Category Archives: Technology and office equipment

Linksys customer service and router support needs improvement

This week, I spent hours troubleshooting problems with my printer and a laptop. Finally, I realized the problem was not these devices but my Linkys E3000 router. I checked the Linksys technical support page to see if any new firmware updates were available for my router and determined I had the newest one. So, I decided to turn to the live chat feature on the Linksys website for assistance.

My chat request was answered promptly by a Linksys representative. He spent about 30 minutes asking me questions about the setup of my router, printer and computers. I was asked to provide the names and model numbers of equipment and to explain what I’d done so far to troubleshoot the problem. I also had to provide the serial number of my LinkSys E3000 router. It was at this point, after 30 minutes of questioning, I was informed that because my product was out of warranty, LinkSys might have to charge me for assistance.

The customer service technician then walked me through the settings on my router. The technician said he could see some of my router settings were incorrect, but he couldn’t tell me which ones they were unless I paid for further assistance. The fee would be $30 for this incident or I could pay $40 for six months of support. However, the technician noted he could not guarantee that he could fix my problem.

After that, the session turned into a sales pitch in which he tried to convince me to just buy a new Linksys router. I said I’d have to think about it and ended the chat session. When it was over, I felt Linksys had wasted 40 minutes of my life, and I was no closer to solving my computer problems.

As I reflect on this encounter, Linksys, it is easy for me to suggest how you can improve your customer service:

  1. Offer free support to anyone owning your product, or at least for those who purchased it in the last five years
  2. If you can’t do #1, ask for the customer’s serial number at the beginning of the chat session, before you ask dozens and dozens of questions about the technical issue. Inform the customer of fees that apply for service, so she can decide up front whether she wants to continue with the chat session.
  3. If you must charge for out-of-warranty service, apply a reasonable fee, such as $5 per incident. This would be a nice recognition of the fact the customer has given you her business before and would encourage customer loyalty.
  4. Offer a guarantee for your technical support. Why should I have to pay a fee if you don’t fix my problem?
  5. Add a disclaimer to your “Live Chat” page warning that customers with out-of-warranty products cannot receive complimentary customer service through this venue.
  6. Drop the sales pitch. If your problem stopped working in three years, I’m probably not buying another router from you, unless you offer it to me at half-price with a free extended warranty.

In the end, I was able to fix my own router problems. When the time comes to buy a new router, I will examine more closely each manufacturer’s warranty and technical support offerings, and I will definitely think twice before buying another Linksys product.

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Product review of Comet CM-MO7CD shredder: Finally, a shredder I can recommend!

Regular readers may recall a previous post where I relayed my terrible experience with an AmazonBasics shredder I purchased. The failure of that machine sent me in search of a replacement. I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews. I found that to get a shredder with consistently high ratings across various websites, you have to be willing to spend at least $85 to $100. Because I need a reliable shredder and a cheaper model failed quickly, I decided to pony up $90 for the Comet CM-MO7CD, a 7-sheet shredder. (Amazon has since raised its price to $109.99.)

After owning the shredder for 2.5 months, I feel I can fairly evaluate it.

Things I like:

  • This is one of the quietest shredders I’ve ever owned. I used to dread shredding due to the noise, but this is no longer the case. According to its product description on the manufacturer’s website, this shredder produces 55 decibels (dB) of sound.
  • It has a 4-gallon, pull-out wastebasket for easy disposal of shredded materials. No more lifting a heavy shredder head every time I need to dump out the paper, and no more emptying a small wastebasket frequently.
  • The wastebasket has a window that allows you to see how close the wastebasket is to being full.
  • It is a micro-cut shredder that cuts materials into tiny pieces that would be practically impossible to reassemble into a readable document.
  • It has wheels, making it easier to move.

