Does not compute: Is it those Dell interns again?

Two weeks ago, I covered Kay Slaughter's go-round with Dell Computer, about which, after almost 10 months of problems with her Inspiron 4100 laptop and multiple efforts to solve the problem over the phone and by mail, she contacted me. I called Dell consumer public relations, and overnight a new laptop– this time an Inspiron 5100– was on its way to Slaughter. The story, I assumed, ended there. Alas, it didn't: seems the 5100 came complete with bugs.

"I hate to report this," Slaughter emailed Dell on Sunday, August 3, "but as soon as I got the 5100 set up (with no software other than what Dell had pre-loaded), I got into problems with Word. When I did some simple word processing, the message 'abnormal program termination' popped up, just as it did on the 4100." She then transcribed the four-line error box that would pop up, and described the aftermath: "Word then closes and when reopened, shows it has saved the document and named it." When Slaughter attempted to open the "saved" file, however, "the computer said it could not find it." This happened twice.

That wasn't all. She tried to exit Word, which led to another error message; that message, in turn, "led to the message that Microsoft had no information on this problem at this time."

"I present this much detail," Slaughter added, "only because of the experience on the 4100, and I am distressed to see [the same problems] occurring anew, especially since I have no such problems with Word on my office computer." I can second that, by the way; I'm on a Dell computer at my day job, and have never had problems with Word.

There were other issues that hadn't been addressed during the exchange. First, Slaughter claims there's no sign of a warranty for the 5100; she had an extended, three-year warranty on the 4100. "Especially given my past experience," she wrote, the same warranty would be essential.

Second, according to Slaughter, the 5100 lacks a parallel port; her HP 820 printer lacks a USB connection. Finally, the 4100 had Norton AntiVirus, but, according to Norton, because Norton was pre-installed by Dell on the old laptop, Dell would have to transfer it to the new– another issue that, in hindsight, probably should have been anticipated during the replacement process.

Even with this new round of problems, however, Slaughter closed her message on a hopeful note: "I appreciate Dell's willingness to resolve the laptop problems, and I trust that we will find a solution" to the new crop.

Jennifer Jones, in Dell's customer support, emailed Slaughter on Monday, August 4, to say that she was working to resolve the problems. For starters, the three-year warranty would be transferred to the replacement laptop as soon as the original had been returned to Dell.

That was a bit tricky, of course, since Slaughter was using the first computer's parallel port to print. Accordingly, Jones reported, she had shipped an adapter at no charge. Finally, she said that a Dell senior technician would work with Slaughter to resolve the Word problems, and Slaughter, who would be traveling on business the week of August 4 and on vacation the week of August 11, tentatively set up a time slot on August 18.

Jones didn't mention the Norton AntiVirus that had gone AWOL, so I called to make sure that that gap would also be closed. Jennifer Davis, of consumer public relations, assured me it would.

I've got my fingers crossed that Slaughter will finally have a laptop that works. If not, I'll revisit the situation.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.