Some customers still waiting for XP upgrades

Tom Cioni of Green Bay, Wisconsin, wants his Windows XP, and he wants it now.

Cioni bought a desktop PC from Gateway Inc. in June, based in part on a salesperson's promise that for an extra US$15 he'd receive a coupon redeemable for a Windows XP Home Edition upgrade shortly after Microsoft Corp. launched the operating system in late October.

Nearly seven weeks later, he's still waiting for his upgrade.

"That mention--that I'd get the operating system at the end of October, no later--was a significant factor in my decision," he says.

A Gateway spokesperson admits the company has yet to ship a single Windows XP upgrade disc. However, she says Gateway's XP upgrade coupon clearly states that the company would ship the upgrade by "Winter 2001." Gateway intends to meet that self-imposed deadline, she says.

What's the delay?

Gateway started taking orders for Windows XP systems in early September, and began shipping them later in the month. So why is it taking the company so long to ship a copy of the software to customers who have submitted their coupons?

It's all about testing, says Lisa Emard, a company spokesperson.

"Any system we've shipped has to be tested for the upgrade, and the drivers need to be tested," she says. "We have thousands of possible configurations--each one has to be tested."

Gateway is trying to make its customers' upgrade to XP more painless. All that testing lets the company create and ship a companion disc with the necessary drivers for a customer's individual PC, she says.

That sounds helpful, but Gateway competitors such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard--which also offered upgrade coupons--claim to offer the same driver-specific companion discs. And representatives of both companies say they've been shipping the upgrades for weeks.

Poor communication

Gateway won't release figures on the number of people awaiting their XP upgrades. The company says it began offering the $15 upgrade coupon June 1; on September 10--ten days before shipping XP systems--it began offering the coupon free of charge.

Cioni says during one of his many calls to Gateway since late October a customer service person told him the long wait had to do with supply problems from Microsoft. It's a claim that sounds plausible, since Microsoft did in fact run out of single-purchase Home XP licenses on it own Web site--a problem that has since been corrected.

Gateway's Emard says, however, that if a Gateway customer service person blamed Microsoft for the delay, they were mistaken. "That is not correct," she says.

Regardless of Gateway's reasons for the delay, Cioni says he's been willing to compromise with the company. He says he proposed several solutions to the problem--everything from buying and installing XP himself to returning his PC and buying a more expensive one with XP. Gateway, however, keeps shooting him down, he says.

A customer service person told him installing the software on his own would void his warranty, he says. And the company won't swap his current machine for a new XP-based PC, even if it costs more money, because the 30-day return window has passed, he says.

Gateway's Emard again contradicts the company's customer service staff, saying installing XP won't void Cioni's warranty. "If you purchase and install an OS we support, it won't void your warranty," she says.

Former Gateway booster

The whole situation has soured Cioni's once glowing opinion of Gateway, he says.

"I am the kind of person who talks about his positive brand experiences," he says. "This was our second Gateway because we liked our first one." Cioni says he originally planned to wait until late fall to buy a system with Windows XP preinstalled. Now he wishes he'd waited.

"The new platform may be old news and six months old before I find out firsthand what it offers," he says.

He says at least three other families purchased Gateway systems based on his recommendations. He's unlikely to repeat such advice, he says. "This latest incident has seriously damaged a very strong relationship," he adds.

Gateway's Emard, however, insists the company has done nothing wrong.

"I certainly feel bad that he didn't have a good experience. But we felt we were very up front about when we would ship the XP upgrades. He'll have it in his hands in the next week or two," she says.

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Tom Mainelli

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