Things I don’t like:

  • The shredded paper tends to accumulate in the front of the wastebasket, when there is still empty space in the back. You have to pull the wastebasket out part way and shake it to create more room for additional shredding.
  • When you remove the wastebasket, some material falls from the shredder head into the base of the shredder.
  • You can only shred for 8 minutes at a time, then you have to take a 45-minute break before your next 8-minute session. This is probably the biggest drawback of the machine.
  • You can only shred 7 pieces of paper at a time, and letter-sized sheets have to be lined up just right to be picked up by the machine.
  • The shredder is a bit large, measuring 13.5 inches wide, 9.53 inches deep and 21.06 inches tall.

For those who need a higher-security shredder at a reasonable price, the benefits of this machine definitely outweigh the drawbacks. I would buy it again.

Do you have a shredder that performs well? Please post a comment with the details.

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Choosing an anti-virus software

Anti-virus software products are a lot like new cars — each year brings different models, which may be better or worse than the previous year’s product. While it’s impractical to change vehicles every year, it’s relatively simple to give up one anti-virus software and switch to another annually, if needed.

I explained in my last post why I decided to end my subscription with Webroot. My search for a new product focused on two main criteria: price and performance.

To get an idea of which products offer the best protection for my computer, I turned to two trusted sources of technology information. PC Magazine offers a review of the best 2013 anti-virus products and PC World offers a similar set of test results. Unfortunately, not every product tested by one publication was evaluated by the other, so I looked for commonalities between the two articles. The products they seemed to agree on were Norton, Bitdefender and Webroot.

Step two was to compare the products offered by Norton and Bitdefender, since I’d already ruled out Webroot. Much like the “trim levels” offered in new cars, anti-virus products offer varying levels of protection. Most product websites provide a comparison chart which shows the features that are common to all its products and then the “extras” you get for upgrading beyond the lowest-priced model. When comparing products, be sure to think about how many computers you need to protect. Some products give you a software license for only one machine, while the more expensive ones typically protect three computers and purchase additional licenses as needed.

The two products that seemed to best fit my needs were Norton Internet Security and Bitdefender Internet Security. Much like cars, these products are constantly “on sale” or subject to various promotions. To get the most bang for my buck, I did a Google search for promotional codes for these products. One of my favorite promo code sites, RetailMeNot, offered a coupon code for 70 percent off the purchase price. This allowed me to purchase Bitdefender Internet Security for $20.98.  The best deal I could find on the Norton product was a 25 percent off promo code, making the purchase price $37.50.

Since the two products appear quite similar, I chose Bitdefender. Removing Webroot and installing the new product was a simple process. After I have several months of experience with Bitdefender under my belt, I’ll post a review of my new anti-virus software.

Have you tried Norton or Bitdefender? What as your experience?

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Experience with Webroot antivirus software ends on a sour note

I’d never heard of Webroot anti-virus software until the beginning of 2012, when my McAfee subscription was about to expire. Disappointed by the high subscription fee for McAfee’s anti-virus product, I set out in search of a more affordable way to protect my computer. I found Webroot had good reviews and an attractive subscription price. For $45 plus tax, I got a three-seat license, allowing me to protect my computer, my husband’s and my son’s. You can also get a nice cash-back reward if you start your purchase at Ebates.com — currently, you get 75 percent off your Webroot software via cash back.

Things went very smoothly with Webroot throughout my initial subscription. I never had any problems with computer viruses, malware, etc. I even got a free upgrade to the company’s top-of-the-line product. As the renewal period for my subscription approached, Webroot sent me an email reminding me the product would be automatically renewed on Feb. 13 and explained how I could turn off the auto-renewal if I wanted to. When I noticed the renewal price was $80 (due in part to that free upgrade to a more expensive product), I turned off the automatic renewal on Jan. 30. I received an email confirming I’d successfully completed this task.

Imagine my surprise when I received an email on Feb. 6 stating my subscription had been automatically renewed. While this renewal was at a price $20 cheaper than what was stated in the initial email, this didn’t change the fact the product was renewed without my permission. Equally  concerning was that the product was renewed a week early, and based on the new expiration date, the company had shaved a couple of days off the subscription I’d previously purchased.

