A while back I described the hell my disabled and retired father is going through while wandering the depths of the Hinternet, and when his computer became completely inoperable my mom went down to Fry's and picked up a decent cheap new PC. After a few days using it, he was again left with a computer rendered useless by viruses and spyware. I told him to mail the new PC to me and I'd set it up properly.
Last weekend I formatted the machine, installed WinXP Pro, made the latest Firebird the default browser, updated the OS, added a virus scanning program, setup his email accounts, setup his dialup, and added dyndns so I could terminal into his machine to fix it in the future.
He got the revamped machine on Friday and used it happily for a couple days. Today I got a call from him, saying his email was no longer working. The error messages sounded like some settings were changed and he assured me he didn't modify anything in Outlook Express (I want to put him on Thunderbird, but he insisted on OE). After an hour on the phone troubleshooting and me using remote desktop on his machine, I could tell he installed some software and I could see he was using IE again.
It turns out he installed the PeoplePC dialer/mailer package, even though I setup dialup networking to use his existing PeoplePC dialup, and had shortcuts to OE and Firebird on his desktop. I guess a lot of users like to click on one thing that lets them dialup, shows them mail, and shows them the news.
But as far as I can tell, when he installed and ran the PeoplePC package, it rendered outlook express useless, because it changed his pop3 and smtp server settings on all accounts to 127.0.0.1, the loopback address. I can see why they did this, as my dad felt uncomfortable using dialup and OE alone, and went so far as to say he didn't want a cable modem in the future because "he had everything he needed in PeoplePC."
It seems that PeoplePC likes to keep people feeling that way. I explained to him that although he has been a paying customer of theirs for the past 3 years, their new software rendered his old settings useless, so he couldn't use his other email accounts. He felt they took care of everything for him because their software made sure that his alternatives no longer functioned. He got the picture and said he would look into getting a cable modem or DSL line, and stop being a PeoplePC customer.
I really hope there is a special circle of hell setup for people that approved decisions like the ones at PeoplePC. I hear stories like this time and time again, and I can't believe companies get away with such shenanigans. If you own a Ford truck, and you bring a new Chevy sedan home, the Chevy doesn't automatically drain the oil from the Ford while you sleep the first night, making the other truck useless. Companies can't get away with that kind of thing in the real world, so why do companies like that flourish on the internet?
I've always hoped that the increased communication that the internet provides would lead to freer markets; markets where people had more choices and could research company practices. It's still my hope that open, honest companies will win out in the long run. I'm reminded of SixApart's stance on such things, I know I'm happy to use Movable Type and Typepad, since the company has enabled import and export of data since day one. Let's hope in the future companies with policies like that are the only ones left doing business online.