How Apple could crush Dell

What is it about the PC industry? Within a single laptop model number it’s not uncommon to find five completely different hardware configurations.

It appears PC makers are obsessed with cost savings at the expense of everything else.

An Ethernet chip that’s 20c cheaper here for the discount-retailer version of that laptop. A sound chip that’s $1.00 cheaper there for the corporate version.

The result of this short-sighted thinking is thousands of man-hours down the track as users and support staff try to identify the right drivers for a system when it comes time for an operating system reinstall.

For example look at this list of drivers available for the Toshiba Satellite M30.

Should I download the wireless LAN drivers for the Intel Pro 2100 chipset Intel Pro 2200 chipset or Atheros WLAN chipset?

For some godforsaken reason Toshiba has decided to use three entirely different wireless chipsets within the same model number of Toshiba Satellite.

Of course branded system manufacturers do supply a system restore disc which has all the drivers preinstalled into a copy of the OS that came with your laptop.

But inevitably we mere mortals lose these discs and can’t be bothered paying $40 for Toshiba/Dell/HP/whoever to send us another one.

Apple’s secret weapon

All the coverage of Apple’s Boot Camp dual-boot installer has revolved around the fact that it makes it possible to run Windows on a Mac. Fair enough that’s the sexy killer feature.

But there’s another powerful side to it that the press has barely focused on: the all-in-one driver installer.

Apple is applying its integrated hardware-and-software model to running Windows via Boot Camp.

One install CD has all the drivers you need no matter what model of Intel-Mac you’re using.

It’s downloadable from Apple’s website and it doesn’t require you to make any choices about which flavour of Intel-Mac you’re using: it senses the hardware and figures it out for you.

Admittedly the current betas of Boot Camp are far from perfect — probably by design since Steve Jobs wants to sell upgrades to Mac OS X 10.5 with the final version built-in.

In the long run maintenance of Boot Camp will become a major pain for Apple because it will inevitably have to manage 20 different wireless chipset drivers as its hardware engineers move to cheaper or newer designs. Already Apple’s “Airport Extreme” brand has a generous handful of different chipsets in use.

But unlike every other PC maker’s drivers it’s Apple’s problem to sort out the driver mess not yours.

As an Apple customer you just get one driver CD that does it all.

Dell’s missed opportunity

Arguably Dell is Apple’s biggest competitor: it has made buying a PC a beautifully smooth process.

But Dell’s achilles heel is customer service. It has openly admitted on its blog that it has a long way to go and that its call centre staff need better training and resources at their fingertips to help customers.

Imagine how the volume of calls to Dell support could be slashed if there was one single downloadable tool which would install all the right drivers onto any Dell PC.

Yes it’d be nearly impossible for Dell to do that now given the enormous variety of configurations of Dell PCs out there but it’s something that Dell could start doing from some point forwards.

Perhaps you might even like to vote for this idea at Dell’s new IdeaStorm site to encourage Dell to consider making a single driver CD/DVD for all Dell machines.

However if you’re looking to buy the best Windows machine out there the simplest solution might just be to buy a Mac.