I emailed Webroot about my concerns and asked them to reverse the unauthorized charge made to my credit card and to restore my remaining subscription. I received a response in about six hours — an impressive turnaround time. While Webroot did refund my money, it also canceled my current subscription, leaving my computer unprotected. The only way I figured this out was to check the software icon in my system tray — the company never pointed out it had taken this action. Concerned about the safety of all the computers on this subscription, I emailed Webroot again and asked them to restore the remaining week of my subscription. While the company did so within a few minutes, it offered no apology for its mistake.

Overall, Webroot has been a very reliable product, but its customer service when the time came to renew was clearly lacking. I plan to try a new anti-virus software for the next 12 months. In my next post, I’ll offer tips for how to choose such a product.

Have you tried Webroot? If so, what was your experience with the company?

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Protecting your password and account information online

There seems to be a wave of email “hacking” underway right now. I’ve received several messages in recent weeks from friends whose email accounts have been compromised. If those friends use the same password for their email that they do for online banking or other accounts, they could face a mountain of financial and identity-theft woes.

While it may be impossible to create a “hack-proof” password, there are steps you can take to protect your password while shopping and corresponding online. Follow these tips to reduce your chance of becoming a fraud victim:

Use unique passwords for sensitive accounts, including your email account, bank account and retail accounts that include sensitive information such as stored credit card numbers. If you need to, use a notebook with coded hints to track your passwords if you aren’t sure you can remember them all. Don’t write your actual passwords down, but instead record tips that may prompt you to remember them. Keep this notebook in a hidden spot at home; don’t carry it around with you.

Make your password as strong as possible. When creating a password, include:

  • A mixture of upper- and lower-case letters
  • At least one number
  • At least one special character, such as an asterisk, percentage sign or exclamation point
  • Eight characters or more; in general, the longer a password is, the more secure it is.

Microsoft points out that criminals use special software to dechiper your password. For this reason, do not use:

  • Any words that can be found in the dictionary in any language
  • Personal information, such as your date of birth, your street name, people’s names or pet names
  • Letters adjacent to each other on the keyboard (example: asdfgh)
  • Words spelled backwards or misspelled
  • Numbers found in your address or phone number; for example, if your phone number is 803-900-1234, don’t include “9001” in a password.
  • Abbreviations
  • Substitutions: using zeros for the letter O or the number 1 for the letter I in a dictionary word–New York University points out hacking programs check for these types of replacements.
  • Numbers or letters in a sequence, such as hijklmn or 67890
  • Any suggested password you found online

You may feel it will be too hard to remember a password that doesn’t contain any recognizable words. Consider creating a sentence you can remember, then using elements of that sentence to craft your password. For example, my sentence might be: “I want to go on vacation in Australia.” The first letters of each word would lead me to IwtgoviA. Then, I could add a special character in the front and middle of the password and a couple of numbers (maybe the age by which I want to travel there) at the end. The resulting password: %Iwtgov!iA61

Microsoft offers an online password strength-checking tool that it says is secure. If you’re going to use this, I recommend trying out different password formats but not entering the exact password you are planning to create.

More password-protection tips

  • Microsoft recommends changing your password every three months on email, banking and credit card accounts, while Symantec recommends changing financial account passwords every one to two months.
  • Make your new password substantially different from your previous one.
  • Avoid using the same password on multiple accounts.

Keeping your password safe online isn’t easy, but falling victim to hackers can create much greater challenges. Have you been the victim of a stolen password? What online safety lessons have you learned the hard way?

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Create PDF files with free, easy-to-use software

For a few months, I’ve wanted the ability to create PDF (portable document format) files from my home computer, but I didn’t want to pay $300 for Adobe Acrobat X Standard. While it’s a great tool, I couldn’t really justify the price.

I found several lower-cost and free software options for creating PDF files, but I am always wary of downloading unfamiliar software. That’s why I look for recommendations from reputable sources. There are three main websites I turn to for software and technology reviews: PC World, PC Magazine and ZDNet. My research led me to PC World’s recommendation of a software called Cute PDF™ Writer.

Downloading and installing Cute PDF Writer from the PC World website was a breeze. The software adds Cute PDF as an option in your printer menu. When you use the File>Print command for a document or Web page, you simply “print” to Cute PDF instead of sending the document to your regular printer. This leads to a popup window where you can name the file and select the location where you wish to save it. The created file opens easily with Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader software.

