Letters

Readers sound off.

Letters

Laptop Vendor Catches the Cluetrain

As a Linux user and supporter, while I truly enjoy seeing evidence of businesses that get it, I also feel I have to share my experiences with a vendor that for a time seemed to have forgotten that one of the most important values we share, as buyers and sellers, users and hackers, is community, and that whenever we stray from open communication and straight dealing, we do so at our own peril.

Four months ago, I set out to purchase a new laptop to replace an aging VAIO that I had loaded with Linux manually, and in addition to the creeping obsolescence of the hardware, I always have been frustrated by certain incompatibilities, especially the IEEE 1394 chipset. I was looking forward to getting a beefier machine, from a Linux friendly vendor, so I finally could do some amateur video work with my Mini-DV camcorder. I decided to purchase my system from QLI, based on several recommendations I found in the on-line archives of this very magazine. I was excited at the prospect of receiving my new, more powerful, super-slim, pre-loaded with my fave distro, with 100% compatible hardware laptop. I initially was encouraged that my credit card was charged right away, assuming this meant the unit would ship soon. This quickly turned to confusion, frustration and eventually anger.

For the next two months, every time I tried to get information about my order, I was given a new variation of some story about how bad the supplier was. They don't speak English; they never send e-mail; their ETAs are always vague. I was understanding at first, but less so with each passing week, especially when an important trip came and went, and I still had to use my existing, ailing portable. At the two-month mark, I was facing the prospect of another trip, with more intermittent failures due to x-ray machines and increasingly poor battery life. Do you know how hard it is to find a usable outlet in some airports?

I canceled the order and was told the refund might take a while; the sales department could be slow at times. They were so slow that the original credit card expired, a fact even I had failed to notice. This merely made an already bad situation worse. Communication, which had never been very good, got worse. I had to send an e-mail every day, sometimes several times a day, to get a reply at the rate of about once a week. This time, the stories told were about problems with the order system and the credit-card processing company. More weeks passed without resolution and without any good explanation of why I was continuing to have to pay finance charges on a purchase that was never fulfilled. I was more irritated with the poor communication than anything else.

Finally, I lodged a complaint with the local Better Business Bureau and sent a draft of my letter to Linux Journal, in hopes that external intervention might draw enough attention to bring things to a satisfactory resolution. I am pleased to report that it did, although I am still disappointed it took as long as it did and that I had to take the actions I did.

Finally, the matter came to the attention of Ray Sanders, CTO and one of the founders of QLI. He helped clarify some of the internal issues that had caused this whole affair to drag on and also explained some of the steps that had been taken to correct the situation, including mandatory staff training, staff reviews for those involved and serious negotiations with the credit-card processing company who apparently were at least partly to blame, at one point attempting to issue the refund but only successfully debiting QLI, never crediting my account.

Ray's involvement finally resulted in a full refund, plus an unasked-for little extra to help defray the finance charges. Most importantly, Ray clearly communicated along the way what he was doing and when I should expect to see things happen and made himself directly available in case of a problem. He also was genuinely upset that it took his involvement to sort things out, another encouraging sign that someone in the organization gets it. I also see this as further proof that success can be dangerous, in that quick growth often dilutes important values no matter how strongly held at the outset.

Companies like QLI offer products and services that appeal to a market filled with savvier-than-usual consumers, so they must remember that trust and respect are as important to building and keeping goodwill as superior products and services at competitive prices. Problems such as mine should be seen as opportunities to prove commitments to the community through honesty, communication and courage.


Thomas Gideon

Porting US House of Representatives Software to Linux?

I started the Linux-pe mailing list over a year ago, with the purpose of providing a platform for Linux advocates in the US to organize to bring Linux into US governments at the local, state and national levels. My own personal project, as I live in Silver Spring, Maryland, a subway ride from Capitol Hill, is to get Linux usable by Congress. Now any member of Congress certainly can install Linux, but this will do a House of Representatives member very little good unless he or she can use the HIR (House Information Resources) software, which has not been ported to Linux, although there is nothing in principle preventing it from being ported.

