out until they prove they are a valid user.

So, I ask them the last (and admittedly selfish) question:

Do you know Scott?

See, if they are in the “Dude, you’re getting Vista” category, I really don’t want to be involved in them getting a computer; because like some sort of slightly-demented technical duckling, they will return to the person who helped them decide what computer to get for all their tech support.

And if they’re getting a Vista machine, I want nothing to do with it, it’s like recommending someone take up a drug habit. So I send them over to talk with Scott, he’s the local Windows-centric tech guy, he’ll talk with them, make a machine recommendation and in general be helpful to his future customer. I mean, after all, if they’re getting Vista, they’ll be back to him for help, and he’ll charge them a modest fee to fix whatever thing Microsoft has decided paying customers should have to put up with.

So, how do YOU answer that first question?


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