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Shopping list: Bread, Milk And An Ancient Laptop

Recently while standing in line at the customer service counter of my local Pathmark supermarket, I overheard a mom ask the sales person if the store still had any of those Dell notebooks available.

I stopped picking my N.Y. Lottery numbers long enough to look up and watch the sales person turnaround and pick up a small box marked Dell and hand it to the woman. It was stacked right in front of the cigarettes. She rang it up for $399.

The mom and her 10-or-so-year-old son were thrilled with their purchase. She even smiled at me and said, “Isn’t this a great price?”

I looked at the specs on the box and was dumbfounded. The store was selling a small Dell notebook; no model number was obvious. It had an Intel mobile Pentium III, yes P3, processor, 256MB of memory, 25GB hard drive and it was running Windows Millenium. Man, Windows Me was a lousy OS when it was introduced. The notebook’s design was more than six years old. So it was either a refurb or Dell just discovered a warehouse full of these things in Round Rock, Texas, and decided to blow them out.

I’m not sure if I failed in my journalistic responsibility to the public, but I did not say anything to the lady. I just smiled. She was so happy and nothing I could say would probably help.

All I could think about was what was going to happen when that kid tries to go online with his new toy. These notebooks have been out of circulation for so long that I cannot even remember if they came with an Ethernet port. It certainly will not have any kind of built-in networking ability.

I then asked the Stop and Shop person if they were going to take the notebooks back when people realized they had purchased the computer equivalent of a loaf of moldy bread. She replied with a blank look and took my lottery money.

Passing off what was a totally out-of-date notebook as something brand new to an unwary customer is a pretty despicable act. I know we live in a buyer-beware environment, but the average person does not know a P3 chip from a Dorito. They just see the nice new box, inexpensive price tag and plop down their credit card.