Friday, March 23 2007

Buying Windows laptops for work…

Rory has ranted a bit about our recent laptop troubles. After giving up on those two companies, and not being able to fit ThinkPads into the budget, we looked for an alternative. These days, we’re also constrained by the desire to avoid becoming a mixed XP/Vista shop, so I went to the vendor who likes us the most, PC Connection, and sorted through their offerings.

The first “fix me now” user really, really wanted a lightweight machine, and had a strong affection for Bluetooth, so we bought him a Sony VAIO SZ340P and bumped the memory to 1.5GB. He loves it, and I was pretty pleased with the out-of-the-box experience as well (including their new packaging). There are only three real problems: it takes half an hour and three reboots to delete all of the crapware that’s preinstalled, you have to spend an hour burning recovery DVDs because they don’t ship media, and the default screensaver plays obnoxious music on a short loop.

The second user liked the SZ340P, but wanted something even lighter, so we bought her the SZ360P. It’s a quarter-pound lighter, uses the same docking station (which ships without its own power supply, but uses the same one as the laptop), and is also a really nice machine.

The downside of 4-pound laptops is they’re not as sturdy, so for the next four new-hires in line, I looked for something a little bigger, and ended up choosing the BX640P, with RAM bumped to 2GB. Different docking station (nicer, actually, with room for an optical drive and a spare battery to keep charged), different set of crapware, and not a widescreen display, but a better keyboard and a sturdier feel, and I’m equally pleased with its performance.

The only serious negative: it looks like the BX series will be discontinued, so when they run out and I need to start buying Vista machines, I’ll have to switch series. At the moment, I’m leaning a little toward the FE890 series, but PC Connection doesn’t stock the full range yet, so I can’t get the CPU/RAM/disk combination I want. With luck I can put that off for a few months, though.

With the previous brand, 2 of five had video and wireless problems. The five VAIOs I’ve set up so far have been rock-solid, and I expect the same from the other three that just arrived.

Sadly, while we’ll be able to put off the Vista migration for a little while (hopefully until Juniper gets their VPN client working…), Microsoft Office 2003 is a dead product, and starting Monday we’ll have users running 2007. On each user’s machine, I have to open up each Office application as that user, click the unobtrusive button that looks like a window decoration, click on the “{Word,Excel,PowerPoint} Options” button, select the Save tab, and set the “Save files in this format” option to use the Office 97-2003 format. Or else.

[Update: Actually, if you like ThinkPads and you’re willing to buy them right now, PC Connection has some nice clearance deals. If we were a bigger company, I might find the “buy 15, get one free” deal attractive…]

[4/17/2007 update: okay, one of the Sony BX laptops just lost its motherboard, after locking up at random intervals over a week or two. That still leaves 9/10 good ones, which is better than we got with Dell and Alienware.]