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Shockingly, I have not practiced what I preached. Trying out the technology that we all so often talk about is such a simple idea and yet so seldom ever fulfilled.

Buying a laptop should be as simple as buying a beer; you decide on the product or brand that you want, you find a place that sells it, you hand over your dollars and hey, presto satisfaction.

Except nothing is that simple. The beer comes in different alcoholic strengths, different size bottles and with different calorie levels, and if you have never attempted to buy a beer before, how do you know which one is right for you?

Even understanding the technology behind the laptop—understanding about memory, hard drives, DVD-RW and security—does not prepare consumers for the barrage of tech jargon that awaits them.

This of course leads to anger when the customers realize they chose the nonalcoholic beer while on a night out with the boys. Or, in my case, a laptop running Vista.

There are enough Vista-bashing stories out there to more than wallpaper my entire apartment, so I don’t intend this to be another one. And yet I am not alone in my thoughts.
Reading Joe Wilcox’s Microsoft Watch blog post, “Vista, None for All?” confirmed my thoughts. As Joe reported, a VAR he knows in the Washington, D.C., metro area told him that every single person he has put on Vista has switched back to XP. And I can, as a Vista user, now see why. The drain on memory and the differences in the operating system from previous versions are so wide and varied, let alone the security changes and the user-control variants (and the list goes on), that it is difficult to get used to.

But as an early(ish) adopter, it is the initial bugs and tweaks, and the change in look and feel that you must put up with if you want the very latest technology. Every early version of any operating system is bound to have faults—technology by its very nature is a complex series of procedures, processes and installations.

And while IT directors will be much more widely versed in the ways of technology than consumers, if, like many, they are overworked, with little time to examine the new and the latest technology out there, or they are early adopters, they are unlikely to be as well-read as they might like.

This is of course where the VAR comes in. In-depth knowledge and experience of new technology is the very least of a solution provider’s role. Solving a business problem is vital, but diagnosing what that problem is in the first place, then using the right technology coupled with the right services and maintenance to support the customer, without bamboozling them with jargon, should always be the foremost goal. And actually trying out systems in-house or using demo equipment, or both, is by far one of the most powerful techniques for being able to sell the technology. I am not suggesting that all solution providers need to run the technology they are selling—that would be impossible—but having some practice in the equipment you are preaching about could go a long way toward helping solve a customer’s problem.

After all, a bar owner or landlord doesn’t need to know what every beer tastes like, but he needs to know what the customer is looking for to be able to address the thirst accordingly.

Sara Driscoll is can be reached at