Cute PDF doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of Adobe Acrobat X Standard. You can’t use it to edit files, create fillable forms or set up password-protected files. These features are available in the professional version of Cute PDF, which you can buy for just $50—that’s 80 percent less than Adobe Acrobat X Standard. I haven’t tried that product or read any reviews of it, but it’s definitely worth investigating if you need those functions.

I’ve been using Cute PDF for a couple of weeks and have experienced no problems. For those who simply want to create PDF files at home, it offers a great option.

What’s your favorite free software installed on your home computer?

Disclaimer: I am not a software engineer and cannot guarantee the safety or reliability of any software. You download, install and use any software suggested by me or users of my blog at your own risk. I will not be held liable for software failure.

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NetTalk review: Bargain phone service starts off strong, then call quality plunges

My home is in an area where cell phone service is spotty. One minute, my cell phone has three signal-strength bars, then the next minute, I have zero bars in the exact same spot. In hopes of getting more-reliable calling abilities, I set out in search of a home phone service in December 2011.

My initial goal was to get a traditional landline phone because of its dependability during power outages. Unfortunately, the cost was quite substantial and not within my current budget. Next, I turned to my cable company, but I found out the $25 monthly price it advertises doesn’t include about $13 in monthly taxes and fees.

Finally, I investigated Web-based phone services. The price for Vonage seemed steep at $26 plus taxes/fees, so I chose to take my chances on another service called NetTalk. It got a solid review from PC Magazine, and customers on Walmart’s website also sang its praises.

At the time of my purchase, the device needed to establish service (the NetTalk Duo) cost $70, with a $9.95 shipping charge. I purchased directly my unit from NetTalk so I could have the assurance of a 30-day, money-back guarantee. The cost included one year of phone service, resulting in a monthly cost of about $6.67 for the first year. In future years, I’d pay only for the service itself, which is currently priced at $29.95 annually (plus tax). The service includes free calls to the U.S. and Canada, call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding.

My experience with the NetTalk Duo got off to a strong start. It was easy to set up, compatible with my Internet router and seemed to work well with the new digital cordless phones I’d purchased. Sometimes there was a one- or two-second delay in me being able to hear the people I called, but I was willing to live with that.

About three weeks after I began using the NetTalk Duo, the real problems began. I started to hear a noise while having conversations that sounded like someone trying to dial an outgoing number. It sounded like two or three buttons on the phone being pushed, even though I was the only person at home. The person on the other end of the call could not hear these sounds, but I found them loud and disruptive to the conversation. As the problem worsened, I had one incident in which the tone sound started and would not stop. I finally had to hang up to end the call; I couldn’t hear the person I was talking to at all.

I contacted NetTalk via its online technical support system and submitted a trouble ticket. I received a prompt response, and a technician sent a firmware update to my NetTalk device. When I reported back that the problem continued after the software was installed, I received a response which said, in part, “Unfortunately the issue you are experiencing is a VoIP issue called ‘DTMF Talk Off’ which affects many different VoIP providers. The vocal sounds made by you or the other party are being misinterpreted by the system as the push buttons on your phone, which it is making a misguided attempt to repeat. Women’s voices are particularly prone to this…”

Because my problems began and were reported within the 30-day, money-back guarantee window, I’m going to seek a refund from NetTalk and try another service. I’ll let you know how cooperative the company is with my refund request. In the meantime, I’ll begin a search for a new phone provider.

I’d like to hear from users of other Web-based (also known as voice over IP) phone services like Vonage, Ooma and NetTalk. Have you dealt with call quality issues, including those described here? Please share your good and bad experiences so we can all be more-informed shoppers.

Update: In October 2012, I gave up the battle and stopped using my NetTalk service. I could no longer tolerate the poor call quality. Now I am using the cable company’s VoIP phone, and only once for a brief moment have I heard any beeping sounds. Unfortunately, the monthly cost of this service is much higher than that offered by NetTalk.

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