Since I work for a technology company (read computers & printers), I get asked 2 questions all the time.
1) "My printer is broken, how do I fix it?" OK. Yes, I do happen to work in the printer division, but I'm in the laserjet toner group. Furthermore, I'm an analyst which means I never actually work with any physical printers. So my typical advice is to suggest a couple search terms like "[printer model #] is't working" or "[printer model #] is broken". Those always seem to point me in the right direction to searching for the correct type of "broken-ness". This must be how Apple Store employees feel all them time: yes, they work for Apple, but no they don't have any insider secrets.
So, I have little advice on fixing printers. Next.
2) "I'm thinking about getting a new computer, do you have any suggestions?" OK. This question I actually have an opinion on. Furthermore, I actually think they're asking me because I seem to understand, and like technology, not just because I work for a tech company. Usually I give a flippant answer like "Get an HP computer." Laugh, and then actually answer their question with a few questions.
- What kinds of things do you currently do, or want to do, on your computer?
- Surf the web? Check email? Check Facebook?
- What about games?
- Will you be writing a lot? Using spreadsheets? What type of spreadsheet work?
- Will you be watching movies (DVDs, streaming, etc)? What about Music?
- As a general rule, if someone is asking me, they're a casual computer user, but it's good to get them thinking about activities instead of features.
- Do you think you'll be taking it with you places, or keeping it at home on a desk?
- No need to spend extra money on a laptop if it's stationary. Most people think they want the flexibility to take it places.
- Have you considered getting a Mac?
- This is a fun question because people tend to be Windows users and tend to have strong feelings about Apple (ie. too confusing and/or too expensive).
It's at this point in time I share the decisions Jessi and I made:
We both got macs. I got an iMac because I wanted the extra memory, speed and larger screen. My last laptop sat on my desk 99% of the time (and was hooked up to an external screen, keyboard, mouse & hard drive). Plus, I have my work laptop just in case I need to be mobile.
Jessi got a MacBook, and almost went for an iPad, because she wanted to be mobile, and does mostly casual things (email, facebook, movies, music). Of course, we don't have a TV, so being able to play DVDs was necessary. She also has to take online classes and write documents every once in a while.
Now, given their answers, I usually reassure them that any computer they choose will generally work for their purposes (remember, most of the time these are people who are not power users). I tell them to look at 4 things first:
- You want as much RAM as possible. At least 2 gigs, probably 4 if you can afford it.
- You want at least 300 gigs of hard drive space. That's enough where you'll never have to worry about storage.
- Look for something cool, which you'll be proud to have around. This might sound crazy, but if you like the way it looks, you'll enjoy using it more.
- If it's a laptop, it must have a camera. Given today's communication trends this is essential. Almost all laptop have cameras, so this isn't that big of a deal.
I do often suggest checking out HP. Well, Compaq actually. The internal guts tend to be the same, but "Compaqs" are always a little cheaper than "HP".
I also set their price expectations: You can find computers under $500; however, you'll thank yourself in the long-run for not being completely cheap. Think about how much time you're going to spend on the machine and invest accordingly. For $1,000 you can get a good computer that will run great for 5-7 years. If you only spend $500, it'll probably conk out after 3 years, and the last 6 months won't be any fun.
Finally, I suggest they go visit a couple stores and play with some laptops. Once they narrow it down to a few models, I offer to look more in-depth and make a more concrete suggestion.