Info and Answers
Forward Progress on the Support Front
Columnist Toni Kistner takes a look at innovative tech support and home integration options on the horizon.
Home Networking
May 10, 2007 by Toni Kistner

This week, a grab-bag of help, hope and musings for digital home suffers.

Peak8 Solutions has introduced the “Supportal,” a new support site that will help you fix problems with any device or software in the connected home. The site offers a community you can join to access and trade tips and advice, as well as tech support that costs either $10/month and $30 per incident.

If you decide to try these guys, let me know what you think. Online support companies have been around a long time and never really seemed to make much of a dent. But maybe now that the remote support software is better (the tools such services use to look inside your device), they will.

And yet another industry group is hoping to put the support portal guys out of business. Like DLNA, the High-Definition Audio Video Network Alliance (HANA) is trying to make connecting all our digital home devices connect seamlessly. Specifically, HANA is creating a spec that will let us control all our entertainment gear with a single remote. HANA-equipped devices could include PCs, DVD players, set top boxes, camcorders, stereo receivers, and the like. The group says we’ll see it by year’s end.

Perhaps wisely, HANA isn’t getting hung up on backwards compatibility or bridging to legacy gear. All HANA equipment will connect via a 1394/Firewire port. The HANA spec allows each device to send its software interface options—navigation, choices, etc.—to a Web page, where they can be read by other devices.

On the one hand, it’s cool that lots of folks are trying to solve this connectivity problem. On the other, too many specs can spoil the stew. Let’s hope HANA and DLNA don’t stall each other’s momentum. At this rate, a finished, supported spec is better than no spec at all. 

For more on HANA technology, read PC Magazine’s excellent article or visit the HANA site.

Last, Netgear got my attention by introducing a lifetime hardware warranty on its ProSafe line of small and mid-sized business products—managed and unmanaged switches, VPN firewalls, gateways and access points—bought after May 1. No, these aren’t products geared toward consumers, though you could certainly use them.

Such a move signals that Netgear is confident this gear is stable and works as advertised. On the whole, they expect the positive buzz will more than pay for the number of actual takers.     

So why not expand the program to consumer equipment? Netgear, take the plunge and brand yourself the LL Bean of networking gear? A rhetorical question, surely, but what better way to spur the R&D team to revamp the wizards, and overhaul the Web site, user manuals and quick start guides? Ever wonder why user support and documentation are so bad? Typically, tech documentation/help is considered the engineering ghetto. No budget, no resources, no respect.

And come to think of it, wouldn’t offering a lifetime warranty spur Netgear’s innovation, support for and involvement in groups like DLNA and HANA? I for one would be happy to pay a bit more—say, $10-$15—for a router with a lifetime warranty. Would you? 

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Toni Kistner - Contributing Writer
Toni Kistner is a technology writer living in Cambridge, Mass. Her main focus is networking and wireless technology.

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