Monday, January 24, 2011

Switching Costs

A short post today because this weekend, I finally changed over from a six year old IBM Thinkpad T43 laptop to a new Lenovo Thinkpad T410.  No more Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003.  Yep, now I'm on Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010!  Excitement!  Thrills!  Once again, I'm state-of-the-art.  No more having to run out for coffee and bagels while I wait for my laptop to boot up.

So why did I wait so long to change?  Because I hate the switching cost.

I'm not referring to the dollars spent paying for the new hardware.  In fact, I spent less on my new laptop than the unit I'm replacing.  And with all the "free" software and SaaS stuff out there, my software costs are cheaper too.

Rather, what I'm talking about is all the time and effort spent doing the following:
  • Migrating files and restoring preferences - In spite of the auto-migration software that comes with the new laptop, this never seems to work right.
  • Deleting unwanted pre-loaded software - Mercifully minimal with Lenovo.  See below.
  • Re-installing new software
  • Re-establishing all the background stuff like Wi-Fi connections, network mappings, and print drivers that I did once before, promptly forgot, but now need to do again to make the laptop useful
  • Testing it all out
  • Tinkering with the new stuff on the machine that wasn't on my old one - Hey is that a new version of Minesweeper?
  • Learning where to find everything now! -  The interfaces for Windows 7 are different from the XP I'm familiar with and Office 2010 is almost a foreign interface from Office 2003. After using the same machine for six years, I had everything fine tuned for maximum ease of use, Ed style.  
It's interesting to see how different companies that rely on regular product upgrades deal with the switching cost issue.

First there's Lenovo.  As most people know, despite the different badges, Lenovo built both my old T43 and my new T410.  Knowing they have a good hardware interface, the tinkering was minimal.  The keyboard layouts are almost identical and the software utility programs are similar and familiar.  And Lenovo whether by design or not, kept the pre-loaded junkware to a minimum.  The result:  minimal distraction and quick ramp up on the hardware.  It was one of the main reasons I decided to stick with the same manufacturer.

Then there's Microsoft.  This is my fifth Office upgrade since I started using it in 1995, and except for the user interface upgrade from 95 to 98, I have yet to derive any benefit from Microsoft moving all the commands and menus around other than to confuse me for the next two months until I finally get back down the learning curve.  Now, while I'm not wasting time waiting for hardware to boot up, I get to waste it looking for where Microsoft stuck the Pivot Table command in Excel 2010!  Yes, I'll eventually adapt, but it made me think twice before springing for MS Office 2010.  I seriously considered making the switch to OpenOffice, the freeware competitive equivalent offered by SUN (now Oracle), but my Early Majority mindset won out...this time.

Something to think about the next time you decide to "improve" your interface.

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