Users seek technical aid plan

When the
hard drive of Jerry Tatum’s notebook computer failed six months ago, he set out on a
hunt for technical support.

Tatum, a records manager at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., tried contacting the
manufacturer, EPS Technologies Inc. of Omaha, Neb. His calls and e-mails went unanswered.
Tatum finally called the Better Business Bureau of Omaha, which referred him to an EPS
attorney who confirmed Tatum’s suspicion: The company had ceased operations.

“I gotta bite the bullet” although five months remain on the warranty, Tatum
said. He first thought he could send the 166-MHz notebook to Chicony America Inc. of
Irvine, Calif., the original equipment manufacturer, for a $200 repair plus labor charges,
or request that a computer technician at Tyndall replace the hard drive. But he has
discovered that he cannot allocate any money for the repair.

“I’m still unhappy that the contracting folks didn’t listen,” Tatum
said. “I asked for a Gateway Inc. computer,” the brand he uses at home. He said
he blames the contracting officials’ price fixation for his almost-new but useless

Douglas Quinn, EPS’ attorney, confirmed that his client held “several large
government contracts,” but he could not estimate how many federal users still have
EPS warranties.

Although small businesses often sell at low prices because of lower fixed costs, they
may lack the economies of scale and technical expertise of larger companies. If they fail,
agencies occasionally get stuck without technical support.

After Nexar Technologies Inc. of Southborough, Mass., filed for bankruptcy, a reseller
came to the rescue. Nexar, which marketed user-upgradeable desktop PCs, sold 65 percent of
its products to federal agencies, according to vice president Craig Conrad. A Long Island,
N.Y., reseller is working out an asset purchase agreement with Nexar, Conrad said.

Nexar’s largest reseller, Government Technology Services Inc. of Chantilly, Va.,
won’t leave the customer hanging with an empty box, said Mark Thoreson, a GTSI inside
sales manager. He estimated GTSI had sold 30,000 Nexar PCs and promised it “will stay
committed to support” because many agencies had bought extended warranties.

“We negotiated with GTSI to provide continued service for government
customers,” said David Shoro, president of Ardent Technical Services Inc.,
Nexar’s Memphis, Tenn., third-party service provider. But GTSI had to step in after
Ardent stopped providing service directly for Nexar last November.

Ardent still has a database of serial numbers for tens of thousands of federal Nexar
users, Shoro said. He said he thought GTSI might have as many as 40,000 federal Nexar
users in its database.

“There are users on just about every military base and in the Pentagon,”
Shoro said. “It’s kind of interesting to get a call from the White House to
service a computer.”

Another company that sold desktop and notebook PCs to a variety of agencies, though in
smaller quantities than Nexar, was Austin Computer Systems Inc. of Austin, Texas, which
also closed down. 

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