Our Congressman here in the Maryland suburbs is Chris Van Hollen, a liberal Democrat. He is intelligent and energetic, but not at all IT-aware, nor is his staff. However, by dint of energetic lobbying—e-mails and visits by me and several other of his Linux-minded constituents—we have persuaded Mr Van Hollen to write a letter to the members of the Committee on House Administration, asking this committee, the one in charge of HIR, to investigate the issue of porting the client to Linux. I believe we should all congratulate Mr Van Hollen for taking this initiative and ask the members of the Committee on House Administration to act on Mr Van Hollen's proposal.

To join Linux-pe, go to www.tux.org/mailman/listinfo/linux-pe.


Alan McConnell

If you want to look up the members of a committee of Congress or find out your representative or senator's committees, you can do a search on Congress.org, which runs Apache on Linux. —Ed.

SE Linux from Outside the USA

I would like to correct a mistaken letter published in the November 2003 issue of Linux Journal [“SE Linux outside US?”]. I did my initial SE Linux work while living in The Netherlands and had no problem accessing any part of the NSA Web site using the Zon and KPN ISPs. I am now living in Australia and still have no problem accessing the NSA site. I am not aware of any country restrictions on who can access the site, and I am quite sure that there is no block on The Netherlands.


Russell Coker

Mandrake Automatically Recognizes Pen Drives

I just finished reading the December 2003 issue of Linux Journal, and I was pleased as usual. The article “Floppies for the New Millennium” by Rick Moen contained an excellent tip about using noatime for USB pen drives, which I have now adopted. As Moen pointed out, the problem of mounting his pen drive read/write seems to be with that brand. I have used a Universal Smart Drive for some time without any mounting problems. Using Linux-Mandrake 9.1, the first time I plugged in the pen drive, an icon was added to the KDE desktop and an entry was added to /etc/fstab (noatime added by me):

/dev/sdb1 /mnt/removable auto
user,iocharset=iso8859-1,kudzu,codepage=850,noauto,noatime,umask=0,exec
0 0

Right-clicking on the icon allows you to mount or unmount the pen drive. Of course, as a holdover from the old days, I also have a second entry:

/dev/sdb1 /mnt/usd vfat noauto,user,noatime 0 0

It follows the line added by Mandrake. Otherwise, the icon's load routine gets confused. Either mountpoint can be used from the command line. As Moen noted, leave the FAT format in place. It makes the pen drive usable on most machines (like that quarantined Windows box). Keep those articles coming!


Terry Vaughn

Traffic Shaping Advantage

I am no longer a newbie, but every time I explore Linux I discover that it is more than an ordinary operating system. I could not have prioritized my network bandwidth better than with the easily configured traffic shaper package shapecfg. Thanks to the community of developers and everyone who is involved in Linux. I am more than convinced that by using Linux you will save your company from all unnecessary expenses in securing a good networking environment and administer your network more effectively. It's nice discovering Linux.


Makinde Olojede
Nigeria

SATA Question on Ultimate Linux Box

As always, I enjoyed getting your most recent issue [December 2003]. In the Ultimate Linux Box article, it mentions that SATA is used. But nowhere does it say what had to be done to get SATA working. Were any kernel patches installed to get this to work with 2.4.19?


Eric

Glenn Stone replies: We did not use the regular Serial ATA interface on the motherboard, but instead used the SATA interfaces on the 3ware Escalade 8500 card; the 3w-xxxx driver we used was the stock driver that comes with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8. 3ware has been really good about seeing to it that its drivers made it into the main kernel tree the last two years or so.

Serial ATA support for the Silicon Image chipset is present (in the source, at least) in SuSE's 32-bit offerings in kernel 2.4.20. Linus' 2.4.22 tree adds support for the Intel ICH5. Those are the only two SATA chipsets that linux-ide.org advertises support for as of this writing.

