HP’s cost cutting

HP is the biggest seller of computers in the world, so one would expect it to have ironed out all the wrinkles in its notebooks, but it seems that HP decided to emphasize volume of sales over quality of service. HP sells its consumer notebooks at cut-rate prices, but it evidently had to cut some corners to sell so cheap. According to SquareTrade, a North American warranty service provider, HP/Compaq laptops have the highest failure rate of any major brand. Judging from my recent experience trying to install a new HP notebook, it also seems to have cut its costs in many other ways.

After investigating prices on the internet, I advised a friend to buy an HP ProBook 4430s for $520 from NewEgg.com. My friend is on a tight budget, but her notebook is a constant companion which she hauls everywhere, so I recommended that she search for a notebook with a sturdier case that can stand the abuse. She also uses her notebook to listen to music and play movies, so she needs a computer with a optical drive and decent speakers. Although my friend would have liked a more portable computer, the HP ProBook 4430s seemed to fulfill her requirements within her limited budget.

My friend has become accustomed to using Linux after I installed Debian 6.0 on her previous computer, so she asked me to install Linux on her new ProBook as well. A task which should have taken a couple hours at most ended up taking me a day and a half. As a free software advocate, I refuse to use Windows, but my friend might need Windows 7 sometime in the future which comes installed by default on the ProBook. Ordinarily, it is not a problem to install both Linux in a additional partition on the harddrive, but I found out to my chagrin that HP notebooks come with 4 primary partitions preinstalled on the harddrive, so it is impossible to add additional partitions, since harddrives standardly only allow 4 primary partitions. In order to add an additional operating system, one of the primary partitions would need to be deleted and turned into a logical partition capable of holding multiple partitions.

HP could have very easily made one of those partitions a logical partition, so could hold more partitions, but HP evidently doesn’t want its customers to do any significant reconfiguration of their computers. I helped a friend send back his HP laptop for warranty servicing a couple years ago and HP refused to service the laptop because my friend had installed a new operating system. From my point of view 3 out of the 4 preinstalled partitions are worthless. The first 300MB partition contains some useless bootup program to save clueless people. The second gigantic partition contains Windows 7 and all the user’s personal files. Personal files should always be separated into a separate partition in my opinion, but Windows 7 is designed to keep all files in the C:\home\user directory in the same partition. The third 18GB partition holds a reinstaller to return the machine to its original state with all the original partitions and HP’s bloatware. Judging from the fact all laptop vendors now include these inconvenient reinstallers that wipe the entire harddrive, Microsoft is now forcing PC vendors to offer their OS in this worthless form which makes it impossible to reinstall Windows without loosing all personal data and all additional operating systems. It is monopolistic abuse of the worst order, but neither the EU nor the United States has called Microsoft on it. Finally, the last 5GB partition holds a program to allow people to access the BIOS while logged into Windows, which I will never use. If I need to change a setting in the BIOS, I will reboot the computer.

I was tempted at this point to simply wipe out the entire harddrive and install Debian 6.0 and an illegal copy of Windows XP. Nonetheless, I decided to maintain the legal copy of Windows 7 preinstalled on the computer just in case my friend ever needed HP’s warranty service. I decided that the best course of action would be to delete the reinstaller partition, but first I would need to make DVDs of the contents of this partition. I spent an hour trying to find the program to make the reinstallation DVDs, but it didn’t seem to located anywhere on the computer. The HP web site mentioned a program named the “Reinstall Manager” and another web site mentioned a file named “restore7.exe”, but the application simply wasn’t installed on the machine. I tried to use HP’s support chat service to ask where I could find the program. In order to login, I had to enter the model number and serial number, which I couldn’t find anywhere on the notebook case. I finally found it by taking out the battery. Luckily, the notebook was still plugged in, otherwise I would have had to turn off the computer in order to find the serial number. When I entered “ProBook 4430s” for the model number, it kept returning as invalid. I finally figured out that it needed the P/K number, but it still returned as invalid. I finally figured out that the ProBook 4430s model simply wasn’t in their database, so it was impossible to use the support chat service. Now I could have called HP’s support on the telephone at this point, but I am currently in Bolivia and the laptop was bought in the US. HP only offers support for computers within certain regions of the world. Despite the fact that HP claims to have an “international” warranty for all its notebooks, its service providers will only support notebooks bought within a certain region. HP’s Bolivia support service will only answer questions about HP laptops bought in Latin America. I decided to forgo calling HP’s US support number, since the long distance telephone call would have been prohibitively expensive. Instead, I simply deleted the useless last partition and shrunk the enormous Windows 7 partition. It took me 4 fruitless hours to decide on this course of action, which could have been avoided if HP had configured its harddrive in a different way or made sure that it preinstalled the software that it claimed to have.

HP has evidently decided to cut its support costs by eliminating the chat support service for the ProBook 4430s and by refusing to support any laptop outside the current region. Likewise, it hopes to reduce the warranty costs by refusing to service any laptop which doesn’t have its preinstalled OS in it and to discourage people from reconfiguring their harddrive by preinstalling four primary partitions which don’t allow additional partitions to be added. This cost cutting may allow HP to offer its laptops at lower prices, but these decisions have also convinced me to NEVER buy a HP laptop in the future.

GNOME 3 Woes on the ProBook 4430s
I am accustomed to many hassles installing Linux on notebooks, especially a new model like the HP ProBook 4430s. The first time I installed Linux on my Lenovo SL300, I spent 3 days configuring Debian so that all the buttons and functions would work correctly. Still, I was quite surprised how badly Debian 6.0 installed on the ProBook 4430s. The installer couldn’t detect the proper 1366×768 screen resolution, so I was staring at a distorted 1024×768 screen. None of the special function keys worked, so it was impossible to adjust the volume, change the screen brightness, switch to an external monitor, etc.

I could have manually configured xorg.conf to use the 1366×768 resolution and recompiled a more recent kernel which would support the ProBook 4430s, but I didn’t have much time, so I decided to simply upgrade to Debian Testing with the apt-get upgrade command. In the past, Debian handled upgrades quite smoothly, but the change from GNOME 2 to GNOME 3 has really thrown a monkey-wrench in the upgrade process. After the upgrade, Linux still used GNOME 2, but most of the options from the System menu had disappeared. I tried installing a couple packages and reconfiguring several others, but I couldn’t get the options back. I didn’t have time to download a Debian Testing installer, since that would have taken me at least a day and a half with Bolivian internet speeds.

However, I did have a Debian 10.11 CD handy, so I decided to install Ubuntu instead. It took me several hours to figure out how to configure the new GNOME 3 and Unity interface which I had never used before. Most things that I wanted to do proved to be too difficult with Unity, like adding a new menu, so I finally threw up my hands in disgust. When I showed the interface to my friend, she was definitely not happy, but she only had a couple hours to wait because she was planning on traveling to Peru the next day. She asked if I could get back the GNOME 2 interface. I installed gnome-panel and all the other packages which I could find for GNOME 2, but I couldn’t interact with the GNOME panels, except in the parts of the panel which already had components. It was impossible to resize the components or add new components. Maybe a could have figured it out if I had more time, but my friend was in a rush, so I had to leave her with the inconvenient GNOME 3 configuration which she absolutely despised. It wasn’t my best moment of free software advocacy, and I wonder if she won’t use that Windows 7 partition after all in the future.

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