The Ergosphere
Monday, December 31, 2018

Dear Dell Computer

Dear Dell Computer,

We used to have a good relationship.  I've purchased Dell laptops several times, as well as one well-loved monitor which met an ugly end in a moving accident.  My main machine  2 computers ago was a Dell laptop on which I installed some flavor of Linux I've long since forgotten.  It installed from an ISO I downloaded and ran like a dream for years until it experienced some age-related failure and refused to boot.  A local shop pronounced it unrecoverable, so I moved on and bought another.  That one (currently in use) runs Windows 7, which I steadfastly refuse to "upgrade" to anything else by Microsoft and have been too busy to try installing anything else on.  I just switched to a much bigger hard drive, but I really want to recover my data from my old Linux Dell and an even older Linux machine.  For this, I need Linux.

Need it.  Can't do without it.  Nothing else will do, full stop.

A while ago I bought a used Inspiron 5559 because Linux compatibility was a feature of that line; it was specifically advertised as an option.  I did nothing with it for quite a while because Windows 10 has such a cloying abortion of a user interface and a mass of "telemetry" (spyware) beneath it.  But when the time came that I HAD to get my hands dirty messing with computers I bought another hard drive for it too, figuring that now was the time to switch it over and finally get my old stuff back.

Immediately I started running into problems.  Ubuntu 12.04 is listed as a compatible operating system for my machine on the Dell web site.  Does that mean I can just download an ISO and go?  If only!  Everywhere I've turned I've been blocked, frustrated and stymied, and this frustration appears to be official Dell policy.

First thing, there are no ISOs on the Dell site.  I'd be happy to pull down a few different ones and take my chances until I find one that works for me, but Dell has chosen to completely foreclose that option.  Instead, everything must be done through the "OS Recovery Tool".  Well, fine.  I downloaded it on the Win 10 unit and ran it.

Or rather, tried to run it.  I picked "Install" but it didn't appear to do anything.  Searching through the cloying abortion of the Win 10 start menu I found something that looked likely, but when I ran it it created a "recovery drive" without asking me for any of the information it would require to do the install that I want.  This behavior was repeatable.  In frustration and anger I gave up for the evening.

Today I reformatted the flash drive, took it over to my Win 7 machine, and downloaded the recovery installer yet again.  The first time it ran, it took quite a few minutes before ultimately reporting a failure in some kind of unzip process.  (It won't even retry a failed operation?)  I decided to try again, and after an equally long delay it reported success... but it never gave me a Linux option on the choices of OS to install, just Win10 and "SupportAssist OS Recovery".  Well, maybe the recovery tool would let me install Ubuntu.  I took the flash drive back to the Win 10 machine, plugged it in, hit power, pressed F12...

and I got a boot menu on which "SupportAssist" was one of the options!

At this point I remembered that I hadn't swapped out the Win10 hard drive for a clean one, and I wanted to save that drive Just In Case, so I powered down and spent some busy minutes with a screwdriver.  New drive installed and machine buttoned up, I hit power and keyed F12 again.

SupportAssist was NOT on the list of options this time!  Neither was USB boot.  WTF?  Well, maybe Secure Boot was the problem (but why not last time?).  I disabled it and fired up again, which allowed me a USB boot option.  That died with  "Selected Boot Device Failed", behaving exactly the same on several attempts.  The USB drive that had just worked a few minutes before was not working any more.  Why?  What did the software do to itself to make it unbootable?  Stymied, frustrated and angry all over again, I went back to my Win 7 machine and used the tool to build the flash drive for the third time.

And that is where I am right now.  The thrice-built USB boot stick is still giving me "Selected Boot Device Failed"; this appears to be a hard, unrecoverable error.  I have tried using Disk Manager to wipe the stick and start over from scratch, but your tool appears to have locked it so that I can't remove the partition and try again, at least not under Win 7.  (I can't re-use the stick for much else, either; there's a 2 GB partition and the rest "unallocated".  That's malicious destruction of property.)

So here I am, Dell. What was a simple, fast process in late 2011 is an exercise in frustration and wasted time on the last day of 2018.  Instead of simply giving me standard stuff like ISOs and drivers and letting me be responsible for the results, you deliberately stand in the way of me doing with MY computer as I want and need to.   Thanks to you I have about $400 sunk into hardware that is useless in its current condition, including a brand-new USB flash drive that you have effectively stolen from me in any sense of getting full use out of it.

Dell, have you defrauded me?  You told me that the Inspiron 5559 could run Linux, and I bought it on that representation.  I've tried every way I can figure out to use YOUR tools to install YOUR approved version of Ubuntu on this machine, and I've come up empty.  Was this a fuckup, or did you deliberately lie to me?  What will you do to make it good?

Unless this situation turns around REAL fast, I am done with Dell computers.  It's not me, it's you.  Your control-freak behavior is somewhere between destructive and downright evil, and you need to get over it.

Talk largely about energy and work, but also politics and other random thoughts

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