HP has eased a policy that could have limited how consumers recovered their PCs in the event of hardware failure or during hard-drive upgrades.
Starting with its Windows XP-based Pavilions,in September, HP ended its long-standing practice of providing recovery CDs with PCs, a resource that most other computer makers still offer. These CDs typically can be used to reinstall the operating system and other software such as hardware drivers.
HP instead chose to place the recovery mechanism on the hard drive in a 4GB partition that most consumers would find nearly impossible to delete by accident. Recovery, then, would come from software already installed on the PC rather than from a separate CD.
But since last week, Pavilion owners have been able to order a recovery CD from HP for around $10.
Separately, the company is starting to offer greater security for new PC users who are looking to venture online.
The PC maker has begun equipping its Pavilion desktop PCs sold in North America with Zero-Knowledge security and privacy tools, and customers will be able to purchase additional tools, the company said.
The shift to making a recovery directly from the PC shows the difficulties that PC companies can face when making technology changes affecting consumers. Although HP said it made the switch for the benefit of its customers, the policy generated enough negative feedback that the company decided it needed to make a modification.
The lack of a recovery CD could cause problems for PC owners, according to analysts. Most important, a catastrophic hard-drive failure would put the partitioned mechanism--and the software that came with the PC--out of commission. A less dramatic reason for offering the CD is the relative ease of use it provides to technophobes and others. Many consumers also have gotten accustomed to seeing the CDs when they buy a new PC.
Bruce Greenwood, marketing manager for HP's consumer computing product, acknowledged that the reaction to the no-CD policy was much greater than expected, but he downplayed its significance.
HP gets about "50 calls a day" regarding the policy, Greenwood said, a volume that is "way below 1 percent of our calls."
The number of people considering a call could be 10 times greater, said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "But in the end, even if it's 500, it's not that very many people."
By contrast, "one of the highest call volumes we have had in the past is (from) people losing their recovery CDs," Greenwood said. "It was in the Top 10 of our calls--it was an issue. So in that instance people were going to have a recovery CD sent to them anyway. We think the switch we have is more convenient and it's faster. It is a selective recovery from the hard disk."
Consumers' growing sophistication
ARS analyst Toni Duboise sees the negative response from everyday PC users as a sign of their growing computer sophistication.
"Probably a reason there is a reaction to this--that they're getting 50 calls a day--is because it's reflective of consumers gaining PC intelligence," she said. "You're getting more educated consumers that are aware of these recovery CDs."
Pavilion owners looking to get a recovery CD will have to provide proof of ownership, along with the $10 fee, and their request must fall into one of three categories: hardware failure, repartitioned hard drive or hard drive upgrade. The discs are available whether a PC is in or out of warranty.
Since January 2000, Microsoft has said PC makers can use a recovery partition in lieu of a CD. It's an option that the company says helps PC makers cut their costs while providing disaster recovery and reducing software piracy risks.
IBM, for instance, uses hardware partitions in some ThinkPad notebooks. The company inserts a mirror copy of all of the software included on certain models of ThinkPads. With a few keystrokes, the old software is wiped out, and a new version, from underneath the partition, comes up.
Big Blue includes the duplicate copy as a replacement in case of a virus attack. Consumers can also use this feature to replicate their own data so it can survive an attack.
NPD Intelect analyst Stephen Baker pointed out that HP dropped the recovery CDs in part to save money.
"Everybody is looking for ways to reduce their costs without impacting the main customer experience," he said. But, he added, "I don't think it's a big deal. Are there people that are going to object to that? Yeah. But is that as many people who are going to object if the PCs cost more?"
HP is one of the leading consumer PC makers, with about twice the retail market share of competitors, according to NPD Intelect. It led the retail market in December with a 46 percent share, followed by Compaq Computer at 22.5 percent and Sony at 15.1 percent, according to NPD. A month earlier, HP's market share topped 58 percent, about three times second-place Compaq at 17.5 percent.
Both Duboise and Kay praised HP for jumping on a trend they think other PC makers will adopt.
"Partition is the wave of the future," Kay said. "Maybe HP will take some flak up front for borrowing some disk space for their recovery stuff, but ultimately that architecture is interesting and smart."
Duboise, though, sees no need for a fee. "They should really not be charging $10 for that recovery CD whatsoever."
The Zero-Knowledge tools include Internet ad blocking as well as password and cookie managers, among other features, some of which are also offered in Microsoft's Windows operating system, which comes on the PCs.
The Zero-Knowledge Cookie Manager, for example, allows a consumer to block certain cookies, as does its Windows counterpart. But the Windows procedures for shutting off cookies can be difficult for first-time PC users to navigate. Cookies are tiny text files that Web sites save to a PC's hard drive. They are used to measure site traffic and surfers' browsing habits, among other things.
Meanwhile, the Password Manager provides a central place to store encrypted Web site passwords.
HP and Zero-Knowledge will offer new Pavilion owners the opportunity to purchase additional security software--including an antivirus application, a personal firewall and parental controls--at a discount. A firewall is an application that blocks certain types of traffic coming into the PC from the network. Parental controls allow parents to block access to certain Web sites.
Zero-Knowledge's package of security tools is normally priced at $50.
Meanwhile, Zero-Knowledge has launched a new effort to target corporations. The company began offering a new collection of Enterprise Privacy Manager software designed to help corporations protect sensitive information of their own as well as that of their customers.