November 30, 1999 11:55 AM PST

Dell's WebPC launches--with hiccups

Newbies who rush to the Web to learn about Dell's ballyhooed sub-$1,000 PC may find they have to jump through some hoops to find out about the product that supposedly makes it "easier than ever" to connect to the Internet.

Many users who go to the homepage--which launched today along with the new PC--are first greeted with this: "If you are reading this, you must be using a browser that does not have the Flash plug-in installed. For an enhanced view of this Web site you can download the plug-in for free OR continue viewing HTML only. The plug-in is only 161K. After download proceed to: Product Info."

Translation: Download extra software or click on the HTML link to get a basic rundown of the product.

Consumers also get an advertisement and a typographical error in the first sentence of text at "Every webpc comes with with [sic] the Flash plug-in from Macromedia pre-installed for dazzling multimedia experiences on the Web."

For seasoned PC users, the hurdles aren't much--download the extra software if you don't have it, or make sure you know what HTML means. But for new PC buyers--a target of many sub-$1,000 products--the instructions may be confusing. This presents a marketing challenge for many PC makers, not just Dell, analysts said.

The practice of asking users to download plug-ins for viewing a Web page is becoming more common.

Dell is not alone in frustrating some users. A well-publicized e-commerce site called launched with instructions that "if you are using a Mac, you may experience some problems."

Typos are not limited to Dell, of course. When users were unable to access Toys "R" Us' Web site this month, they were greeted with a spelling error on the Web page.

A Dell spokesman said he couldn't comment about the typo, but as for the Flash plug-in, he said: "We're looking to create an exciting multimedia experience." As for the Web site itself, Dell, like other companies, can always make improvements, he added.


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