GripeLine by ED

Lenovo, CDW Get Kudos From Readers

lenovoWhen readers suggested that I balance our "Worst Vendor of 2006" poll by asking for nominations for a Best Vendor of the year, I must admit I had my doubts that such an exercise would prove very useful. After all, this is the Gripe Line, and my readers are not all that attuned to saying nice things about vendors. But it turns out to have been quite an enlightening experience, not just for who won, but for all the interesting smaller companies you may never have heard of before but might want to take a look at now.

The clear winners, running neck and neck both in terms of getting the most nominations and the most enthusiastic ones, were Lenovo and CDW. What surprised me most about Lenovo was the suggestion by many that things have actually gotten better since the China-based company took over IBM's PC business. "I have never seen a company stand by its warranties as well as Lenovo," wrote one reader. "During the year we had four occasions to request hardware assistance, on four different machines. In every case the response was immediate. One of our desktop machines turned out to need a new motherboard. Lenovo diagnosed it over the phone and a tech showed up the next day and installed it. The DVD drive on one of our Thinkpads started making strange noises -- new one showed up the NEXT day. Flaky add-in memory for another Thinkpad bugged us for a couple of weeks. Called Lenovo. No questions asked; shipped a replacement that arrived the next day. Didn't even ask for the old one back. They answer their phones within a couple of rings, the people are smart and actually interested in helping, and they know what they're doing. We'll never buy a PC from any other company."

CDW fans lauded the company's willingness to take their customer's side when the product vendor won't. "For Best Vendor of the Year, I nominate CDW, the one-stop supermarket for IT," one reader wrote. "It is possible to beat their pricing but not their customer-focused attitude and service. Orders large and small routinely arrive sooner than promised and there is never, ever any problem with returns for any reason. The incident that truly puts them on top in my mind occurred when I called to order some fairly exotic hardware, but the CDW customer service rep was unable to immediately find those parts in their system. Within one hour the rep called back to say that CDW could not help me, but here was the vendor's direct telephone number, a specific person to speak with, and the approximate price I could expect to pay for the parts. That level of customer service is truly a rarity in today's marketplace."

A number of the big vendors who were also on our Worst Lender list -- Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Verizon - received a few votes. Hey, you can't unplease all the people all the time. And a number of other well-known vendors received their share of endorsements, such as Amazon, APC, Bellsouth, Brother, Canon, Citrix, Comcast, Gibson Research, Grisoft, Logitech, Sprint, Ubuntu, Western Digital, and Zone Labs. But it was the vendors and products that you might not have heard of that really made the Best Vendors idea worthwhile. Here's just a sampling of some of the nominations I received from readers:

Thornsoft: "Sometimes you come across a vendor that is so great you just want them to be even more successful ... and hope it won't go to their head! I've been using a product called Clipmate from Thornsoft for three years and not only is the product stellar, it just keeps better and better. It keeps a record of all your cuts or clips in programs like Word or images from photoediting programs. Your clipboard info is put into a tiny database so that you don't lose that clip after you paste it and cut something new. I don't know how I limped along without it for years. The few times I've had to interact with them for a technical question, they responded quickly and thoroughly. Also, I suggested that they add drag and drop to the product and they did! They were working on it and listening to customers (what a concept!) and they implemented it in the next release. I buy this product for friends as a gift. I really love dealing with the company and I wish more companies would learn from their behavior."
IDM Computer Solutions: "IDM's Ultraedit is easily the best programmer's editor I've ever used, probably the best shareware application ever released, and on top of that IDM backs it up with the most complete after sales service I've ever seen. Every question is answered by a real American-speaking person and most emails are answered by the president of the company in person. Back in UE version 9 I posted a feature want-list item, and this year integrated Telnet was incorporated into the product. Sure -- it was probably more than just my request, but go ahead and suggest a useful feature to any other software producer! Good luck with that."

Great Rift Software: "My nomination goes to a small software house called The Great Rift Company. They produce a wonderful software product called AnyBook that caters to small book publishers like myself who need to manage day-to-day sales, inventory, and royalty data. AnyBook does a marvelous job of addressing these needs while at the same time being very affordable. I migrated to AnyBook in early 2006 leaving behind a competing product that was all but abandoned by its author. I can't begin to tell you how helpful Great Rift was in answering my questions and getting me up to speed. To my surprise, e-mail was often answered within minutes, software patches -- when necessary -- often followed within hours, and suggestions were not only welcome but encouraged. In fact, many of my suggestions are now features in the current product. I was so conditioned to expect the worst when it comes to support that I thought this positive experience might be an anomaly. But after one year of frequent contact with Great Rift I am pleased to say that it is their normal mode of business. They subscribe to an ethic that is long forgotten in the 'Worst Vendor' camps: They care, they value their customers, and they stand behind their product. Plain and simple. Now I know this niche company is unknown to 99.9% of your readers but if you do compile a best vendor list then I truly believe it deserves a place on that list."

Caelo Software: "My vote for best vendor is Caelo Software, Inc., makers of the NEO line of products: NEO free, NEO standard, and NEO pro. I've been using their software since the V1 beta several years ago and I have found their customer service to be consistently superior. Any time I email them I get quick, useful responses. Proactive support is built into the software with features like automatically emailing crash dump info to them if the program does crash. And the program itself is outstanding and they've been upgrading it steadily for the past few years. The user interface is polished and provides an elegant frontend for Outlook."
Atlassian: "Atlassian is probably unknown to most of your readers. They provide a commercial wiki, Confluence, and an issue-tracking system, Jira, that are gaining popularity in the commercial and open-source worlds. The product kills the competition in the price/performance measurements. Each release is better than the last - we've experienced no regressions over the past two years. The support people are knowledgeable and work very hard to solve problems. Kudos to them!"

37Signals: "For hosted software, I nominate 37signals.com, specifically their BaseCamp product. Forget the ease of use and amazing utility of their services -- their responsiveness and transparency are a marvel. The ease of upgrades, downgrades, and cessation is also noteworthy."

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