Photo of the Month

Here's a picture of my daughter Madeline holding her new little brother, Griffin.




Greg Kroah-Hartman

If your photo is chosen as Photo of the Month, we'll give you a one-year subscription or extend your current subscription by one year. —Ed.

Errata

December 2003, “Ultimate Linux Box”: Credits for technical support and other assistance with the project were inadvertently omitted. The author would like to thank Trey Harris and Chuck Henderson of Monarch Computer Systems, along with Clay Deveny, Wanda Gillis and the rest of the Monarch staff; Paul Chang of Arima Computer Corp.; Mark Visconti and Susan Austin of NVIDIA Corp.; and Greg Kroah-Hartman of IBM for being instrumental in the success of this project.

Also, it should have been noted that the case used for the ULB Project is a Lian-Li product that is available only through Monarch Computer Systems (www.monarchcomputer.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=100128).

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QLI Linux (was Re: Letters to the Editor)

Anonymous's picture

My experience with QLI was similar in many ways, but hasn't had a happy ending, at least not yet.

In September, 2003, the power regulator on my QLI Emperor Laptop went belly-up. I emailed QLI and they recommended that I send it to them for a repair estimate. On September 20th I did. I haven't seen the laptop since. It's now February, 2004.

At the end of September I wrote in to ask if they'd received the laptop, and they replied "your system is being evaluated, and we should have a repair estimate in the next 5-7 days." Three weeks later I wrote to ask about the estimate and was told "give us a day or two and with all luck we will have your estimate, and possibly even the parts needed."

Ten days after that (now we're at the end of October), they respond to my increasingly worried email: "The best info we've been able to gather on that unit so far is 'No Problem Found'... We will keep you posted as soon as we hear word."

This is starting to look bad. Over a month after receiving my laptop, they've gone from saying they're on the verge of having the parts needed to repair it to saying that they haven't found any problem. I call QLI and talk to a representative there who tells me that the motherboard will have to be replaced because the power regulator is part of the motherboard and can't be replaced seperately. I ask them to send me a repair estimate for the motherboard replacement.

On November 11th, they finally send me an estimate: "The repair estimate is $475.00 to completely fix the system, as there is a motherboard/power connector problem." I decide to go ahead with the repairs and I PayPal the $475 to QLI the same day. I ask QLI: "Do you have any estimate for when the repairs will be complete?"

The response: "We ask, and get back to you later today or tomorrow. Our rough guess would be about a week."

They did not get back to me "later today or tomorrow" so on November 28th I asked again: "Do you have an estimate as to when the repair work will be done and I'll have my laptop back?"

On December 2nd they replied "Your system is at the manufacturers facility in China/Hong Kong. We have been charged for the replacement part, however that is their standard policy for any out of warranty service. We can drop a note to them and see how things are progressing.... As we are updated, we will pass information along to you."

I thanked them for the update, and waited until January before emailing again to ask if there was any change in status. My January 5th letter wasn't answered. Ditto January 16th, January 20th and January 23rd. I called the QLI toll-free number - it was down (and was still down a month later when I called again).

So I sleuthed around and found the owner's cell and home phone numbers and left messages for him there. That finally got a response: "We had to put in another call to the manufacturer. The word we have is the power board is not the cause of the problem, and they are now claiming it is the motherboard. We are waiting for a price estimate, and there is currently an amount on deposit, as you were charged a deposit fee from our records. The manufacturer was shut down for the chinese new year, we've just been getting caught up from the holiday rush, please excuse the delay."

Naturally, I was flabbergasted, and wrote back explaining that the $475 was not a deposit, that the motherboard had always been the problem, and that they'd had my laptop more than long enough to fix it and return it to me. It's mid-February. My laptop has been missing for almost five months now. I've put in a complaint to the Better Business Bureau (and that's when I found out I wasn't the first one).

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