R. Fink | The enemy makes an offer I can't refuse

The Packet Rat | Commentary: In a global economy, you can't let a little treason stand in the way of a good deal on a laptop

Packet Rat

The foundations of the world shook recently when two fundamental rules were shattered in a single blow: The Rat succumbed and bought a Microsoft Windows Vista laptop PC, and the laptop was a Toshiba.

The whiskered one is known, in certain circles, for holding grudges. It took him nearly two decades to get past his grudge against Toshiba for the sale of technology that allowed the former Soviet Union to make quieter propellers for their submarines. When news of the Toshiba scandal emerged in June 1987, the Rat promptly turned his monochrome Toshiba lap crusher into a boat anchor.

But now that a majority of computers that find their way onto federal desktops are assembled in a country the wirebiter still occasionally refers to as 'Red China' and because plenty of American companies have since raised the bar for corporate treason (Enron, for example), the stigma of buying a laptop from a formerly traitorous corporate entity has finally been superseded by the Rat's need for cheap computing technology.

So, he was willing to let bygones be bygones.

Certainly, the rest of the government hasn't been so slow to get over any reluctance it may have had to buy from the notebook giant. Ten years ago, Toshiba was again the most popular brand of laptop computers among federal purchasers. But that was then, and market forces have pushed Toshiba further down the stack of choices, as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Acer and others have taken large chunks from Toshiba's market-share hide.

Part of Toshiba's recent problem was the company's attempt a few years ago to follow Dell into a direct-sales model ' in effect alienating the resellers who would have sold Toshiba systems to the federal government.

Then, two years ago, the company brought in Jerry Lumpkin, an executive at distributor Ingram Micro, and started to rebuild its channel. IDC Research recently reported that Toshiba's partners had outperformed the rest of the channel in increased business in the second quarter of this year. Maybe the $20 million they invested in kissing up to channel partners they had previously annoyed finally paid off.

Then there's Vista. Although the operating system is still not in its first service pack release, nearly everything in the consumer world and a good chunk of the business market ships with it already installed. So, over the course of all of the system checks he's done as new laptops have come in, Vista's interface has slowly been wearing the cyberodent down, flashing its shiny, happy face at him each time before he re-images it into oblivion.

So, as the Rat stood in a certain consumer electronics store, his previous laptop having passed into obsolescence long ago and into the electronics recycling bin just that morning, he found himself idly tapping on a Toshiba Satellite laptop, measuring key travel and checking specs. And he noticed that Windows Vista looked sooooo pretty on it, for under $600. It looked almost Mac-like on the wide-screen display.

Then, like a pod-person from the latest remake of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' he was sucked in. But at least he had the good sense to install OpenOffice to retain some of his open-source cred. 'I can always overwrite it with Ubuntu,' he said to himself, still in denial.

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